This reading group guide for Undermoney includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
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Moving from the desert sands of Syria to the finest apartments in Manhattan, from Washington, D.C., to the private bank vaults of Europe, Undermoney
follows a group of American patriots as they are enmeshed in a world of dark money and confront ever-increasing danger. Ultimately, they must decide whether their objectives are worth the cost of sacrificing not just a few but potentially many, many human lives.
From global finance insider Jay Newman, Undermoney
is an electrifying thriller that tells the story of a group former U.S. military members who work to take over the world’s largest “dark money” operation and ensure the presidential election of their preferred candidate, Senator Ben Corn—a result that would allow the group to implement their own foreign policy and fundamentally restructure American society.
Essential to this scheme are Greta Webb, a sophisticated CIA operative who is an expert on dark money, and Elias Vicker, a damaged, borderline psychopathic centibillionaire (and the richest man in New York) who runs the world’s largest hedge fund. The group must also form dangerous alliances with shadowy figures—some of whom work behind the scenes to manipulate world events. One such person is Fyodor Volk, the ruthless founder of Russia’s most successful private mercenary army, with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Another is the hidden family that manages the largest private pool of capital that has ever existed.Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Author Jay Newman coined the term “undermoney” to describe the global dark pools of ill-gotten money that control people and events, often casting the final and deciding vote. How are people altering events via undermoney in the novel?
2. War and global conflict are two of the driving themes of Undermoney.
Early in the book, Major Hank Arnold identifies money as being an integral part of a “new kind of war” (page 2). In the context of the novel, what is this new kind of war and who are its participants?
3. Money plays a number of different roles in Undermoney
. It is fuel for corruption, a symbol of greed, and, according to Fyodor Volk, the dangerous Russian paramilitary leader, a noose. Given that the book takes place in our geopolitical present, consider the roles of undermoney in the real world. What are they? How have they shifted throughout history?
4. We encounter different brands and household names in this novel. Pay attention to them and make a list of the ones you recognize. Are the brands connected in any way? If so, what are the things or events connecting them?
5. The characters in Undermoney
are cultured and sophisticated but brutal. With this in mind, is there anything we can glean about the interplay between art and violence, both within the context of the book and in real life?
6. Another way to think about question five is by tracking the emphasis placed on the characters’ fashion choices. How does this affect your reading of the characters? What do these choices say about them, about how they view themselves, and about how they want to be viewed by others?
7. The characters in Undermoney
have complex and cynical views of the world. Why is this? How do their views change throughout the course of the novel?
8. Psychological profiling, therapy, and mental illness are also recurring themes, especially for Elias Vicker, but they are potentially relevant for all the characters. Discuss the behavioral tendencies and pathologies of different actors in the narrative and how they reinforce or prey upon each other. Reflect on your own experiences managing your mental health or navigating treatments. Discuss as well how big data enterprises thrive on building and maintaining psychological profiles of ordinary consumers.
9. Greta Webb is embroiled in many of the novel’s most difficult (not to mention dangerous) situations. How does she cope with the lethal reality of her job? How would you? Why is she emotionally resilient?
10. Several difficult and secretive conversations about money take place in this novel. Identify some of them and discuss why these topics have to be kept in the dark.
11. Discuss the multiple points of view in Undermoney
. How do they affect your interpretation of the book’s events?
starts in the desert sands of Syria, moves to a party in New York, then Washington, D.C., followed by Latvia, the French countryside, etc. Consider the fact that these disparate locations are all connected in some surprising (or secretive) ways in the novel. Is this a coincidence? What are some locations that you’ve been to, or know about, that are also connected in secret and surprising ways?
13. Who do you feel most sympathetic to in this novel, and why? Furthermore: What is it that makes these characters (many of whom are far removed from “civilian life”) sympathetic to you as a reader?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Draw parallels between the events of the novel and events that have occurred in recent history. Discuss these connections.
2. Elias Vicker, when he is introduced to us, is described as both “New York’s richest man” and also “its most odious clown” (page 15). Discuss with your group people in the real world who are similar to Vicker, keeping in mind the immense amount of political and financial power he holds. Do people like these exist, in your opinion? Why or why not?
3. Return to the three definitions of undermoney that serve as the book’s epigraph. Which one do you believe connects most to your interpretation of the novel’s themes?
4. Expand on the definition of undermoney that resonates with you most. Try to write the Wikipedia article about it, using what you know of the book and contemporary events.