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  • Treasure Islands

  • Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World
  • By: Nicholas Shaxson
  • Narrated by: Tim Bentinck
  • Length: 12 hrs and 52 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (234 ratings)

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Summary

Most people regard tax havens as being relevant only to celebrities, crooks and spivs, and mistakenly believe that the main offshore problems are money laundering and terrorist financing. These are only small parts of the whole picture. The offshore system has been (discreetly) responsible for the greatest-ever shift of wealth from poor to rich. It also undermines our democracies by offering the wealthiest members of society escape routes from tax, financial regulation, and other normal democratic controls.

Treasure Islands brilliantly articulates the problem in a completely new way, and exposes the deep corruption that impacts on our daily lives. This is the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery - and secretive offshore tax havens are at the heart of the trouble.

©2011 Nicholas Shaxson (P)2011 Audible Ltd

Critic reviews

"Shaxson combines meticulous research with amusing anecdotes, resulting in a very readable account of the murky world of offshore and a strong moral message that the system needs to be changed." ( Financial Times)
"Perhaps the most important book published in the UK so far this year." (George Mombiot, The Guardian)
"At last, a readable - indeed gripping - book which explains the nuts and bolts of tax havens. More importantly, it lays bare the mechanism that financial capital has been using to stay in charge: capturing government policy-making around the world, shaking off such irritants as democracy and the rule of law, and making sure that suckers like you and me pay for its operators' opulent lifestyles." (Misha Glenny, author of McMafia)

What listeners say about Treasure Islands

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Good reading but poor editing

Again, I'll focus not on the book (which is excellent and depressing in equal measure as it makes it clear why global inequality exists and is getting worse) but on the audio. Tim Bentinck is an actor better known to many as David Archer in the long-running BBC Radio 4 soap, The Archers. He is very good at doing the various voices and accents that make it clear when the book is presenting verbatim quotes from various people. But at a certain point the sound editor has just given up and stopped removing bits where Bentinck had started, got the emphasis or accent wrong and stopped, intending that the editor remove the first take and edit to the second. The editor simply hasn't done this, so you get to hear the raw takes in lots of places. Bentinck is otherwise a good reader and actor but has been ill-served by his sound editor here and AUDIBLE SHOULD TAKE NOTE not to give money to whichever fly-by-night firm did the sound editing here -- terrible job! Bentinck's agent might also want to pay some more attention...

10 people found this helpful

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Great book, terrible edit

The book is great but the audiobook is terribly edited. Multiple times the reader repeats a sentence and the editors failed to edit the first repeat out.
I quite enjoyed the reader voice acting and different accents, but the audiobook requires another pass and edit to be of the quality I expect from audible.

5 people found this helpful

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  • M
  • 25-05-14

To pay, or not to pay tax ...?

To pay taxes, or not to pay taxes, that is the question ... To which the corporate, international financial and global criminal fraternity have answered with a resounding No. This is a wonderfully dark tale of money eating itself and spewing out more, on which it then feeds and grows, warping the laws and norms of civil society to their own needs to the point that all we can do is willingly, though blindly, throw ourselves into it to feed its relentless greed. A fascinating, inspiring and depressing book - brilliantly narrated, though poorly produced - that has left me angry and thoroughly intrigued. Read it. Then read it again.

4 people found this helpful

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Very interesting, well read, poorly edited

I am listening to this book maybe ten years too late as it was published in 2011. Much has changed since then and the tax paying of companied like Facebook, Google and Amazon is much higher on the agenda than it was then. Though as the book shows us, they will definitely find a way to wriggle out of paying a fair share of taxes.

This book therefore serves as a very good, and I assume accurate, history of how we got to where were are now.

I enjoyed listening to it and feel much better informed now.

I wish the narrator had not felt the need to try to render all direct quotes in the national accent of the person quoted, and the producer/editor could have spliced the tape better when some sentences were repeated due to a mistake in intonation on the first take, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment.

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Great insight to the world of the rich

Fascinating book and analysis of the offshore world. Would recommend it to any who wants an insight in to how the offshore jurisdictions were created and function

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Excellently read...

A real eye opener...excellent....for anyone who wants to know more about Tax Havens...very good reader with creative linguistic style...

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Fascinating and terrible

For all those struggling to join the dots to see the monster as a whole our financial services has become

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Reading

I quite liked the use of various accents and voices from different parts of the world

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An Eye Opener

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book and found the subject matter intriguing and well explained.

