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A brilliantly reported true-life thriller that goes behind the scenes of the financial crisis on Wall Street and in Washington.

In one of the most gripping financial narratives in decades, Andrew Ross Sorkin-a New York Times columnist and one of the country's most respected financial reporters-delivers the first definitive blow- by-blow account of the epochal economic crisis that brought the world to the brink. Through unprecedented access to the players involved, he re-creates all the drama and turmoil of these turbulent days, revealing never-before-disclosed details and recounting how, motivated as often by ego and greed as by fear and self-preservation, the most powerful men and women in finance and politics decided the fate of the world's economy.
Published: Penguin Group on Sep 7, 2010
ISBN: 9781101443248
List price: $15.99
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Andrew Ross Sorkin manages to document the near-collapse of the US economy in 2008 in this near brilliant, true-life financial thriller. Working from thousands of sources, he manages to craft a story so compelling it literally becomes a page-turner.Starting with brief biographical summaries of each of the major players as they are introduced to the story helps to humanize what could be an overwhelming, data-driven work. The players who showed glimpses of humanity are contrasted with those whose own greed and lust for material wealth prevented them from realizing the risks involved.By the time the fateful weeks in September 2008 roll around, even though we know the outcome, the reader is hooked. The egos in the conference rooms should have precluded any possible resolution from being reached, but the efforts of the Treasury and Fed, particularly in the guises of Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner, to practically force the senior executives of the financial firms to work together to save the economy are depicted as near Herculean feats of strength.No one goes untarnished in this account, not the regulators who should have been watching, not the government agencies who should have been more aware and definitely not the executives themselves who should have known better than to risk not just their own companies but the entire US and global economies all in a mindless pursuit of short-term profits.The only disappointment for me was not enough time spent on the roots of the crisis, the deregulation, the near giveaways of mortgages with no proof of payment, the culture that rewards executives for obscene short-term profits with no regard for the long-term impacts. Additionally, while some potential preventive measures are discussed, I would have appreciated more detail on how these repeated bubble-burst cycles could be diminished.Overall, for anyone interested in a thrilling account of some of the most trying days in the US economy's history, you can't do better than this book.read more
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Sorkin has written a gripping account of a big chunk of the financial crisis, from the sale of Bear Stearns to JP Morgan in March 2008 to the passing of the TARP legislation and the US government's direct investment of the TARP funds into the major banks. If you're looking for an analytical book on the crisis, this isn't it, but if you want to feel like you're in the room with the increasingly desperate bankers and regulators, this is the book for you. There's a cast of characters at the start of the book, but he told the story so clearly that I didn't need it. I thought it was as good as Barbarians at the Gate and better than Liar's Poker. Sorkin does a pretty good job at avoiding jargon, but if you don't have an interest in financial markets it might be a slog.read more
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One of the books if your interested in the conversations that took place during the fall of the American banking system.Basically examines the players and the meetings that took place after the fall of Bear Sterns till Mid-September when Morgan Stanley and Goldman convert to commercial banks.There is no analysis in this book as it basically tries to re-create what had occurred through conversations.If anything, it reads like a people magazine version of wall street. Who said what at which meeting that was attended by who.At times its very interesting see how all the players interact with other and go beyond what you read in the headlines. I think ARS does a good job of that, but at times I cringe of embarrassment that some of the "leaders" are in position of power yet seem very clueless (which at time makes it somewhat depressing). ARS spends alot of time on Lehman Bros which basically becomes the backbone of the book overall in terms of that being the trigger for what happened in September of 2008. Interest waned towards the end when we all know what happens to these banks.Overall, its a long but easy read.read more
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Interesting read about the frenzy around the 2008 financial collapse. It was interesting reading about the people who run the industry I work in....an to understand how close we came to total collapse.read more
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The destruction of the global financial markets and their flawed operational model has devastated millions of lives across the world, fired off a massive recession and ensured long slow recovery, perhaps over decades. You would never know it from reading this book. Sorkin paints an intimate portrait of the 12 or 18 months of shenanigans inside Wall Street, roughly centered on 2008.This book is a long narrative telling who did or said what to who. Sorkin offers little analysis or comment, just giving us the events as he has reconstructed them from innumerable interviews and documents. Even through the sometimes incomprehensible technicalities of the financial world the pressure, tension, excitement and fear are there to be felt.My problem is with the participants. There is hardly a mention of the vast impact on ordinary people of the decisons they made. Sometiimes they speak of the impact on their staf and shareholders. The most commonly expressed concern in the book is that ‘I will not get to be the CEO of this or that company’. The enormous waste of money to pamper the egos of these men (and, yes, it is all men. The only women present are quickly sidelined while he men spray testosterone from their solid gold cufflinks.) is truly shocking.Arrogant, venal, weak, self-obsessed these people truly believed they were the masters of the universe.This is an excellent introduction to the subject, offering a single narrative thread that tells us what happened. We need to look elswhere for why.Meanwhile, I have to feel sorry for these men who nver reached the pinnacles of their careers and who have to scrape by on a few tens of millions each year,read more
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Huge, well-documented, clearly written, a blow by blow account of the 2008 panic.read more
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Heavily detailed. Too many characters not to have a better means of identification. Best part is Epilogue.read more
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Read like a horror book. Amazing. $100 million a year in pay and benefits in some cases, and the big boys acted like a bunch of children. I support capitalism, but this is evidence that capitalism needs adult supervision.read more
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I read this book for book club but it was always on my never-ending list of books to read. The financial crisis is like a genetically compromised octopus with 100 tentacles and growing. People who understand the banking and financial industry will sail through this book. The rest of us (me!) -- though not lacking in intelligence, education, and experience -- will have a difficult time keeping track of the characters and events and coming away with a finely-attuned sense of how everything connects (it all does) and what lessons may have been learned (none). The book blessedly contains a cast of characters, both home-grown and international, at the front of the book, but there were so many incestuous business relationships and intermarriage among banks and CEOs, that it may be of little use. Most readers will merely recognize names from their ubiquitous appearances in the daily news. The book also contains a very detailed bibliography and index. Sorkin's book details the events and background during a short period of time encompassing the government's bail-out of all the investments houses except for Lehman Brothers. Yes, the book does read like a best-selling thriller, even without understanding the details. It's hard to put it down or put it out of one's mind but reading it even at the broad level at which I did will occupy a very large chunk of one's days/weeks. It's worth the effort if only to realize every diabolical and sleazy thought you've ever had about Wall Street and the evil that lurks there is more true than you could ever imagine, even if you possess an Ivy League MBA. You may even, as I did, find yourself rooting for the financial collapse of the entire banking system just so it can start all over from scratch with unforgiving enforcement of meaningful rules and regulations, sanity, and real concern for the people whose money is being played with -- notwithstanding the ensuing international crisis unlike one we've ever before witnessed. Without that, taxpayers (you and me) will be rescuing the banks and the players in perpetuity and they will continue to get rich and stay rich while they stealing from us and paying themselves obscene salaries out of money that never existed. If you read this book and then grab your backpack for an OWS protest, good for you! We need more protesters.read more
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Informative and entertaining. Fascinating to see how high government officials, Fed officials and Financial CEOs handled the economic crisis.Well wriiten and sourced.read more
