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on 17 December 2009
This fascinating and compulsively readable book seeks to spill the beans on what was going on at the highest levels during those calamitous weeks in summer/autumn 2008 when the financial system of the U.S. (and beyond) was on the brink of collapse. Using a vast amount of interviews with a number of the top bank CEOs, their boards and colleagues and with the top players in government (possibly with the exception of Ben Bernanke), Sorkin has created a remarkable narrative illuminating exactly what happened behind closed doors as Lehman Brothers sunk and AIG and American finance's most storied institutions tottered on the brink, culminating in the notorious 'bailout' legislation. The conversations, the phonecalls, the deals, the shuttling back-and-forth, the extraordinary meetings of the heads of the mafia-like Wall Street 'families,' the fear and the panic: it's all here in this gripping book.

It's a great read and the author succeeds admirably in his stated aim of showing these titans of the economy as human beings under immense strain, being forced to improvise their way through the most testing of circumstances. It makes the macho world of high, high finance seductive and intriguing and made me hungry to read more books from the business section. The writer even makes the people he portrays come across sympathetically and it is good to see the British government, in a cameo role, standing up for itself in the face of American pressure (not that it seems that way to the Americans themselves!)

However, it fails to go further. Sorkin provides very little in the way of context and analysis. There is a brief prologue and epilogue and there are short profiles of the major movers & shakers and their institutions but the fact that the publishers have rushed to get this book on to the shelves is evident. I don't mean merely the odd typo that exists or the couple of instances of an identical sentence showing up in adjacent paragraphs, or even the few rather terrible purple passages there are at the start of the book-proper; it is the feeling that the nature - or even the true gravity - of the situation is not properly communicated to the reader. Sure, the panic is there and the events are clearly incredible and people are quoted about how dire things are, but the author rarely interjects with the naked truth from outside of the bubble that his big-wig characters inhabit. For example, newspaper/broadcast stories are only mentioned if one of the protagonists is reading/watching them. It's not a problem so much when we reach the fateful 'Lehman weekend' and the narrative-time stretches out to cover events blow-by-blow, but it is especially lacking in the book's first half and final section. (It ends too abruptly as well, followed by an epilogue that feels like a tacked-on magazine-section feature.) This, in my view, stops the book from being the masterpiece it could have been with a bit more time and a few more paragraphs on the perspective from outside of the Washington/Wall Street gilded play-pen.

In 20 years time, this will be still be a valuable resource, but other books will be needed to fill in the gaps. If Sorkin were to produce a revised edition, this could be THE book on the crisis. Well worth reading as it is though.
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on 25 November 2009
The global recession that raged through the entire globe in 2008-2009 was one of the biggest in history. The causes are complicated and it underlined how interconnected the global economy really is.

What Sorkin does is introduce the major (mainly American) players in this tale of an inexorable slide into chaos across the world's economies and show you what they were thinking and how they responded. In 100 years this book will be priceless as we get a look at the human element more than the numbers. He interviewed them, and dissected their statements with colleagues what this leaves us with is a day by day guide to what happened.

It reads almost like a Dan Brown thriller, it is page turning stuff which is a major achievement as this is ultimately a tale of middle aged men talking a lot about sub prime mortgages, however jargon is either avoided or explained and the sheer pace and authority of the writing pulls you in and keeps you engaged.

In short this is a must read.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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on 11 November 2009
This is the first and gripping inside story of the unfolding drama of the 2008 financial crisis, the worst since the great depression, which metastasized like a mailignant cancer to envelope the whole world.

The author, Andrew Ross Sorkin, a business writer at the New York Times, has conducted a meticulous research drawing on 200 of those participated in the events it covers. The book is as detailed as spiced with many colourful anectodes.

The book is the definitive story of the most powerful men in finance and politics grappling with success and failure, ego, and, ultimately, the fate of the world's economy but also elucidating how decisions made in the Wall Street over the last decade sowed the seeds of financial catastrophe.