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And you thought you knew the country you live in..

This should be common knowledge for all citizens of the world. Nicholas Shaxson lays out, in a logical and coherent way, what is at the heart of many of humanity's problems.
If you are lucky enough to live in a society where you have some choice over the system you live in this issue should be no.1 on the list of issues when you vote.

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Profile Image for Toombs
  • Toombs
  • 03-09-11

Amazing book on tax havens

I learned more things in this book than I typically do in 10 books combined.

Shaxson provides an eye-opening account into the seedy, underground world of offshore finance. Most of the stuff Shaxson discusses is not well known in public and is rarely commented on in mainstream media or newspapers.

For example, were you aware that the two biggest offshore zones are in fact the United Kingdom and the United States? In fact, the state of Delaware is actually the biggest "offshore" location in the United States. It has more incorporated organizations than anywhere else, and some of the laxest regulation. Just take a quick scan of some of the biggest companies in America and you'll find a majority are incorporated in Delaware (Bank of America for instance, or Sallie Mae, Amazon, Pfizer, etc.) It's too many giant companies to be merely coincidental.

The overall picture he paints is both fascinating and frightening, but it seems very possible that something could be done about tax evasion and the looting of poor countries by the rich countries if the main financial centers that aid the businesses in their looting decided to crack down in unison. But for them to ever do that, more people are going to have to understand how the whole system works. It's complicated, but very interesting and Shaxson does a great job explaining every facet of it.

As for this audio recording, I'd recommend getting it and listening to it. But be warned that the guy who does the reading does the most bizarre job I've ever listened to here at Audible. There are multiple times during the course of this book where he reads the same sentence over again. Often he'll stop, and start again with noticeable random pauses mid-sentence. A couple times he stopped reading and I could hear talking in the background. None of this is edited out -- it's like they let him read it all, first time through, and didn't do anything over and didn't bother to edit out the mistakes. Just bizarre, but he still successfully passes along the information of the book in a somewhat entertaining manner (this guy makes up about a thousand voices for the many different people Shaxson quotes from to tell his story).

Pick up this book. I liked it so much I also bought a hard copy to re-read it.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Jan
  • 13-11-11

What a waste

The offshore business world is such an interesting subject. This book could have been an important work but instead it became a worthless waste of time. he spends almost 13 hours complaining about offshore banks and juristictions and in the process shows very little understanding of the subject, the businessworld and globalization.

He believes in the unlimited power of the government. Following the law is not good enough and he considers all companies and individuals using offshore accounts to be criminals even though these companies and individuals work inside the law. Even when these offshore juristictions donate money to environmental causes or help to fight powerty they are treated with suspicion and called criminal. Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Jersey, Guernsey and others are all described as criminal states. One of the most absurd parts is about a "criminal" english bank who only fault was to reject a request for information from FBI, awaiting a court order. Of course in compliance with english (and american and international) law.

This book was written by a little person with a little mind and the result sucks.

This is a total waste of time which is a shame because we really need a good book about this subject.

The narrator was ok :-)

6 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for Mark A. Fitzpatrick
  • Mark A. Fitzpatrick
  • 21-11-11

Nice story, but pure Utopianism

The book starts with a useful framework to define tax havens (secrecy jurisdictions) followed by a very interesting history of their development. However, all along the read, there are little signs that we're being taken for a ride.

The first off-note comes from Shaxson's attributions that nearly all of the world's woes lay at the doors of the tax havens. He goes so far as to say that they played a leading role in the financial crisis by hiding the leveraging. hmmmm, I've read about a dozen books on the financial crisis (the best being "All The Devils Are Here") and that angle is not supported by anyone except Shaxon. The leveraging was well known and visible.

Throughout the book, he uses straw-man arguments to support his assertions. He references some of the most extreme libertarians to argue on behalf of tax havens and then eviscerates their points. So what? Anybody can do that - they're kooks. The tactic was overused enough that it became a clear form of deception.

Gradually, the book moves from interesting argument to utopianism. He paints a picture of the world before tax havens as idealistic. He embraces the US Senator Carl Levin's assertions that the tax havens are costing billions to the US Treasury and other governments without a challenge. The US Congressional Budget Office has shown Levin's arguments to be false and this is out there for Shaxson to see.

On the positive side, Shaxson does a great job of exposing the hypocrisy of US and UK efforts to reign in tax havens, while maintaining their own leading positions as tax havens. There is a humorous moment involving 1209 North Orange Street in Wilmington, Delaware. But even then, he pulled punches ... a disappointment.

