Review of "The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins" by James Angelos

The book is an account of the pathologies of the Greek state (and society) that are at the root of the financial crisis. The author is the son of Greek immigrants in the U.S. and not only he speaks Greek, he is also quite knowledgeable of Greek culture and history. The book consists mostly of interviews with ordinary people and that makes for lively reading. In essence, it is a sequence of case studies that provide an insight into the way Greeks think and act. One of the cases deals with the large number of supposedly blind people in the island of Zakynthos. It turns out that the local ophthalmologist (the only one on the island) certified healthy people as blind (so they could receive disability benefits) in exchange for bribes. Sadly, visually impaired people who could not afford to pay bribes were ignored (story on p. 49).

I found the observations quite accurate (I was born and lived in Greece during the first 26 years of my life). My favorite quote (p. 145) is one expressed by a person who had just lost his job: "It is a communistic capitalism which gives people a small slice of state money so they will shut up and continue to bear the stealing" (of state money by those in power). While Greece emerged from Ottoman rule more than 150 years ago, Ottoman traditions still influence attitudes. Those in power do not care for those governed and, in turn, the latter view the state as the enemy. Hence the widespread tax evasion, etc. (Story on p. 35 and elsewhere.)

T. P. July 2015