The book reconstructs vividly the events surrounding the seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman's Brothers collapse, the rescue of the American International Goup (AIG) and the shoring of big banks' capital with Public funds.

The book describes vividly the confusion, reversal and arbitrariness of policy decisions. Regulators would back a merger in one instance only to reverse it in the next for reasons that confused bankers. The $700 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief was a monument of arbitrariness and guesswork. The improvisations evident across Wall Street was similary notorious.

The author casts protagonists in different light. Hank Paulson, the then Treasury Secretary, acted decisively but not always wisely. Tim Geithner then President of the Federal Reserve of New York was tough minded while Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve was cool headed and professorial. Under unfavourable light comes Christopher Cox, then the wavering head of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The darkest light falls on Lehman's boss Dick Fuld combining hubris and ineptitude;he sacked or sidelined those who gave warning about the staggering debt levels and dangerous exposure to commercial property while he scuppered a life-saving deal with the South Koreans.
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on 11 January 2011
This book would have been easier to follow and more impactful if it had been shorter. You can see the author's problem from the 38 page appendix (in small typeface) "Notes and Sources", where he lists the sources he was allowed to cite, though he also had plenty more from sources he was not allowed to cite. Most reviewers have reveled in this level of detail - but some readers will find it just gets in the way.

My abiding insight after finishing the book is that few if any of the big hitters of Wall Street had any particular wisdom. Many financial institutions were brought to the knees because their leaders completely failed to understand the level of risk they had taken on. They were not nearly as smart as their pay-packets implied, but just ordinary human beings who had risen above their levels of competence.

In summary, this book does give you a lot of insight into the events on Wall Street, and little insight into the peripheral role played by some UK banks. But unless you like devouring a large stack of background material, you will find it frustratingly long-winded.
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on 5 January 2011
The book itself is OK- interesting in parts, quite boring in others, and I found Sorkin's conclusions on the whole sorry mess unconvincing, more journalistic than properly analytical. Michael Lewis' A Big Short was a much more enjoyable read.

The Kindle Edition however was unacceptably bad: full of typos, spelling errors, and even whole passages of text repeated accidentally. Worst, the photos at the back of the book were entirely missing. Fortunately, as usual Amazon customer services were very good and refunded me as soon as I complained- I then used the refunded money to buy the iBooks edition instead, which was much more polished and had all the photos in it. Putting faces to all the grey banker types mentioned in the book is surprisingly illuminating, so I would avoid the Kindle edition and either buy the paperback or the iBooks e-version.
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This is Woodward-style reporting that re-creates dialogue verbatim, skims along the surface of events, and yet virtually never addresses what it means, how we got here, and where we should go from here. Rather than any depth of inquiry, what the reader gets is descriptions of the maneuverings of extremely arrogant and rich men as if they were celebrities in show business. Moreover, the book largely assumes that the reader understands the mechanisms of banks, the FED, the FDIC, the SEC, and the Dept. of Treasury. At least for me, this reflects a pathetic lack of intelligence and nerve that hides behind journalistic artifice. It is a superficial, timid, and insider view of one of the most colossal failures in both business and policy of modern times.

The failings of this books are legion. First, the author offers virtually no overview of the institutions, preferring to explain them off the cuff, so the reader gets no sense of context or how they might work. Second, the financial instruments (derivatives, mortgage securitization, etc.) are also explained inadvertently, adding to the confusion that non-specialists feel, and many acronyms remain unexplained. Third, the author completely fails to cover the role of the rating agencies and how they became as corrupted as Arthur Andersen did, trying to play with the big boys. Fourth, the author gives little explanation of the policy instruments, regulations, and other tools available to policy-makers. Fifth, the author assumes that the reader understands how the players feel and see things - I was confused innumerable times when he labelled some incident "humiliating", or someone became a "laughing stock", or some other emotion that appeared abruptly and without context.

