Want to read about fiascos
November 22, 2010 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Looking for books and/or movies about fiascos and disastrous but avoidable situations

I've been reading Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris and love reading about all that goes wrong while making a movie.

I also read The Deal by Peter Lefcourt a few years back, and it is one of my favorite books of all time.

I'm basically asking for books or movies detailing situations where the hubris, arrogance, or naivete of the main parties led to a disastrous yet avoidable situation. Non fiction and well written fiction would be awesome. Movies that are on point are also welcome.

What I don't want is books about survival ("Into the Wild") or books about government incompetence (i.e. Katrina and New Orleans).

posted by reenum to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You might like the This American Life episode titled Fiasco.
posted by MsMolly at 1:19 PM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: MsMolly: I've already listened to it, and it is fantastic. It's part of the inspiration for this question, actually.
posted by reenum at 1:20 PM on November 22, 2010

Hmmm. In "The Towering Inferno," Richard Chamberlain acts like a total jackass and blatantly describes how he cut corners to save costs.
posted by Melismata at 1:21 PM on November 22, 2010

Best answer: Read Arrogant Armies a few years back and enjoyed it. Basically, all about arrogant generals who get their troops killed in spectacularly stupid ways.

IIRC, one of their skulls is still the centerpiece of a yam festival somewhere in Africa.
posted by QIbHom at 1:23 PM on November 22, 2010

The classic fiasco: This American Life, "Squirrel Cop." (Audio, sorry; you mentioned TAL, and SC's situation was *totally* avoidable. If only it hadn't been for that meddling squirrel...)
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:29 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Software Runaways: Monumental Software Disasters
posted by CodeMonkey at 1:29 PM on November 22, 2010

Best answer: I'm just finishing up a book called Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion by Gary Taubes (not to be confused with the recent book Bad Science by Simon Singh).

It's about the cold fusion affair in the late 1980's. It can be a bit technical and dry at times, but for the most part it's like watching a scientific train wreck in slow motion.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:36 PM on November 22, 2010

I understand that you don't want survival, but I am going to recommend River of Doubt, though it may be classified as a survival book. It is about Teddy Roosevelt's disastrous trip into the Amazon. I would say that the book focuses more on the poorly planned, ill-timed and overly ambitious nature of the expedition than on strictly survival-oriented topics. I think you will like it for the hubris, fiasco, disaster elements.
posted by TrarNoir at 1:44 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Set Phasers on Stun is a good book about design flaws that cause horrible situations. I read it in college and found it fascinating and entertaining.
posted by soy_renfield at 1:45 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

And I just thought of another. Conspiracy of Fools is a tour-de-force of hubris leading to a disaster, in this case, the fall of Enron. This is an extremely readable book more about human folly and tragic heroes than about finance.
posted by TrarNoir at 1:46 PM on November 22, 2010

Best answer: Nonfiction: if you liked Pictures at a Revolution, you'll love Julie Salamon's The Devil's Candy: The Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco. Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker and The Big Short are cracking tales of our regularly scheduled fiascos on Wall Street. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is the classic of the genre.

I guess my next suggestions depend on whether you think the Clinton and Bush administrations were disasters, but since I do: Joe Klein's Primary Colors and Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife. But the most devastating fictional example is Jane Smiley's The Greenlanders. Let's just say, it's definitely not about survival. Haunting as hell. I've never been able to reread it.
posted by rdc at 1:49 PM on November 22, 2010

This describes all of the Shakespearean tragedies.
posted by mmmbacon at 2:16 PM on November 22, 2010

posted by Joe Beese at 3:01 PM on November 22, 2010

If you're interested in engineering practice, To Engineer is Human.
posted by Alterscape at 3:28 PM on November 22, 2010

Dr Strangelove; Lost in La Mancha.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 4:01 PM on November 22, 2010

Another podcast, I'm afraid, but you might want to listen to the Oops episode of RadioLab.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 4:13 PM on November 22, 2010

A lot of Coen Brothers movies are like this, especially Fargo and Raising Arizona. And along those lines you might want to delve into A Simple Plan.

And oh my god that Fiasco This American Life is one of the funniest things I've ever heard, Still, years later, I think about it and will start cracking up. I may need to listen to it again actually....</small)
posted by grapesaresour at 5:24 PM on November 22, 2010

HTML Fail.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:24 PM on November 22, 2010

Lost in La Mancha is about Terry Gilliam's failed attempt to do a film version of Don Quixote.
posted by ifjuly at 6:15 PM on November 22, 2010

In science fiction & fantasy:
Fiasco, by Stanislaw Lem,
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell,
and just about anything by K J Parker
posted by novalis_dt at 6:28 PM on November 22, 2010

Nth'ing soy_renfield and Set Phasers on Stun. If you want more detail into more systems thinking about fiascos in socio-technical realms (i.e. where human error can be a very misleading label that is endemic of much larger organizational, multi-faceted, and technological breakdowns) check out Dörner's The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations or Perrow's Normal Accidents.
posted by oldefortran at 6:35 PM on November 22, 2010

Best answer: If you change your mind about government incompetence, Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam is excellent. "Defining folly as the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interersts, despite the availability of feasible alternatives, Tuchman details four decisive turning points in history that illustrate the very heights of folly in government: the Trojan War, the breakup of the Holy See provoked by the Renaissance Popes, the loss of the American colonies by Britain's George III, and the United States' persistent folly in Vietnam."

Bryan Burrough and John Helyar's Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco. The management group wanted to do a leveraged buyout at $75/share, got into a bidding war which they ended up losing at $109/share. The HBO movie is a lot of fun.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:53 PM on November 22, 2010

I ork for a railroad, does this count...

Cajun Pass
posted by raildr at 11:20 PM on November 22, 2010

Rogue Trader has been a book and a movie and explains the Barings Bank collapse.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:42 PM on November 25, 2010

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