Legendary poet, novelist, and essayist Margaret Atwood gives us a surprising look at the topic of debt -- a timely subject during our current period of economic upheaval, caused by the collapse of a system of interlocking debts. Atwood proposes that debt is like air -- something we take for granted until things go wrong.
Payback is not a book about practical debt management or high finance, although it does touch upon these subjects. Rather, it is an investigation into the idea of debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies. By investigating how debt has informed our thinking from preliterate times to the present day through the stories we tell each other, through our concepts of balance, revenge, and sin, and in the way we form our social relationships, Atwood shows that the idea of what we owe one another -- in other words, debt -- is built into the human imagination and is one of its most dynamic metaphors.
About the author
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.
Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than fifty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.
Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.
- Short-listed, National Business Book Award
- Short-listed, OLA Evergreen Award (Forest of Reading)
- Runner-up, Axiom Business Book Awards - Business Ethics
- Commended, Globe and Mail Top 100 Best Books of the Year
There has been much written about Atwood's 'prophetic vision' and her ability to be eerily 'prescient'...given Atwood's track record, I'm a believer...Either Atwood was born under a lucky star or she really should be moonlighting from a shady storefront with a sign that says 'Palm Readings: $25.'
...replete with anecdotes and opinions, witticisms and barbs...Payback is more about economic principles, and even the market crisis, than it appears at first glance. As impressive as Atwood's intuitions, or her intellect, or even her humour, is her insistence on tracing responsibilities, and possibilities, back to those human, and thus imaginative, constructions.
Globe and Mail
In Payback, Atwood freely mixes autobiography, literary criticism and anthropology in an examination of debt as a concept deeply rooted in human - and even, in some cases, animal - behaviour...Building an argument that abounds with literary examples...Atwood entertainingly and often wryly advances the familiar thesis that what goes around comes around.
"Ms. Atwood is a witty and astute writer of broad sympathy and wide-ranging curiosity, and the prose of the book, at once commonsensical and counterintuitive, bristles with insight and implication."
New York Times
Payback is a delightfully engaging, smart, funny, clever, and terrifying analysis of the role debt plays in our culture, our consciousness, our economy, our ecology and, if Atwood is right, our future.
...[Payback is]...a demonstration of Atwood's ability to evoke in memorable detail our vanished cultural past, and to examine both past and present in the form of language. Writing in this mode, she's never off her game.
Nothing if not timely...Few writers are able to combine the esoteric with the polemic as [Atwood] does...darkly entertaining.
Winnipeg Free Press
A celebrated novelist, poet, and critic, Atwood has combined rigorous analysis, wide-ranging erudition, and a beguilingly playful imagination to produce the most probing and thought-stirring commentary on the financial crisis to date.
New York Review of Books
Elegant and erudite...As one would expect from a novelist of Ms. Atwood's calibre, the phrasing is polished and the metaphors striking.
...witty, acutely argued and almost freakishly prescient...as amusing as it is unsettling.
The lectures remind us of why Atwood has been so important to our literature.
...a fascinating, freewheeling examination of ideas of debt, balance and revenge in history, society and literature - Atwood has again struck upon our most current anxieties.
London Times Online
...an extraordinarily vibrant Massey Lecture on debt, how it plays a motor force in much literature, in our own lives and in the machinations of the crowd we elect to govern us.
...these pieces offer a panoramic look at how the concept of debt acts as a fundamental human bond and - when obligations go unfulfilled, when ledgers are left unbalanced - how it can threaten to tear societies apart.
...[Payback is] elegant and erudite...As one would expect from a novelist of Ms Atwood's calibre, the phrasing is polished and the metaphors striking.
Atwood's book is a weird but wonderful melange of personal reminiscences, literary walkabout, moral preachment, timely political argument, economic history and theological query, all bound together with wry wit and careful though casual-seeming research.†††††††
Payback is a stimulating, learned and stylish read from an eminent author writing from a heartfelt perspective.
Literary Review of Canada