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Andrew Ross Sorkin delivers the first true behind-the-scenes, moment-by-moment, account of how the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression developed into a global tsunami. From inside the corner office at Lehman Brothers to secret meetings in South Korea, Russia and the corridors of Washington, "Too Big to Fail" is the definitive story of the most powerful men and women in finance and politics grappling with success and failure, ego, greed, and, ultimately, the fate of the world's economy. 'We've got to get some foam down on the runway!' a sleepless Timothy Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve of New York would tell Henry M.Paulson, the Treasury Secretary about the catastrophic crash of the world's financial system would experience. Through unprecendented access to the players involved, "Too Big to Fail" recreates all the drama and turmoil, revealing never-disclosed details and elucidating how decisions made on Wall Street over the past decade sowed the seeds of the debacle. This true s tory is not just a look at banks that were 'too big to fail', it is a real-life thriller about a cast of bold-faced names who themselves thought they were 'too big to fail'.read more
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I thought this was a good account of what went on during the financial crisis. It is a rather dramatic account of the events, though, so one has to wonder if or where the author might have taken some dramatic license. Regardless of that, I thought it was a rather fair account of events. Given the public outcry over the bailout, and both Wall Street and the government's role, would be easy to slant a story against them. However, I think Sorkin did a very good job to try to tell the story without doing so.read more
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Believe it or not, quite a zippy read (600-plus pages, including index, character cast and afterword). But for all that, does it adequately explain how it went so wrong? Nope. As with Michael Lewis's The Big Short, I'm still left wondering: stupid or evil?The problem is that the period most intensely covered here is so brief. It starts shortly before the Lehman collapse in September 2008 and then dives into all the frantic behind-the-scenes manoeuvring of the bank execs, AIG, Treasury secy Paulson and the Federal Reserve in the following few weeks. All fine and I especially liked learning about the extent of the govt's powers to regulate and intervene. Sorkin researched and interviewed like a demon to get all this detail.BUT this choice means that the banks have already discovered their desperate situation. I can pinpoint a few people, now ousted in this timeline, that deserve blame and possibly prosecution: Stan O'Neal of Merrill Lynch and Martin Lynch of AIG. But I'd like to scroll back in time and see how they started accumulating this crap and how AIG decided to offer insurance for them. Goldman Sachs, Paulson's old firm, didn't get much involved in these mortgage-backed securities. Neither did Wells Fargo. Why? Who did the analysis?There is an afterword and an epilogue in my 2010 edition but it's nowhere near enough to illuminate any reader's most burning questions: Was there a better way to do bailouts? Sure, these surviving banks have repaid their loans, but was it enough? Who should be in prison right now? Surely there was a way that Congress could have cancelled the compensation contracts? What's the state of bank regulation right now?Anyone looking for a revolving door, govt-Wall Street conspiracy will be disappointed. I don't see any evidence that the banks entered such a dangerous business counting on a govt rescue or Congressional rescue. Paulson, who had to be a source, comes off quite well, trying to do what's right and as pissed off as any citizen when confronted with banker boneheaded-ness. He certainly didn't want a bailout--neither did Republicans or Democrats in Congress. And his every movement and phone call is documented.The book could have done a better job of explaining the urgency of action. Sorkin should have spelled out in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman collapse what was happening around the world, how all these banks have interlocking obligations. It was like dominos collapsing. You're a company with a stellar credit rating expecting your goods to be picked up in Abu Dhabi and the bank won't honor your letter of credit. And the bank can't be blamed really. A half a dozen huge shipping firms collapsed at the end of 2008.FWIW, Too Big to Fail does a very poor job of defining sub-prime mortgage, credit default swap and collaterized debt obligations. It doesn't try until hundreds of pages in. For that, dip into Michael Lewis. You don't have to read his entire book but at least that is explained very well.As for the issue or prosecution. The New Yorker's George Packer provides a partial answer in a Q and A accompanying his June 2011 story on an unrelated insider trading case that was prosecuted. Yes, there are quite a few prosecutions against Countrywide and other mortgage companies. More civil suits. Also some cases being brought by the FDIC and SEC. But a major impediment seems to have been the way investigations were doled out to federal district courts in parts of the country other than New York's--New York having the best expertise to investigate such kinds of crimes. But he also quotes the current New York prosecutor on the need to have hard evidence--like wiretaps and e-mails. Hard to believe there isn't or wasn't a bunch of the latter as the investment banks bought and sold CDOs.read more
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This detailed chronology (known as a 'tick tock' in the world of journalism) will stand as a great example of this kind of story and an invaluable reference tool in the years to come. It's very readable, although the chapter openings, which all seem to start with the same formula (On a x day in x, Mr. X was doing x when he realized x -- in other words, some pithy anecdote about a meeting, an event, an ephiphany that always involves a key player) become extraordinarily irritating over the course of the book. My only gripe is that while Sorkin gives a quick overview of the basic causes of the market crash and near-disaster, he's primarily concerned with the events of the months between the collapse of Bear Steanrs and the creation of the TARP. Admittedly, those were dramatic months and the crux of the matter. But I don't really care who had what for lunch, or what Timothy Geithner's jogging route was in lower Manhattan. I'm more interested on what all the very senior people on Wall Street thought about the process of doing business and thinking about their business that led up to the crash. That would ultimately have been more revelatory and very fresh. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants an accessible overview of the events of 2008, but not to anyone who was following them as they happened (including Sorkin's own writing) and recalls many of the details. The parts of this that are new and fascinating aren't always revelatory -- they show shifting alliances, who was talking mergers with whom, for instance. That's intriguing, but we know that it was academic, that those deals didn't happen. Unless you're a student of management or negotiation, that is at best like reading an overview. After reding the whole thing, I would have loved to have ended up with a sense of why and how these institutions became too big to fail, not just a very good description of what happened when they had become so. On the plus side, it's light on the jargon.read more
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Wonderfully written and breathlessly told, but after a while the formula (particularly the trick of inserting random incidental detail to make the reader feel THEY WERE REALLY THERE) starts to grate.read more
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I had mixed expectations from Too Big to Fail. Considering we are still very much in the thrall of one of the worst financial crises of the past century, it is unfair to expect a single book to provide a complete perspective. Andrew Ross Sorkin does not attempt to explain how or why we got into the events of 2008. The book's objective is very clear - to chronicle what was happening in the financial markets during 2008. At this task, the book succeeds. It has an impressive cast, from Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to the CEO of Lehman Brothers, Dick Fuld.About three quarters of the book is about the Lehman collapse. The author seems so focuse on the investment bank that you get almost no visibility into what was happening at say Citibank or AIG, though AIG does get some attention. The book refuses to be technical with Sorkin sticking to a journalistic tone. That I think is this account's greatest shortcoming - if you hope to understand what specific problems were being faced by Lehman Brothers before its failure, the reasons it found itself under attack by short sellers, you won't find the explanation here.Ultimately, this book is a good record of what happened but I think my reading list needs a lot more books to understand the why. I'd give the book a half hearted recommendationread more
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Fascinating book and a fairly breezy read. Too bad the blow-by-blow narration felt a bit fake--how could the author know what all these people said all those times?--and also made me dislike of most of the people in the book. I couldn't finish it.read more
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What the financial crisis in the US essentially came down to was the bankers had the government balls in a nice tight wrench and if those balls got gangrene and dropped off, leaving the whole of the Western world without a banking system and the ensuing anarchy, they couldn't care less because they were filthy rich anyway and would, personally, all of them be more than just all right. (Skip to the last-but-two paragraph if you don't want the lead-up to how).

