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Ian Fraser: Shredded - Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain (Birlinn)

Readers will be subliminally aware of RBS ads depicting the bank's tolerance of the scrapes that "ordinary people" are prone to - a handbag left on the roof of a departing taxi, a switch card chewed by an adorable puppy, a wallet left at home by a party-goer in a kangaroo onesy.

RBS customers, we are jocularly assured, can rely on the bank for "those OMG moments".

Ian Fraser's magisterial Shredded: Inside The Bank That Broke Britain has an "OMG moment" on practically every one of its 500 pages. None ends happily for customers.

Shredded is the most detailed catalogue to date of the errors and misdemeanours leading up to the "financial Hiroshima" of RBS's £45.5 billion collapse in 2008, and the failure - in Fraser's view - to reform the bank in its aftermath. Nailing this tale of bad faith and professional failure requires data of armour-piercing power and accuracy, or it will bounce off as anti-capitalist ranting.

For the narrative to rise above the complexity and obfuscation of modern finance, it helps to be able to piggyback on one of the great corporate villains of British history, Mr (formerly Sir) Frederick Anderson Goodwin.

Avoiding cheap psychoanalysis, Ian Fraser gives the best picture yet of "Fred the Shred", RBS's chief executive from 2000 to 2008. He also apportions blame to those - chairman Sir Tom McKillop, ex-chairman Sir George Matthewson, politicians, regulators - who failed to stop him.

Previous accounts, like Iain Martin's well-sourced Making It Happen (2013), have depicted Goodwin's pathology - obsession with the colour of carpets and all that - without fully comprehending how his "vision", managerial culture and financial stock-in-trade were doomed to disaster.

Fraser does not stint on juicy detail about Fred's behaviour, notably the relish for personal humiliation. He once caused ordered senior suits to get down on their hands and knees and weed the car park. But Shredded moves things on considerably, showing how the boss and his sidekick Johnny Cameron were also dupes and bunglers, the former "played like a Stradivarius" by Emilio Botin of Santander, his compadre in the climactic takeover of dud Dutch bank ABN AMRO.

Challenging RBS spin requires intimate understanding of both the internal plumbing and the glitzy showroom of the contemporary global megacorp that the bank briefly became, stuffed to the gunwales with "funny paper" from a global empire of regional banks, all with problems, all paid for with borrowed money (€22bn in the case of ABN). When the crisis struck, the bank's combined balance sheet of £1.9 trillion was 136 per cent of UK GDP.

Fraser places the smoke and mirrors that sustained this artifice in the context of Scots financial tradition, of which he offers a startlingly revisionist version. He probes the role in the downfall of the bank's self-conscious Scottishness, particularly its recruitment of top "talent". Given the impact of the banking collapse on the Scottish Nationalist proposition, the irony is painful.

These issues are side-dishes. The main course was prepped by Ian Fraser's years of reporting for the Sunday Herald. His obsessive immersion enables him elegantly to re-enact in slow-motion the car crash that followed RBS's triumphant 2002 NatWest takeover.

There is no "told you so". Fraser confesses he was personally taken in by Fred's brutal charm, and caught up, albeit less than the First Minister and others, by the drama of a buccaneering Scottish bank taking on all-comers.

Sometimes Fraser's Fred, flying around the world on his private jet, is an ice-cool Bond villain - as when he silences a convocation of RBS managers by saying "Don't tell me you're frightened of little old me?". Sometimes he "goes mental" - "Get me a f****** knighthood" he is said to have instructed his lackey Sir Stephen Lamport. Fred can also be dryly funny, saying that banking acquisitions are "like puppies, not just for Christmas". If you are inflicting suffering on millions, it helps at least to have a bit of dash.

Personal vindictiveness proved to be Goodwin's fatal flaw, causing him to pursue the "overweight, lazy, arrogant and consistently under-performing" ABN beyond the realms of sanity. Why? Seemingly out of a playground impulse to "get Rijkman (Groenik, its chief executive)" whom he felt had double-crossed him by offloading to Bank Of America the LaSalle Bank of Chicago, the diamond amid ABN's dross.

Latterly, Fred was like "Hitler in the Fuhrerbunker, blaming subordinates and veering between delusion and despair as his empire crumbled around him". Finally, "After weeks of flying off the handle when told of bad news, Goodwin became 'philosophical' - a frame of mind colleagues found even more disturbing. His response on being told of yet another crisis inside ABN was to say 'I'm not interested - just get on with it. As far as I'm concerned, it's done.'"

Combining obsessive, detailed research with the dry-mouthed, heart-thumping human drama of Britain brought to the brink of social meltdown, Shredded has a place on the top shelf of financial investigative journalism. Its afterlife will be as a what-not-to-do textbook of management science, but it would also make a cracking film, if toned down for the sake of realism. Too bad Apocalypse Now has already bagged the most appropriate last lines of this movie."The horror. The horror."

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