A savvy survey of the perdurable crisis now convulsing US savings and loan associations; from an old pro who's become more than a bit exasperating. Mayer (Markets, Making News, etc.) knows the territory--and misses few chances to remind readers how over the years he has provided on-the-record warnings of the S&L industry's collapse. Be that as it may, his exposÃ‰ is informed by a vivid perception: ""Deposit insurance has proved. . .the crack cocaine of American finance."" In this illuminating context, the author not only rounds up the usual suspects but also identifies a flock of unindicted co-conspirators. Mayer argues that lawmakers who (in partial return for handsome campaign contributions) did away with interest-rate ceilings on savings accounts and encouraged thrift institutions to engage in risky pursuits without protecting the public's interest share much of the blame for the S&L collapse. Almost equally culpable in his book are Wall Streeters, big-time attorneys, compliant accountants, and other opportunists who--having brokered hot-money deposits, helped cook the books, or tested the limits of oversight--are now battening on the wreckage. And federal officials, he shows in credible detail, let thrifts get away with a wealth of fiscal sins and are bungling the salvage operation mandated by last year's bailout legislation. Since they lack a coherent strategy for dealing with the costly S&L fiasco, Mayer cautions, the domestic banking/financial system faces genuine jeopardy. While the author does a generally good job of making economic arcana accessible to lay readers, he's developed some decidely unappealing quirks. In addition to interjecting himself into the text, Mayer exhibits a bent for intrusively florid phrasing (from ""a smart, wily, wiry Irish blonde"" through ""a big man with heavy shoulders and a large rectangular head under a mop of gray hair""). These cavils apart, an instructive, up-to-date briefing on a pocketbook issue largely uncovered by the broadcast media.