A business book that is as riveting as an adventure novel... a masterpiece Huffington Post When the financial crisis of this decade is being taught in business schools, All the Devils Are Here could be the textbook. Time Grand in scope, overwhelming in detail, this is as compelling as a well-crafted literary novel USA Today Yields a rich and intricate tableau of understanding Financial Times A thorough account of the origins of the financial crisis. Helps explain the most troubling headlines of the moment, as well as those that are certain to come. New York Times Joe Nocera is the best business writer alive Jim Cramer
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About the Author
Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind are Fortune senior writers. McLean, a former investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs, lives in New York City. Her March 2001 article in Fortune, "Is Enron Overpriced?," was the first in a national publication to openly question the company's dealings.
I thought it would take a couple of decades of perspective to tell the full story of the crisis. Meanwhile Michael Hirsh's Capital Offense (which covered the story from Washington), along with The Big Short by Michael Lewis (focusing on a few offbeat portfolio managers), Justin Fox's The Myth of the Rational Market (which went deep into intellectual history and gave testimony from many of the people who invented the theories), The Quants by Scott Patterson (working from the equations out) and Glenn Yago and Franklin Allen's Financing the Future (which traced the story from prehistory into the future and emphasized the positive side of financial innovation as much as the negative side) were the best available accounts. All had stylish writing, great stories and thorough research to cover important aspects of events.
Without taking anything away from any of those books, All the Devils are Here manages to cover every important financial aspect of the crisis. To be fair, it doesn't go into as much history or theory as Justin Fox, Michael Hirsh or Yago and Allen did, and it's not as great a story as Michael Lewis and Scott Patterson extracted.Read more ›
"All the Devils are Here" is a very ambitious book that attempts to weave together a wide range of narratives into a single story that explains the financial crisis. In general, I think the book does a very good job of taking on this challenge, but there is no way to get around the fact that it is a complex undertaking. The book takes a full 8 pages just to list the "cast of characters."
The story begins with the invention of mortgage-backed securities in the late 1970s and traces the founding and evolution of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. We learn about innovations in risk management and derivatives at JP Morgan and how they created the first credit default swaps and then later lured AIG into the game. Also covered are greed and mortgage fraud at Ameriquest and the failure of the ratings agencies to do anything close to an adequate job. There is also a lot of material on internal politics at Wall Street firms and especially how the risk management process at Merrill Lynch was undermined. Much of the story has been written about extensively elsewhere, for example how the Greenspan/Rubin/Summers trio pushed back against regulation of derivatives.
While "All the Devils are Here" offers one of the broadest takes on the financial crisis, I think it still fails to address one of the "devils" -- or perhaps even the elephant in the room. The book focuses entirely on the financial sector and misses the larger, structural shift that has occurred in the overall U.S. economy. That shift has been driven primarily by globalization and technology and the result has been stagnant incomes for the vast majority of people while a tiny few have seen their incomes explode. That left the middle class with little choice except to borrow in order to maintain their lifestyles.Read more ›
This is the story of how the financial meltdown came about. It begins at the beginning and continues until the end. It is a carefully constructed chronicle of the systemic greed and hubris, clueless shortsightedness and incompetence that brought the U.S. financial system to its knees. Although well written, and reads like a novel, it still is not an easy read and in the end it fails to place or assess blame. The authors make clear that the fundamental hidden assumption that drove the collapse (and that proved to be fatal in the end) was the notion that home prices would continue to rise indefinitely. Feeding this assumption were a host of enabling factors, most of which straddled the borders of both immorality and corrupt business practices. Every one of the participants listed in the book was in part complicit and culpable. Yet the authors "pulled their punches" when it came to assessing blame:
Loan standards were weakened until they were non-existent. Lenders, as well as the recipients of loans, were both drunk on the home-lending madness, which driven by Congress and Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae, became a national orgy. The ratings of the rating agencies were worthless primarily because they not only lagged the housing market but at the same time depended on and mimicked the very company and markets they were trying to rate? Rules regarding capital requirements became worthless, and thus increasingly were skirted - as was generally true with other aspects of the process. This continued throughout the evolution of the process.
The train of "packaged loans (virtually worthless paper)" were leveraged to the sky, without even a semblance of an institutional safety net. Insurance on the loan packages, and the CDOs, too were inherently worthless.Read more ›