How it works, in a simplified way (the only way I can grasp it, financial pea-brain as I am and leaves out the part insurance companies played) is that the banks use their money, our money, our deposits, to make money by lending it out as mortgages and business loans. They make money on the interest people have to pay for those loans. If the standards for getting a loan are pretty lax (as they were at the time) then a lot of people won't be able to repay their loans and the bank doesn't have the money, isn't earning interest but has a dud house that won't sell for a profitable amount or a bankrupt business. So the bank isn't making any money but in an effort to do so, it relaxes restrictions on getting a loan even more so even more people borrow money and fail to repay it in this depressed economy... etc. etc. etc.

There is another arm to this banking scam business, that is investment, and here's where the big bucks come in. Investment bankers are always looking for good businesses where they can buy shares at a much lower price than they think they will rise to in the future, then they can sell them and realise a profit. Of course, there is always the risk they made a wrong judgement call and the shares fall in price and as they are on their way down they have to decide whether to stick with them and hold on to them and hope they will go up (some time) or get out with a reduced amount. Either way the bank is holding on to some pretty worthless stuff, like the houses that got foreclosed and won't sell for the value of the loan and the bankrupt businesses, or they've taken a loss on the shares either completely or close enough.

So there you have it, whatever the banks did in a depressed economy they were losing money.

If everyone were to go to their bank to withdraw all their money they couldn't as the banks have lost some of the money on those unwise deals, and have more locked up in loans and investments that might pay up or might also go belly-up. So some of the bigger investors seeing that Lehmans among other banks looked like they were full of bad debts and old houses and not much cash wanted their money out. On Wall Street, people took notice of big investors pulling their money out, and more people did, and started to look at the other banks (most of whom were in exactly the same position). So these big investors were pulling their money out from everywhere and looking to the Far East and points South, North, East and West where the bankers had been more regulated by government and not allowed to carry on risking people's money to the degree there was no longer enough to pay people their money back.

So the banks couldn't pay back the depositors their money, and like a pack of cards one after the other began to collapse. The next thing, the final thing really, was the fear that you and me and everyone else on your street would suddenly wake up and realise what was happening with the big investors was happening to you too and be in the queue at their bank at 9 a.m. to withdraw their money. And the bank wouldn't have it. Can you imagine the scene? Smashed ATMs and rioting. Businesses would not pay their overnight deposits in the next night, everyone would demand to be paid in cash, shops would not accept credit cards, debit cards wouldn't work. There would be anarchy in the streets. And the government would fall.

The US holds the principles of capitalism far too dear and always sees Communism when nationalisation and regulation of industries is debated, even when, as with the bankers it was obviously needed. So before a rescue package could be put together, they had to overcome the Fear of the Bogeyman. Once they did that, they could put together a financial package loaning the banks at very favourable terms, enough billions that everyone who wanted their money could get it and their would be enough left over to invest and hopefully restore the banks to their usual obscenely greedy profit-making. What really swayed them was the fact that the government would fall and they, Bush's Republicans, would 100% definitely be out of a job.

So now is the time for regulating the banks and how they spend these vast sums that are being loaned to them. But guess what? The bankers won't accept any meaningful regulation at all. Its fine by them if the banks collapse, they've all been drawing huge salaries and bonuses often in the millions. And knowing the collapse was coming you can be sure their money was holed up somewhere safe. So the government had a three way choice. One, let the banks collapse and the government along with it producing a Depression so major that it would reverberate around the world and make the depression of the 30s look like some minor thing that happened way back when. Two, call the bankers' bluff and bail out the banks and regulate their investments so that our homes, our small businesses and our money was safe by stopping the bankers risky behaviour (this would have benefited the average person, you and me). Three, give in to the bankers, let them invest as they please make huge profits (if they could) and then awarding themselves multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses and throwing us, average Joes, to the pits.

The investment bankers said if you put any restrictions on us, we will all leave, we will retire, we will go to other countries' banks, we will do as we please, but we will not work in any bank that restricts how we do our business, so we got you over a barrel, either you do it our way or no way. Hahaha

Yep. By the balls. And the average Joe ....

So the situation now is as it was, seven financial institutions control the banking system of the US and should they fail, well, read the book!

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(Just a note, the more a country relies on financial products the more it is susceptible to a depression. If the country relies on manufacturing items people want - China, Germany, South Korea etc - then its in a much stronger situation. Sure it could be hard to raise money to buy raw materials and machinery if the banks go, but what they have sold and have to sell gives them cash coming in.

Another note, you paid the bankers salaries and bonuses, you paid for their bail out when they did it wrong and you are paying through interest for their salaries and bonuses again. What interest does the bank give you on your deposit? Essentially, the public is triple screwed.).

