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Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't Hardcover – Deckle Edge

ISBN-13: 978-0307700162 ISBN-10: 030770016X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030770016X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307700162
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At the height of the financial crisis of 2008, public distrust of Congress was nearly as great as its distrust of the Wall Street bankers behind the collapse. Still, Congress had to set aside enormous egos, political considerations, and fear of blame to pass legislation in record time to stave off a collapse. For 18 months, Washington Post reporter Kaiser was granted unprecedented access to the major figures behind the recovery legislation, most notably the colorful, irascible congressman Barney Frank and cautious senator Christopher Dodd, the men for whom the final legislation was named. In this riveting account, Kaiser details the 15-day roller-coaster drama behind the law that rescued the banking system and instituted new safeguards. Beyond the major players, Kaiser also focuses on the staffs, often the real brains behind legislation because congressmen lack expertise in or understanding of the complex issues about which they legislate. What unfolds is high drama of ill-considered symbolic actions, political posturing, number crunching, speechifying, and deal-making. Beyond the financial crisis, Kaiser offers an insightful primer on how laws are made, from conception to passage, as well as the characters and culture of the U.S. Congress, observed from an astonishing perspective most citizens never see. --Vanessa Bush

From Bookforum

If there is an animating force behind Act of Congress—the newest book from longtime Washington Post reporter and editor Robert G. Kaiser—it's an attempt to explain this contradiction: How can the most productive Congress since the 1970s also stand as the most dysfunctional in more than a century? His case study is the successful two-year effort to pass financial reform and deal with the regulatory aftermath of the economic crisis. —Jamelle Bouie

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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A job well done and the best civics lesson I've read in a long time.
Edmund Boutin
If the reporting is accurate, and I assume it is, it's amazing that anything gets done in Congress.
Edward Wolpert
This book was extremely informative and so interesting to read, I could hardly put it down.
E. James Crescenzi Jr.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Donald E. Graham on May 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
You should know that I have known Bob Kaiser for 40 years. But I feel I that what I'm writing about his book is objective.

There are lots of books about how bills become laws in Congress. I've read some and thought I knew a lot about the subject. I was wrong; in today's Congress, much of what's described in (for example) Robert Caro's excellent books on Lyndon Johnson has gone out the window.

The strength of this book is that Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd gave the author quite extraordinary access to their work as they drafted what turned out to be the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. Kaiser, by then a retired journalist, sat in on confidential meetings, but promised to write nothing until the bill passed (or did not).

The result is unsettling. This most important law (as described) was written and edited almost entirely by staff. There was strikingly little detailed attention by members, except for Barney Frank. When members sought to amend the bill, it was almost always at the instigation of a staffer with a hobbyhorse.

Unsurprisingly, the book goes into sad detail about the lack of co-operation between Democrats and Republicans. The subject, banking reform, was one both parties had expressed concern about and one might have expected co-operation. There was none. The book is frankly partisan; Kaiser, spending hours with Dodd and Frank and their staffs, tends to adopt their views.

It is also detailed; I found the detail fascinating and I think most students of government will feel as I did. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an advanced course on how Washington works (or does not). It is outstanding, highly original reporting. I wish I could tell you it will leave you feeling better about your government. It won't. But you'll know a lot more.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Doug Cornelius on June 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Robert Kaiser was granted rare access to the action behind the scenes of the creation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't is an enjoyable study of the enactment of that law, used as tool to explore how Congress works, and largely how it it doesn't work.

Kaiser was already an associate editor and senior correspondent with the Washington Post and had just finished a book on lobbying and money in Washington. He proposed to Congressman Frank that Kaiser become the historian of the congressional response to the Great Crash of 2008. Frank was planning a big legislative changes to the financial services industry and the new president shared this goal. Senator Chris Dodd and Representative Barney Frank let Kaiser talk on the record with staff.

Act of Congress lives by the famous remark "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." The book's goal is to be both entertaining and educational as it sneaks behind the curtain to watch the sausage production.

"Of the 535 members of the House and Senate, those who have a sophisticated understanding of the financial markets and their regulation could probably fit on the twenty-five man roster of a Major League Baseball team."

Kaiser lets the stupidity of some Congress make it to the pages. He lets their public statements stand for themselves, although he tosses the phrase "intellectual lightweight" at a few.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Wulfstan TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Many of us are baffled about how Congress works- or rather doesn't. Some of us vaguely remember a little vignette by Schoolhouse rock "I am Just a Bill". Longtime Washington Post reporter and editor Robert G. Kaiser makes the attempt to `plain it to us laymen, and mostly succeeds.

Kaiser mostly uses the Dodd-Frank act as his case history, constantly circling back and showing us how this massive and critical bill made it thru Congress. Thus, you learn not only how Congress operates, but about this very important bill and it's many ramifications for today's life.

Detailed, comprehensive, eminently readable, and mostly unbiased, this book should be a must -read for anyone wanting to know more than that Schoolhouse Rock song.

"I'm just a bill
Yes, I'm only a bill
And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill
Well, it's a long, long journey
To the capital city".....
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lydon on June 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Act of Congress, by longtime Washington political reporter Robert G. Kaiser, is an intelligent, insightful, and thorough study of how the enormous Dodd-Frank financial reform bill made it through the House and Senate and became the law of the land. Kaiser begins in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers crashed and AIG got saved, then step-by-step he follows the slow zig-zag path to a reform of financial regulation that, hopefully, could save the national economy from another disaster. The issues, politics, and personalities are complex, and Kaiser manages to describe them all in detail while keeping his narrative moving suspensefully forward. Reading Act of Congress, I felt I was learning on every page, seeing behind the headlines and seeing through partisan hype. While Kaiser paints many participants with small brains and big egos, Barney Frank, Christopher Dodd, and many Congressmen and staff members come though Kaiser's prose as capable, hard-working men and women doing their best to curb Wall Street excesses for the good of the country. If you read Kaiser's book, you'll read every new story of lobbyists, partisan wrangling, and spotlit investigative hearings with new and deepened understanding.
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