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Customer Review

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving and persuasive, but also partisan, 27 May 2014
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This review is from: A Fighting Chance (Hardcover)
I knew pretty much everything Elizabeth Warren has to say in this book. Almost lost my job at an investment bank when I dared to point out that minorities who qualified for a normal loan were targeted by lenders and mis-sold subprime (though obviously my alleged crime was that I dared use the word "black" in the chat.) And I've also figured out for myself that banks and lenders of all stripes deliberately target with all sorts of "deals" those who will go to break point to avoid bankruptcy. My favorite is the company that will send a refrigerator to your mom in Mexico and charge you three times the normal price in 36 "friendly" installments. Last thing you'll ever do is let your mom lose the fridge. And I also knew that 90% of people who go bankrupt are normal people like you and me whose bankruptcy was triggered by death-in-the-family, divorce or job loss.

Much as this was all "review and revision" for me, I still thought "A Fighting Chance" was as good an explanation of what's wrong with finance as I've ever read. People like to speak about Hyman Minsky's three degrees of leverage, Irving Fischer's debt deflation, Ben Bernanke's global glut of savings etc. but none of that would harm normal people, the infamous 99%, if they were somehow protected from their own ignorance. There just isn't enough greed to go around, merely a fear of being left behind, and that's not what crises are made of. So I buy the argument that a mortgage should have more warnings on it than a toaster and I could not care less that it's by now a cliché. So I'm very satisfied to have been taken through this argument by the woman who invented the cliché.

The bit I had not counted on when I ordered the book was the first part, the autobiographical bit. It was the most moving 100 pages I have read in my 46 years. It was awe-inspiring, uplifting, moving, I'm running out of words here, but I don't think fiction has been written that can match Elizabeth Warren's account of the first 50 years of her life. I wept like I imagine 14-year-olds do when they read Jane Austen. Or like I do when I watch a sad movie on an airplane, at any rate. Probably more.

As part of the bargain, I also read about the politics, but if you've read Neil Barofsky's book about his time in Washington overseeing TARP, it's all repetition. You'll have read it all before. And Barofsky does it better. That said, Elizabeth Warren 100% percent confirms what Barofsky's got to say, and significantly this includes the meeting at the Treasury where Tim Geithner discusses how the purpose of all the mortgage-relief programs is to "foam the runway" for the banks (rather than help people in trouble).

The other eye-opener is the advice Larry Summers allegedly gave her over dinner: the price of speaking your mind is you become an outsider. To make things happen, you need to be an insider, and to be an insider you need to keep stumm.

I can sadly confirm that, from where I'm sitting, it seems like Senator Warren has truly taken this advice to heart. The last part of the book, the one where she's finally running for office and getting a job representing us all in Washington, is quite frankly partisan. Won't bore you with the detail, but I'll reveal for the sake of credibility that I've only ever voted twice in a Presidential election. I cast a ballot for my fellow Greek, Mike Dukakis, in '88 and an absentee ballot for Barack "Change" Obama in 2008 and that's it. And I still thought the last bit of the book was a not-too-subtle piece of cheerleading for the Democratic Party. It's so comprehensive in its inclusion of all constituencies, principles and fads, so exhaustive in the manner no important Democrat gets left behind in terms of being praised (with extra special kudos extended to President Obama), that for a moment I started questioning my judgment of the first 150 pages in the book, the ones that made me nod in agreement and cry in sympathy.

But, no, she's right about everything she's got to say. And the story reveals how she arrived at all those views, so it's relevant, it belongs. The fact that it's moving is a bonus.
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