What are the alternatives to the banking system? Buy gold, ingots not jewellery, you don't want to pay for the design, and find somewhere safe to put it, ie. not a bank. Or... money under the mattress!
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Sorkin was privy to a many of the conversations (related by participants) during this trying time. In spite of what many may think, the decisions were made in what was considered to be the best interests of the country (and the rest of the world) as understood by the participants. But the decisions were made under extremely trying conditions. The law of unintended consequences ruled, particularly after the collapse of Lehman. Sorkin relates these meetings, the humanity of the participants, and calculated guesses and decisions that saved the country from another Great Depression, but not from a great recession. It is a great read.read more
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This book is a real page turner, recapping the events leading up to the financial crisis and bailouts. By the end of the book you feel as if you know the principals. I also was glad I was traveling out of the country last September and not reading or watching the news!It is interesting to read in different newspapers what some of them are up to now; I just read a real estate blurb in the Wall Street Journal about one of the former Lehman Bros. executives trying to sell his $25 million Long Island home, and thought, hey I know this guy! Highly recommended for its terrific overview and detail.read more
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I have actually met a few of these characters. Completely convincing account.read more
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Andrew Ross Sorkin, business reporter for the New York Times, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the financial meltdown of 2008 in "Too Big to Fail." Published in 2009, the book offers a myriad of minute by minute details, particularly over the frantic weekend during which Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Fed chair Ben Bernanke, and then-president of the New York Fed Tim Geithner coordinated government intervention to purchase toxic assets. Relying on several unnamed sources, Sorkin carefully reconstructs the chaotic time. In particular, he details the deliberate and increasingly dictatorial government intervention into the problems, which often took the form of brief phone calls encouraging the involved banks, brokerages, and insurance companies to reach out to one another either by extending lines of credit or attempting to merge.Without being pedantic, Sorkin tries to explain the causes and potential consequences of the financial crisis in plain English, if a bit unsuccessfully. What is clear, though, is that the entire system lacks sufficient accountability, even within itself, as large companies hedge their bets ever more aggressively, following the examples of their competitors with little attention, or complete understanding, of the deals they pursued. To cite the most obvious example, the credit default swap, in which various banks repackaged parts of loans in a way that appeared to disseminate risk, it quickly becomes obvious that the safeguard is an illusion and the CDS is entirely risk-based.Perhaps more troubling now than at the time is the impromptu, seat-of-the-pants decision-making that reigned during the most hectic parts of the 2008 crisis, particularly in September. Sleep-deprived executives and government officials worked long hours – virtually around-the-clock – to forestall a systemwide panic in which there would be a collective "run on the bank." It seems unlikely that the decisions reached in such trying circumstances will forestall future problems, a point Sorkin highlights in the afterword written for the paperback edition.If there is a weakness to Sorkin's book, it is likely the nonjudgmental approach he takes when describing all of the key players. This makes it difficult to judge, or even understand, whether some of the key executives and officials made bad management decisions or simply were in completely over their heads.This, however, is a minor quibble. Sorkin offers a fast-paced, multilayered account, which would seem almost cinematic at points, except for the huge cast of characters (so large in fact, that Sorkin lists all of the key players on eight pages at the start of the book). Balancing a complex timeline with the huge number of players, the book is invariably interesting and exciting, even difficult to put down.read more
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wow...cant believe...the inside dibs...great stuff..totally enjoyed...hank paulson was a savior...dick fuld a baffoon....great inside info of what was going on when the world was melting downread more
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My only problem was keeping track of who worked for whom. Should have photocopied the Cast of Characters and kept it handy. Not quite up to "Barbarians at the Gate" intrigue, but a great account of that bail-out mess.read more
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If anything else, this is an entertaining book. Big tough bankers swear and dick around like petty real-estate salesmen from a David Mamet play.

It's also a good history of part of the 2007-2009 recession, specifically the collapse and restructuring of the investment banking system. Lehman Brothers is gone, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, AIG got money from the Fed, and the survivors rest put an emergency fund together, similar to the private response to the crashes of 1907 and 1929. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley said 'enough' to the investment banking business, and became bank holding companies.

This book focuses on the executive personalities and decisions which led to this deal. It does a good job of this, with a Woodward/Bernstein style look at how deals were made.