He touched on one of the legitimate reasons that tax havens exist: Some governments resort to confiscatory tax schemes. He had no defense for these governments' actions (good for him), but he argues that tax havens are to blame for this too - a logical contortion indeed. By his argument, havens hide these problems from the electorate's scrutiny and deny the people the opportunity to demand changes to the laws. Naive... More than that, it's a dangerous naivety.

It's more likely that tax havens are a more effective response to such laws... and that's a pity, but a lot better than no response at all. It is more likely that without tax havens, there would be a confiscatory tax specially designed for each weak and voiceless demographic. And this is just as true for developed democracies as it is for dictatorships.

Did you know that the US capital gains tax rates on the foreign pensions of Americans living overseas (0.5% of the US population) has exceeded 100% for the last ten years and will climb above 200% in 2013? More importantly - do you care? Do you think those laws will change?

The book comes down to utopianism dressed up as journalism.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Hans
  • 11-10-14

Important and shocking

Treasure Islands is a book that takes you on a journey into the secret world of finance. Although I have had some experience with the subject before, I was shocked at the scale that tax fraud and secrecy has reached. The book covers both the historical background for how we ended up in todays situation, as well as up to date examples of how the financial crisis was in large caused by tax havens.

This book is a must read, and it should be mandatory for all politicians, students and voters.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Ossi
  • 24-08-12

Everybody should read this book. Period.

It's both interesting and depressing to listen how we're just a tiny pieces on a much bigger board that's been played above us. The book is most about offshore but it does cover quite nicely how the free floating currency has its ways to of making the rich more rich and poor even worse off. I know this is a socialistic view and I consider myself more of capitalist, but this is exactly what's wrong in capitalism and somehow needs to be addressed. I don't know what a common man can do about this but to raise awareness and go from there.
The only thing that bothered me a little on this book is the narrator. He's great and easy to listen, but so clearly partial that it bothers at some points when the speaker is so clearly a "villain". And the accents are perhaps sometimes too exaggerated, but overall a very pleasant listen.

2 people found this helpful

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  • M
  • 30-01-12

Stranger than fiction!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is one of the best books that I've read in years. The audio version is outstanding.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The people trying to leave the bastions of tax secrecy were courageous, scared, and compelling.

Have you listened to any of Tim Bentinck’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, but he's very easy to understand.

Any additional comments?

One of the best things that I've read in years.
This book will become increasingly important over the next several years, as economic pressures on individuals and governments prompt people to start asking where all the money went.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-10-11

A real eye opener

Would you consider the audio edition of Treasure Islands to be better than the print version?

If you read this with an open mind, you may see the future of global finance and be able to better prepare for what is about to happen.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • EJH
  • 05-08-11

A worthwhile listen.

An interesting book if you can get past the author's naive cheerleading for high taxes and big government.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jouni
  • 05-10-12

Beyond ideology

Although this book might seem a bit provocative, the argument presented against the offshore business is mostly fact based. I think that it is safe to say that economic policy does not need to be based on ideology anymore, but we can go beyond ideology and base our political opinions on facts.

Offshore business does not help economy as a whole, but it is rather a way to increase the profits of the few and externalize the risks for those, who are doing the productive work and are the true source of the wealth. Also offshoring is not only about tax evasion, but it is mostly, especially in financial sector, a way to go around the laws and regulations that e.g. necessitate the risk management for the banks. Without proper risk management, bankers can make at offshore up to six times more profit than with proper risk management and tax payers at onshore will pay the bill when the bubble bursts.

This is one of those books that can be gladly recommended for anyone, because offshore business is quite timely topic as it was major contributor for the current financial crisis. There is still plenty to discuss and the public awareness of the true nature of offshoring is increasing quite rapidly.

Narration was also quite good and quite British.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kells
  • 16-07-12

Book for liberals who love to excuse high taxes

What disappointed you about Treasure Islands?

This is a book written by a liberal for liberals. Basically the book is one giant, long winded attack on those who believe lower taxes and small government are good things. The story is very dry and the points are not well made. I would have been entertained if he had offered some really good attacks on conservative principles, but instead he just goes off on this juvenile series of cheap attacks on conservatives. If you want this, go read something by Paul Krugman and you will get your money's worth. By the way, I have found reviews to be very, very helpful.

1 person found this helpful