The story they most wanted it to be was clearly compelling. Editors knew that something big and important and potentially interesting had happened when young Nicholas Leeson broke the bank at Barings, by speculating on futures based on the Nikkei stock average. They just didn’t know how to sell it without getting bogged down in explanations of boring technicalities like “derivatives,” which even “60 Minutes” couldn’t make sense of. But the story they wanted out of it made up for all that. It was a story about class. A plasterer’s son from Watford had single-handedly ruined the oldest and most blue-blooded financial institution in the English-speaking world.

Of course it turned out to be too good to be true. The story broke over the weekend of February 25–26, so the Sunday papers and newsmagazines had a whole week to write it up as a class story. The “barrow boy,” the...


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