The problem of this book is the lack of general context - how the crisis even happened, with barely any mention of the real estate bubble and only a few pages devoted to derivatives. Sorkin here is a fine reporter, now it's time to analyze and see who will be in the right or wrong from this.read more
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Good account of the day-by-day improvisations of Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner as they tried to prevent a melt-down in the global financial markets. The reader will come away with admiration for Paulson and grudging respest for Geithner, both of whom performed admirably in the crisis. The book does not attempt to judge the correctness of all their decisions, but clearly their decisiveness itself helped to avert a much larger disaster.read more
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liking this but it is due!read more
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Offered good insight to some of the key events leading to the biggest financial meltdown of my life.read more
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Amazonian reactions to this book seem to fall into two buckets - on one view it's the definitive account of the investment banking crisis of 2008; on the other it is a slapdash, hastily thrown together, and un-penetrating story that lets itself be distracted by the Herculean egos (are there any other kinds on Wall Street?) and Olympian hubris and therefore fails to get anywhere near the nub of the issue: just how could this car crash ever have happened? There's an element of truth in both views, though I think the complaints of superficiality are - well - a little superficial. Firstly, be under no illusion that this is a quickly bashed-out pot-boiler; to the contrary, it's a book of monstrous scope. It covers an extraordinary series of dislocations in implausible, blow-by-blow, detail - more on this implausibility in a minute - Sorkin wisely includes a Dramatis Personae at the start, for the cast of events and characters and their various interactions here has the byzantine grandeur of a later James Ellroy novel (I just got through Blood's A Rover: the plotting in Too Big To Fail is comparable). Andrew Sorkin's simple achievement in commanding all these unconnected (if highly correlated) events and knitting them into a coherent, linear narrative is remarkable, particularly given the time in which Sorkin achieved this. It might have been fifteen months now, but it only seems like yesterday. As noted (and, elsewhere, complained about) Sorkin's interest is in the personalities behind the thrust and counterthrust rather than the macroeconomic backdrop. Far from being a drawback, that's precisely what is so perceptive about this book: the economic fundamentals "which lead to the crisis" aren't the whole story. Indeed they are *just* a story - and you'll find as many different analyses of precisely how this came about and whose fault it was as you could wish for, and while there is much consensus, there is a lot of disagreement too. But it doesn't matter. Once the balls were in motion, what mattered was who did what, when. Sorkin does assume some knowledge of the financial history of the last 15 years, and assumes you'll have a view by now the whole story, and whether it was Greenspan's free market fundamentalism, the disestablishment of the Glass Steagall Act, the rise of derivatives technology which permitted the securitisation of increasingly whacky assets, the negative feedback loop created by the originate-and-distribute model, the flaws and anomalies in CDO ratings methodologies or some diabolical confection of some or all of the above. (Actually, here's a great spin on the crisis: being as he was, the progenitor of modern whacky-asset securitisation when he securitised his back catalog, it's all David Bowie's fault!). You could, and I think Sorkin does, take the view that that's only the prelude to the story. And indeed, the crisis was in part caused by over-reliance on precisely the sort of fundamental analysis and economic theory (for example, the inappropriate probabilistic assumptions built into option pricing and VAR models that Benoit Mandelbrot and Nassim Nicholas Taleb have been banging on about for years; the laissez faire view held by Ben Bernanke's predecessor in the Federal Reserve) that some suggest is missing here. The rest of the story is that while, these economic theories and fundamental analyses are all well and good, it was the personal and political expedients - the Realpolitik - which actually made the difference. This is what Taleb would call the "intractable reality" of the world which bevils and taunts any neat macro-economic explanation. Black Scholes cannot factor in that Hank Paulson, an incontrovertible Master of the Universe on Wall Street, was a complete ingénue in Washington; that even if he'd wanted to Paulson *couldn't* bail out Lehman, however sensible it may have been, because the Republican majority wouldn't have stood for it; that the Goldman/Wachovia merger was politically impossible because of the multiple Goldman connections at the Fed, Treasury and both firms; that a Presidential election was looming with a grandstanding, flailing republican candidate; that no-one really liked Dick Fuld, Vikram Pandit or Sheila Bair. These things, at the limit (and God only knows, we *were* at the limit) make an enormous difference to the path of history, and macroeconomic hypothesising about why this was happening really misses the point. That said, there is certainly some (acknowledged, I think) implausibility in the level or detail to which the book descends: it is one thing to report the fact of a meeting or call between two protagonists who clearly would not have talked, on or off the record, to the author; it's quite another to construct (i.e., invent) their dialogue and reactions "verbatim". I don't believe for a moment that any of Paulson, Geithner, Bair, Jester, Steele, Bernanke, Dimon, Lewis, Thain, Diamond, Darling, Mack, Fuld, McDade or McGee spoke to Sorkin at all. So the book, explicitly, takes many liberties, and its recounting of conversations can only have been entirely made up by Sorkin. The somewhat hackneyed on monotonous voice through which Sorkin renders all of his characters would tend to validate this suspicion. For all that, the content of the conversations is plausible and the account of the actions, in the round, rings true. So a very good, entertaining, rollicking account. Well recommended.read more
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Andrew Ross Sorkin manages to document the near-collapse of the US economy in 2008 in this near brilliant, true-life financial thriller. Working from thousands of sources, he manages to craft a story so compelling it literally becomes a page-turner.Starting with brief biographical summaries of each of the major players as they are introduced to the story helps to humanize what could be an overwhelming, data-driven work. The players who showed glimpses of humanity are contrasted with those whose own greed and lust for material wealth prevented them from realizing the risks involved.By the time the fateful weeks in September 2008 roll around, even though we know the outcome, the reader is hooked. The egos in the conference rooms should have precluded any possible resolution from being reached, but the efforts of the Treasury and Fed, particularly in the guises of Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner, to practically force the senior executives of the financial firms to work together to save the economy are depicted as near Herculean feats of strength.No one goes untarnished in this account, not the regulators who should have been watching, not the government agencies who should have been more aware and definitely not the executives themselves who should have known better than to risk not just their own companies but the entire US and global economies all in a mindless pursuit of short-term profits.The only disappointment for me was not enough time spent on the roots of the crisis, the deregulation, the near giveaways of mortgages with no proof of payment, the culture that rewards executives for obscene short-term profits with no regard for the long-term impacts. Additionally, while some potential preventive measures are discussed, I would have appreciated more detail on how these repeated bubble-burst cycles could be diminished.Overall, for anyone interested in a thrilling account of some of the most trying days in the US economy's history, you can't do better than this book.
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Sorkin has written a gripping account of a big chunk of the financial crisis, from the sale of Bear Stearns to JP Morgan in March 2008 to the passing of the TARP legislation and the US government's direct investment of the TARP funds into the major banks. If you're looking for an analytical book on the crisis, this isn't it, but if you want to feel like you're in the room with the increasingly desperate bankers and regulators, this is the book for you. There's a cast of characters at the start of the book, but he told the story so clearly that I didn't need it. I thought it was as good as Barbarians at the Gate and better than Liar's Poker. Sorkin does a pretty good job at avoiding jargon, but if you don't have an interest in financial markets it might be a slog.
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One of the books if your interested in the conversations that took place during the fall of the American banking system.Basically examines the players and the meetings that took place after the fall of Bear Sterns till Mid-September when Morgan Stanley and Goldman convert to commercial banks.There is no analysis in this book as it basically tries to re-create what had occurred through conversations.If anything, it reads like a people magazine version of wall street. Who said what at which meeting that was attended by who.At times its very interesting see how all the players interact with other and go beyond what you read in the headlines. I think ARS does a good job of that, but at times I cringe of embarrassment that some of the "leaders" are in position of power yet seem very clueless (which at time makes it somewhat depressing). ARS spends alot of time on Lehman Bros which basically becomes the backbone of the book overall in terms of that being the trigger for what happened in September of 2008. Interest waned towards the end when we all know what happens to these banks.Overall, its a long but easy read.
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Interesting read about the frenzy around the 2008 financial collapse. It was interesting reading about the people who run the industry I work in....an to understand how close we came to total collapse.
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The destruction of the global financial markets and their flawed operational model has devastated millions of lives across the world, fired off a massive recession and ensured long slow recovery, perhaps over decades. You would never know it from reading this book. Sorkin paints an intimate portrait of the 12 or 18 months of shenanigans inside Wall Street, roughly centered on 2008.This book is a long narrative telling who did or said what to who. Sorkin offers little analysis or comment, just giving us the events as he has reconstructed them from innumerable interviews and documents. Even through the sometimes incomprehensible technicalities of the financial world the pressure, tension, excitement and fear are there to be felt.My problem is with the participants. There is hardly a mention of the vast impact on ordinary people of the decisons they made. Sometiimes they speak of the impact on their staf and shareholders. The most commonly expressed concern in the book is that ‘I will not get to be the CEO of this or that company’. The enormous waste of money to pamper the egos of these men (and, yes, it is all men. The only women present are quickly sidelined while he men spray testosterone from their solid gold cufflinks.) is truly shocking.Arrogant, venal, weak, self-obsessed these people truly believed they were the masters of the universe.This is an excellent introduction to the subject, offering a single narrative thread that tells us what happened. We need to look elswhere for why.Meanwhile, I have to feel sorry for these men who nver reached the pinnacles of their careers and who have to scrape by on a few tens of millions each year,
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Huge, well-documented, clearly written, a blow by blow account of the 2008 panic.
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Heavily detailed. Too many characters not to have a better means of identification. Best part is Epilogue.
