Book Review: Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment By Yanis Varoufakis

It’s often thought by conspiracy theorists that the world is run by powerful people intent on bringing misery to millions through nefarious schemes. But the truth is even scarier: that most powerful people may hold office, but the networks they control are often too big to effectively understand, let alone control. Bank CEOs, regulators, even the president of the United States are just members of interconnected networks that can influence events but never fully control them.And worse, many of them are incredibly incompetent.

This is what we learn in Yanis Varoufakis, a rockstar economist, academic and left-wing hero’s, deeply detailed but engrossing account of the negotiations in 2015 over the Greek bailout. Varoufakis left the world of academic economics to become Finance Minister in debt-ridden Greece, coming toe to toe with the European establishment to try and secure a better deal for the Greek people. It’s a fascinating account, an engrossing peek behind the political curtain to see how political deals and compromises are made.

Throughout the book, it’s hard not to be shocked and appalled by the incompetence and self serving nature of top institutions and governments from London, Washington and Brussels. These often unelected bureaucratic figures operate in impenetrable power networks. It’s clear how their failures have led directly to Trump and Brexit.

blue and white flags on pole

This is not a balanced account. Varoufakis is highly critical of the EU, and he doesn’t dwell too deeply on why Greece was in so much debt to French and German banks in the first place, although the criticisms that he blames all of Greece’s economic woes on the EU are unfounded.

He also gives a bit too much credit to Brexiteers. Although some on the left did vote leave after seeing the EUs’ treatment of Greece, most leavers voted for Brexit so they wouldn’t have to contribute towards bailing out Eastern European countries like Greece, not because they thought it should have been done more fairly. 

This engrossing political memoir covers a tumultuous time in European politics. It is no ordinary political autobiography, but almost a thriller: from threatening calls in the middle of the night, dealing with a corrupt media, and political backstabbing, it’s an incredible story from start to finish. But despite the high drama, it’s hard to forget that millions of Greeks were sinking below the poverty line while the EU seemed more concerned about keeping promises they made to bankers.

The control the EU had over Greece’s democratically elected institutions is appalling, and all the more disturbing when you consider that Greece is the home place of democracy itself. I’d highly recommend this book for those interested in the politics of Europe, and for those interested in how the EU can save itself from the rise in nationalism that is threatening the European project.

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