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The Library of mistakes

Audio articles

The Library of Mistakes: chapter and verse on financial disasters

IbyIMD+ Published 24 April 2023 in Audio articles • 7 min read • Audio availableAudio available

Russell Napier is ‘Keeper’ of The Library of Mistakes, a treasure trove of financial literature in Edinburgh. He explains how the library, along with a recently opened branch in Lausanne, can help today’s generation of bankers and financiers avoid the pitfalls of the past.

Learning from past mistakes is always good operating procedure. Yet humanity – and the financial sector especially — has never been terribly good at it.

As unfortunate as this has been for the wealth of nations, it has had one positive dividend: it has allowed the creation of a repository of literature on financial follies that myself, colleagues, and friends have had the honor of establishing, in the form of small, publicly accessible libraries, each of which is known as “The Library of Mistakes”.

The first, and largest, one is in Edinburgh. It is tucked down a cobbled cul-de-sac in the city’s Georgian “New Town”, which was laid out in the latter half of the 18th century amid the intellectual ferment of the Scottish Enlightenment – also a period in which Edinburgh became a leading European financial center.

The space doubles as a place of quiet reflection on the literature of mistakes in banking and finance and as a venue for talks, usually given by distinguished…

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