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Read like a horror book. Amazing. $100 million a year in pay and benefits in some cases, and the big boys acted like a bunch of children. I support capitalism, but this is evidence that capitalism needs adult supervision.
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I read this book for book club but it was always on my never-ending list of books to read. The financial crisis is like a genetically compromised octopus with 100 tentacles and growing. People who understand the banking and financial industry will sail through this book. The rest of us (me!) -- though not lacking in intelligence, education, and experience -- will have a difficult time keeping track of the characters and events and coming away with a finely-attuned sense of how everything connects (it all does) and what lessons may have been learned (none). The book blessedly contains a cast of characters, both home-grown and international, at the front of the book, but there were so many incestuous business relationships and intermarriage among banks and CEOs, that it may be of little use. Most readers will merely recognize names from their ubiquitous appearances in the daily news. The book also contains a very detailed bibliography and index. Sorkin's book details the events and background during a short period of time encompassing the government's bail-out of all the investments houses except for Lehman Brothers. Yes, the book does read like a best-selling thriller, even without understanding the details. It's hard to put it down or put it out of one's mind but reading it even at the broad level at which I did will occupy a very large chunk of one's days/weeks. It's worth the effort if only to realize every diabolical and sleazy thought you've ever had about Wall Street and the evil that lurks there is more true than you could ever imagine, even if you possess an Ivy League MBA. You may even, as I did, find yourself rooting for the financial collapse of the entire banking system just so it can start all over from scratch with unforgiving enforcement of meaningful rules and regulations, sanity, and real concern for the people whose money is being played with -- notwithstanding the ensuing international crisis unlike one we've ever before witnessed. Without that, taxpayers (you and me) will be rescuing the banks and the players in perpetuity and they will continue to get rich and stay rich while they stealing from us and paying themselves obscene salaries out of money that never existed. If you read this book and then grab your backpack for an OWS protest, good for you! We need more protesters.
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Informative and entertaining. Fascinating to see how high government officials, Fed officials and Financial CEOs handled the economic crisis.Well wriiten and sourced.
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Andrew Ross Sorkin delivers the first true behind-the-scenes, moment-by-moment, account of how the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression developed into a global tsunami. From inside the corner office at Lehman Brothers to secret meetings in South Korea, Russia and the corridors of Washington, "Too Big to Fail" is the definitive story of the most powerful men and women in finance and politics grappling with success and failure, ego, greed, and, ultimately, the fate of the world's economy. 'We've got to get some foam down on the runway!' a sleepless Timothy Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve of New York would tell Henry M.Paulson, the Treasury Secretary about the catastrophic crash of the world's financial system would experience. Through unprecendented access to the players involved, "Too Big to Fail" recreates all the drama and turmoil, revealing never-disclosed details and elucidating how decisions made on Wall Street over the past decade sowed the seeds of the debacle. This true s tory is not just a look at banks that were 'too big to fail', it is a real-life thriller about a cast of bold-faced names who themselves thought they were 'too big to fail'.
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I thought this was a good account of what went on during the financial crisis. It is a rather dramatic account of the events, though, so one has to wonder if or where the author might have taken some dramatic license. Regardless of that, I thought it was a rather fair account of events. Given the public outcry over the bailout, and both Wall Street and the government's role, would be easy to slant a story against them. However, I think Sorkin did a very good job to try to tell the story without doing so.
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Believe it or not, quite a zippy read (600-plus pages, including index, character cast and afterword). But for all that, does it adequately explain how it went so wrong? Nope. As with Michael Lewis's The Big Short, I'm still left wondering: stupid or evil?The problem is that the period most intensely covered here is so brief. It starts shortly before the Lehman collapse in September 2008 and then dives into all the frantic behind-the-scenes manoeuvring of the bank execs, AIG, Treasury secy Paulson and the Federal Reserve in the following few weeks. All fine and I especially liked learning about the extent of the govt's powers to regulate and intervene. Sorkin researched and interviewed like a demon to get all this detail.BUT this choice means that the banks have already discovered their desperate situation. I can pinpoint a few people, now ousted in this timeline, that deserve blame and possibly prosecution: Stan O'Neal of Merrill Lynch and Martin Lynch of AIG. But I'd like to scroll back in time and see how they started accumulating this crap and how AIG decided to offer insurance for them. Goldman Sachs, Paulson's old firm, didn't get much involved in these mortgage-backed securities. Neither did Wells Fargo. Why? Who did the analysis?There is an afterword and an epilogue in my 2010 edition but it's nowhere near enough to illuminate any reader's most burning questions: Was there a better way to do bailouts? Sure, these surviving banks have repaid their loans, but was it enough? Who should be in prison right now? Surely there was a way that Congress could have cancelled the compensation contracts? What's the state of bank regulation right now?Anyone looking for a revolving door, govt-Wall Street conspiracy will be disappointed. I don't see any evidence that the banks entered such a dangerous business counting on a govt rescue or Congressional rescue. Paulson, who had to be a source, comes off quite well, trying to do what's right and as pissed off as any citizen when confronted with banker boneheaded-ness. He certainly didn't want a bailout--neither did Republicans or Democrats in Congress. And his every movement and phone call is documented.The book could have done a better job of explaining the urgency of action. Sorkin should have spelled out in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman collapse what was happening around the world, how all these banks have interlocking obligations. It was like dominos collapsing. You're a company with a stellar credit rating expecting your goods to be picked up in Abu Dhabi and the bank won't honor your letter of credit. And the bank can't be blamed really. A half a dozen huge shipping firms collapsed at the end of 2008.FWIW, Too Big to Fail does a very poor job of defining sub-prime mortgage, credit default swap and collaterized debt obligations. It doesn't try until hundreds of pages in. For that, dip into Michael Lewis. You don't have to read his entire book but at least that is explained very well.As for the issue or prosecution. The New Yorker's George Packer provides a partial answer in a Q and A accompanying his June 2011 story on an unrelated insider trading case that was prosecuted. Yes, there are quite a few prosecutions against Countrywide and other mortgage companies. More civil suits. Also some cases being brought by the FDIC and SEC. But a major impediment seems to have been the way investigations were doled out to federal district courts in parts of the country other than New York's--New York having the best expertise to investigate such kinds of crimes. But he also quotes the current New York prosecutor on the need to have hard evidence--like wiretaps and e-mails. Hard to believe there isn't or wasn't a bunch of the latter as the investment banks bought and sold CDOs.
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This detailed chronology (known as a 'tick tock' in the world of journalism) will stand as a great example of this kind of story and an invaluable reference tool in the years to come. It's very readable, although the chapter openings, which all seem to start with the same formula (On a x day in x, Mr. X was doing x when he realized x -- in other words, some pithy anecdote about a meeting, an event, an ephiphany that always involves a key player) become extraordinarily irritating over the course of the book. My only gripe is that while Sorkin gives a quick overview of the basic causes of the market crash and near-disaster, he's primarily concerned with the events of the months between the collapse of Bear Steanrs and the creation of the TARP. Admittedly, those were dramatic months and the crux of the matter. But I don't really care who had what for lunch, or what Timothy Geithner's jogging route was in lower Manhattan. I'm more interested on what all the very senior people on Wall Street thought about the process of doing business and thinking about their business that led up to the crash. That would ultimately have been more revelatory and very fresh. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants an accessible overview of the events of 2008, but not to anyone who was following them as they happened (including Sorkin's own writing) and recalls many of the details. The parts of this that are new and fascinating aren't always revelatory -- they show shifting alliances, who was talking mergers with whom, for instance. That's intriguing, but we know that it was academic, that those deals didn't happen. Unless you're a student of management or negotiation, that is at best like reading an overview. After reding the whole thing, I would have loved to have ended up with a sense of why and how these institutions became too big to fail, not just a very good description of what happened when they had become so. On the plus side, it's light on the jargon.
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Wonderfully written and breathlessly told, but after a while the formula (particularly the trick of inserting random incidental detail to make the reader feel THEY WERE REALLY THERE) starts to grate.
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I had mixed expectations from Too Big to Fail. Considering we are still very much in the thrall of one of the worst financial crises of the past century, it is unfair to expect a single book to provide a complete perspective. Andrew Ross Sorkin does not attempt to explain how or why we got into the events of 2008. The book's objective is very clear - to chronicle what was happening in the financial markets during 2008. At this task, the book succeeds. It has an impressive cast, from Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to the CEO of Lehman Brothers, Dick Fuld.About three quarters of the book is about the Lehman collapse. The author seems so focuse on the investment bank that you get almost no visibility into what was happening at say Citibank or AIG, though AIG does get some attention. The book refuses to be technical with Sorkin sticking to a journalistic tone. That I think is this account's greatest shortcoming - if you hope to understand what specific problems were being faced by Lehman Brothers before its failure, the reasons it found itself under attack by short sellers, you won't find the explanation here.Ultimately, this book is a good record of what happened but I think my reading list needs a lot more books to understand the why. I'd give the book a half hearted recommendation
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Fascinating book and a fairly breezy read. Too bad the blow-by-blow narration felt a bit fake--how could the author know what all these people said all those times?--and also made me dislike of most of the people in the book. I couldn't finish it.
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What the financial crisis in the US essentially came down to was the bankers had the government balls in a nice tight wrench and if those balls got gangrene and dropped off, leaving the whole of the Western world without a banking system and the ensuing anarchy, they couldn't care less because they were filthy rich anyway and would, personally, all of them be more than just all right. (Skip to the last-but-two paragraph if you don't want the lead-up to how).

How it works, in a simplified way (the only way I can grasp it, financial pea-brain as I am and leaves out the part insurance companies played) is that the banks use their money, our money, our deposits, to make money by lending it out as mortgages and business loans. They make money on the interest people have to pay for those loans. If the standards for getting a loan are pretty lax (as they were at the time) then a lot of people won't be able to repay their loans and the bank doesn't have the money, isn't earning interest but has a dud house that won't sell for a profitable amount or a bankrupt business. So the bank isn't making any money but in an effort to do so, it relaxes restrictions on getting a loan even more so even more people borrow money and fail to repay it in this depressed economy... etc. etc. etc.

There is another arm to this banking scam business, that is investment, and here's where the big bucks come in. Investment bankers are always looking for good businesses where they can buy shares at a much lower price than they think they will rise to in the future, then they can sell them and realise a profit. Of course, there is always the risk they made a wrong judgement call and the shares fall in price and as they are on their way down they have to decide whether to stick with them and hold on to them and hope they will go up (some time) or get out with a reduced amount. Either way the bank is holding on to some pretty worthless stuff, like the houses that got foreclosed and won't sell for the value of the loan and the bankrupt businesses, or they've taken a loss on the shares either completely or close enough.

So there you have it, whatever the banks did in a depressed economy they were losing money.

If everyone were to go to their bank to withdraw all their money they couldn't as the banks have lost some of the money on those unwise deals, and have more locked up in loans and investments that might pay up or might also go belly-up. So some of the bigger investors seeing that Lehmans among other banks looked like they were full of bad debts and old houses and not much cash wanted their money out. On Wall Street, people took notice of big investors pulling their money out, and more people did, and started to look at the other banks (most of whom were in exactly the same position). So these big investors were pulling their money out from everywhere and looking to the Far East and points South, North, East and West where the bankers had been more regulated by government and not allowed to carry on risking people's money to the degree there was no longer enough to pay people their money back.

So the banks couldn't pay back the depositors their money, and like a pack of cards one after the other began to collapse. The next thing, the final thing really, was the fear that you and me and everyone else on your street would suddenly wake up and realise what was happening with the big investors was happening to you too and be in the queue at their bank at 9 a.m. to withdraw their money. And the bank wouldn't have it. Can you imagine the scene? Smashed ATMs and rioting. Businesses would not pay their overnight deposits in the next night, everyone would demand to be paid in cash, shops would not accept credit cards, debit cards wouldn't work. There would be anarchy in the streets. And the government would fall.

The US holds the principles of capitalism far too dear and always sees Communism when nationalisation and regulation of industries is debated, even when, as with the bankers it was obviously needed. So before a rescue package could be put together, they had to overcome the Fear of the Bogeyman. Once they did that, they could put together a financial package loaning the banks at very favourable terms, enough billions that everyone who wanted their money could get it and their would be enough left over to invest and hopefully restore the banks to their usual obscenely greedy profit-making. What really swayed them was the fact that the government would fall and they, Bush's Republicans, would 100% definitely be out of a job.

So now is the time for regulating the banks and how they spend these vast sums that are being loaned to them. But guess what? The bankers won't accept any meaningful regulation at all. Its fine by them if the banks collapse, they've all been drawing huge salaries and bonuses often in the millions. And knowing the collapse was coming you can be sure their money was holed up somewhere safe. So the government had a three way choice. One, let the banks collapse and the government along with it producing a Depression so major that it would reverberate around the world and make the depression of the 30s look like some minor thing that happened way back when. Two, call the bankers' bluff and bail out the banks and regulate their investments so that our homes, our small businesses and our money was safe by stopping the bankers risky behaviour (this would have benefited the average person, you and me). Three, give in to the bankers, let them invest as they please make huge profits (if they could) and then awarding themselves multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses and throwing us, average Joes, to the pits.

The investment bankers said if you put any restrictions on us, we will all leave, we will retire, we will go to other countries' banks, we will do as we please, but we will not work in any bank that restricts how we do our business, so we got you over a barrel, either you do it our way or no way. Hahaha

Yep. By the balls. And the average Joe ....

So the situation now is as it was, seven financial institutions control the banking system of the US and should they fail, well, read the book!

----------------------------------------------------------------------

(Just a note, the more a country relies on financial products the more it is susceptible to a depression. If the country relies on manufacturing items people want - China, Germany, South Korea etc - then its in a much stronger situation. Sure it could be hard to raise money to buy raw materials and machinery if the banks go, but what they have sold and have to sell gives them cash coming in.

Another note, you paid the bankers salaries and bonuses, you paid for their bail out when they did it wrong and you are paying through interest for their salaries and bonuses again. What interest does the bank give you on your deposit? Essentially, the public is triple screwed.).

What are the alternatives to the banking system? Buy gold, ingots not jewellery, you don't want to pay for the design, and find somewhere safe to put it, ie. not a bank. Or... money under the mattress!
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Sorkin was privy to a many of the conversations (related by participants) during this trying time. In spite of what many may think, the decisions were made in what was considered to be the best interests of the country (and the rest of the world) as understood by the participants. But the decisions were made under extremely trying conditions. The law of unintended consequences ruled, particularly after the collapse of Lehman. Sorkin relates these meetings, the humanity of the participants, and calculated guesses and decisions that saved the country from another Great Depression, but not from a great recession. It is a great read.
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This book is a real page turner, recapping the events leading up to the financial crisis and bailouts. By the end of the book you feel as if you know the principals. I also was glad I was traveling out of the country last September and not reading or watching the news!It is interesting to read in different newspapers what some of them are up to now; I just read a real estate blurb in the Wall Street Journal about one of the former Lehman Bros. executives trying to sell his $25 million Long Island home, and thought, hey I know this guy! Highly recommended for its terrific overview and detail.
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I have actually met a few of these characters. Completely convincing account.
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Andrew Ross Sorkin, business reporter for the New York Times, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the financial meltdown of 2008 in "Too Big to Fail." Published in 2009, the book offers a myriad of minute by minute details, particularly over the frantic weekend during which Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Fed chair Ben Bernanke, and then-president of the New York Fed Tim Geithner coordinated government intervention to purchase toxic assets. Relying on several unnamed sources, Sorkin carefully reconstructs the chaotic time. In particular, he details the deliberate and increasingly dictatorial government intervention into the problems, which often took the form of brief phone calls encouraging the involved banks, brokerages, and insurance companies to reach out to one another either by extending lines of credit or attempting to merge.Without being pedantic, Sorkin tries to explain the causes and potential consequences of the financial crisis in plain English, if a bit unsuccessfully. What is clear, though, is that the entire system lacks sufficient accountability, even within itself, as large companies hedge their bets ever more aggressively, following the examples of their competitors with little attention, or complete understanding, of the deals they pursued. To cite the most obvious example, the credit default swap, in which various banks repackaged parts of loans in a way that appeared to disseminate risk, it quickly becomes obvious that the safeguard is an illusion and the CDS is entirely risk-based.Perhaps more troubling now than at the time is the impromptu, seat-of-the-pants decision-making that reigned during the most hectic parts of the 2008 crisis, particularly in September. Sleep-deprived executives and government officials worked long hours – virtually around-the-clock – to forestall a systemwide panic in which there would be a collective "run on the bank." It seems unlikely that the decisions reached in such trying circumstances will forestall future problems, a point Sorkin highlights in the afterword written for the paperback edition.If there is a weakness to Sorkin's book, it is likely the nonjudgmental approach he takes when describing all of the key players. This makes it difficult to judge, or even understand, whether some of the key executives and officials made bad management decisions or simply were in completely over their heads.This, however, is a minor quibble. Sorkin offers a fast-paced, multilayered account, which would seem almost cinematic at points, except for the huge cast of characters (so large in fact, that Sorkin lists all of the key players on eight pages at the start of the book). Balancing a complex timeline with the huge number of players, the book is invariably interesting and exciting, even difficult to put down.
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wow...cant believe...the inside dibs...great stuff..totally enjoyed...hank paulson was a savior...dick fuld a baffoon....great inside info of what was going on when the world was melting down
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My only problem was keeping track of who worked for whom. Should have photocopied the Cast of Characters and kept it handy. Not quite up to "Barbarians at the Gate" intrigue, but a great account of that bail-out mess.
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If anything else, this is an entertaining book. Big tough bankers swear and dick around like petty real-estate salesmen from a David Mamet play.

It's also a good history of part of the 2007-2009 recession, specifically the collapse and restructuring of the investment banking system. Lehman Brothers is gone, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, AIG got money from the Fed, and the survivors rest put an emergency fund together, similar to the private response to the crashes of 1907 and 1929. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley said 'enough' to the investment banking business, and became bank holding companies.

This book focuses on the executive personalities and decisions which led to this deal. It does a good job of this, with a Woodward/Bernstein style look at how deals were made.

The problem of this book is the lack of general context - how the crisis even happened, with barely any mention of the real estate bubble and only a few pages devoted to derivatives. Sorkin here is a fine reporter, now it's time to analyze and see who will be in the right or wrong from this.
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Good account of the day-by-day improvisations of Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner as they tried to prevent a melt-down in the global financial markets. The reader will come away with admiration for Paulson and grudging respest for Geithner, both of whom performed admirably in the crisis. The book does not attempt to judge the correctness of all their decisions, but clearly their decisiveness itself helped to avert a much larger disaster.
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liking this but it is due!
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Offered good insight to some of the key events leading to the biggest financial meltdown of my life.
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Amazonian reactions to this book seem to fall into two buckets - on one view it's the definitive account of the investment banking crisis of 2008; on the other it is a slapdash, hastily thrown together, and un-penetrating story that lets itself be distracted by the Herculean egos (are there any other kinds on Wall Street?) and Olympian hubris and therefore fails to get anywhere near the nub of the issue: just how could this car crash ever have happened? There's an element of truth in both views, though I think the complaints of superficiality are - well - a little superficial. Firstly, be under no illusion that this is a quickly bashed-out pot-boiler; to the contrary, it's a book of monstrous scope. It covers an extraordinary series of dislocations in implausible, blow-by-blow, detail - more on this implausibility in a minute - Sorkin wisely includes a Dramatis Personae at the start, for the cast of events and characters and their various interactions here has the byzantine grandeur of a later James Ellroy novel (I just got through Blood's A Rover: the plotting in Too Big To Fail is comparable). Andrew Sorkin's simple achievement in commanding all these unconnected (if highly correlated) events and knitting them into a coherent, linear narrative is remarkable, particularly given the time in which Sorkin achieved this. It might have been fifteen months now, but it only seems like yesterday. As noted (and, elsewhere, complained about) Sorkin's interest is in the personalities behind the thrust and counterthrust rather than the macroeconomic backdrop. Far from being a drawback, that's precisely what is so perceptive about this book: the economic fundamentals "which lead to the crisis" aren't the whole story. Indeed they are *just* a story - and you'll find as many different analyses of precisely how this came about and whose fault it was as you could wish for, and while there is much consensus, there is a lot of disagreement too. But it doesn't matter. Once the balls were in motion, what mattered was who did what, when. Sorkin does assume some knowledge of the financial history of the last 15 years, and assumes you'll have a view by now the whole story, and whether it was Greenspan's free market fundamentalism, the disestablishment of the Glass Steagall Act, the rise of derivatives technology which permitted the securitisation of increasingly whacky assets, the negative feedback loop created by the originate-and-distribute model, the flaws and anomalies in CDO ratings methodologies or some diabolical confection of some or all of the above. (Actually, here's a great spin on the crisis: being as he was, the progenitor of modern whacky-asset securitisation when he securitised his back catalog, it's all David Bowie's fault!). You could, and I think Sorkin does, take the view that that's only the prelude to the story. And indeed, the crisis was in part caused by over-reliance on precisely the sort of fundamental analysis and economic theory (for example, the inappropriate probabilistic assumptions built into option pricing and VAR models that Benoit Mandelbrot and Nassim Nicholas Taleb have been banging on about for years; the laissez faire view held by Ben Bernanke's predecessor in the Federal Reserve) that some suggest is missing here. The rest of the story is that while, these economic theories and fundamental analyses are all well and good, it was the personal and political expedients - the Realpolitik - which actually made the difference. This is what Taleb would call the "intractable reality" of the world which bevils and taunts any neat macro-economic explanation. Black Scholes cannot factor in that Hank Paulson, an incontrovertible Master of the Universe on Wall Street, was a complete ingénue in Washington; that even if he'd wanted to Paulson *couldn't* bail out Lehman, however sensible it may have been, because the Republican majority wouldn't have stood for it; that the Goldman/Wachovia merger was politically impossible because of the multiple Goldman connections at the Fed, Treasury and both firms; that a Presidential election was looming with a grandstanding, flailing republican candidate; that no-one really liked Dick Fuld, Vikram Pandit or Sheila Bair. These things, at the limit (and God only knows, we *were* at the limit) make an enormous difference to the path of history, and macroeconomic hypothesising about why this was happening really misses the point. That said, there is certainly some (acknowledged, I think) implausibility in the level or detail to which the book descends: it is one thing to report the fact of a meeting or call between two protagonists who clearly would not have talked, on or off the record, to the author; it's quite another to construct (i.e., invent) their dialogue and reactions "verbatim". I don't believe for a moment that any of Paulson, Geithner, Bair, Jester, Steele, Bernanke, Dimon, Lewis, Thain, Diamond, Darling, Mack, Fuld, McDade or McGee spoke to Sorkin at all. So the book, explicitly, takes many liberties, and its recounting of conversations can only have been entirely made up by Sorkin. The somewhat hackneyed on monotonous voice through which Sorkin renders all of his characters would tend to validate this suspicion. For all that, the content of the conversations is plausible and the account of the actions, in the round, rings true. So a very good, entertaining, rollicking account. Well recommended.
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