Thus, I can only assume the author wrote for businessmen who know all about these issues already, who wanted a blow-by-blow chronology of every obscure remedy and tactic that was considered, i.e. every little negotiation or ploy or hope or merger plan. It is boring and incomprehensible - what they would mean is glossed over. Now, I write about businesses for a living and I wanted basic explanations, but found virtually none. It was tremendously frustrating, given that the book is almost 600 pages!

So far as I could tell, beyond the particular mechanisms themselves, the crisis arose because: 1) by ideological preference, regulation was lax and unenforced, which 2) enabled bankers to aggressively develop techniques that provided fees (i.e. short-term profit) while increasing the liquidity of normally illiquid assets like mortgages; 3) these instruments, buttressed by AIG insurance, flowed so easily that the major institutions became intertwined so that they were all dependent on eachother as if the legs of a massive house of cards (creating only the illusion of reducing risk with "free market" mechanisms); 4) mortgages and credit were so loose that many homeowners lived way dangerously beyond their means. Once the real estate market cooled (i.e. house prices began to fall, bursting a speculative bubble), the entire system began to teeter. To remedy this, the only thing that the government could fall back upon was hasty dealmaking (mergers, sales, etc.) and injections of liquidity to prevent insolvencies that would cause the entire system to collapse. We came very close to a collapse that would have dwarfed the Great Depression.

I can only imagine how a better journalist with some intellectual and emotional depth - say, a Halberstam - would have written about this as a morality tale that also explains the context and institutions and practices more clearly. Afterall, the entire direction of modern capitalism is in question and we may be at the most important crossroad of this generation. Terrible mistakes were made at taxpayer expense, we didn't learn from past mistakes, and now the firms are showering bonuses on the players with the presumption that all is again well. Etc.

I cannot recommend this book. WHile I found some useful items in it, most of it can be skimmed for the handful of valuable nuggets that are sparely scattered throughout the book. It is an unbearably mediocre performance.
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on 12 November 2009
I bought this book after watching the author in an hour-long interview on Charlie Rose - on Bloomberg.

I have never read a book of over five hundred pages so quickly. It is easy to understand, with clear explanations of who was who in this sensational story. It seemed to me to be carefully researched and have authority, but it was above all readable.

If you would like to try to understand what happened to capitalism last year, this will help.
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on 5 April 2015
Might not be good for your blood pressure - why did govts in the US, UK and elsewhere throw so much money at this industry populated with so many useless greedy £uckw1t$ ? Why weren't they regulated enough to make their misadventures their own problem, not society's problem ? Are we doing enough to prevent a repeat ?

entertaining read - compulsive. The characters are compelling and the personal motivations are credible. There are a few factual inaccuracies - you may get the feeling that the author was in a race with Dan brown to see who could write a book fastest... but they dont detract materially
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on 2 December 2009
This is a proper page-turner. If like me you watched the events of last year unfurl with slack-jawed disbelief you will absolutely love this book.

The author has created an absolute masterpiece - the huge volumes of information he must have worked through to put this together is impressive enough, but the resulting book is astonishing.

I beggars belief just how close the world was to financial armageddon, and how some of the individuals involved were forced to 'wing-it'!

I only have one criticism. That is the way the UK government was portrayed as the negotiations for Barclays to buy Lehmans progressed. The portrayal is presented as the Brits letting the side down by not agreeing to underwrite the Lehman assets. Only passing reference is made to the fact that Blighty was being asked to underwrite an American bank which was in a terrible state because of the US subprime mortgage market which the US government wouldn't bail out! But I'm moaning about two pages in the book which is otherwise superb.

The best book I have read for as long as I can remember.
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on 20 January 2016
not my favourite book on the crisis. it's more a collection of news articles that he's compiled in a semi-chronological order. he's also clearly in love with jamie dimon and idolises him whenever he's in a "scene". i think sorkin is too in awe of many of these people and can't write honestly about any of them; with the notable exceptions of stan o'neal or vikram pandit whom he blatantly portrays as incompetent, out of touch idiots (to be fair, they probably are, but at least they made it to the top somehow, so try and give others some credit and not just grovel at dimon's feet).
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