Yanis Varoufakis' side of the story

Book review: Adults in the RoomThe former Greek finance minister's blow-by-blow account is a fascinating must-read.


Yanis Varoufakis: "a riveting hiss and tell"
(Image credit: Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo)


Published by Bodley Head, £20

Buy at Amazon

Even after being pushed out of office in July 2015, the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis continues to polarise opinion. To some, he is a heroic fighter against austerity; to others, a poseur who peddled empty threats.

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In this book, Varoufakis puts forward his side of the story. He claims he was the first to spot, as early as 2007, that Greece was bankrupt, with the subsequent backlash forcing him to leave for an academic job in Texas. He then returned to Greece, becoming an MP and finance minister as a result of Syriza's election victory in January 2015. But once in office everything quickly went wrong.

Instead of accepting Syriza's mandate to soften austerity, Greece's creditors did everything possible to undermine the new government, including reneging on previous agreements. They refused to entertain any of Varoufakis's proposals for long-term debt relief, even though some of them had previously agreed with them. Constant pressure from creditors eventually forced the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, to get rid of him.

It's a powerful narrative, and Varoufakis backs it up with a detailed blow-by-blow account. However, his outrage is undermined by the fact that he refused to seriously contemplate Greece defaulting and leaving the euro. Not only was Grexit the only thing that would have grabbed the Troika's attention, it was perhaps the best solution for all concerned. His heart was clearly not in such a bold (but necessary) move.

Indeed, Varoufakis boasts that before the 2015 election he was instrumental in getting both Tsipras and Syriza to move away from the idea of a Grexit. Interestingly, one of the few European politicians Varoufakis still admires is Emmanuel Macron, the new president of France. Macron is likely to push Brussels to deliver some sort of debt relief, but the sky-high level of unemployment in Greece today is testimony to the costs of not acting sooner.

What the press said

"Varoufakis has had his revenge, or perhaps catharsis, by writing a riveting hiss and tell," says John Kampfner in The Guardian. While it's not perfect, "the strengths of this account far outweigh the weaknesses" as it is "an admirably believable depiction of a Greek and European tragedy".

The former finance minister turned "global anti-austerity rock star is the John Lewis of economic punditry he and his views are never knowingly undersold", scoffs Michael Gove in The Times. However, despite that "this book is an important, terrifying must-read" in that "it anatomises the way in which EU leaders operate with a brutal clarity".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri