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Bold Endeavors: How Our Government Built America, and Why It Must Rebuild Now Hardcover – February 24, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Rohatyn (former managing director, Lazard Frères & Co.) retells ten major events in U.S. history from a banker's perspective. He aims both to engender an understanding of how important national leadership has been to the development of our country and to sound a call for national investment in renewing our nation's infrastructure. Organized as a series of case studies, the book explores federally funded undertakings such as the Louisiana Purchase and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and describes the circumstances through which each came to pass. Rohatyn nicely summarizes quite complex historical events, some of which (e.g., the GI Bill) make a more compelling case than others (e.g., the Homestead Act) for the unequivocal success of federally supported national development endeavors. Ultimately, Rohatyn proposes the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank to guide federal funds for public works projects (roads, bridges, schools, etc.) to go to the most critical needs, then details how such a bank might improve upon current means of distributing federal funds for such projects. Maps would have been beneficial for some chapters. Recommended for all interested readers in U.S. history or current affairs.—Elizabeth L. Winter, Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Felix Rohatyn, a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, was a managing director at the investment banking firm Lazard Freres & Co. LLC and served as the U.S. ambassador to France. From 1975 to 1993, Mr. Rohatyn was chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation of the State of New York, where he managed the negotiations that enabled New York City to resolve its financial crisis.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416533125
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416533122
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,728,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I lived through the bankruptcy of New York City. It was a very disturbing experience. At one point garbage was piled high on the streets.

The author of this book helped save New York City. He chaired what was called the Municipal Assistance Corporation ("Big Mac") that forced all parties, including rich bankers, to sacrifice to save New York. It worked.

This book should help bury once and for all the fantasy that "big government" played no role in U.S. history. It details how government intervention again and again shaped U.S. economic policy.

Today, as the author points out, America is literally falling apart as result of a 28 year fantasy that "government was the problem".

Read this book. It's not written by an abstract intellectual. It's written by somebody who actually worked with real people to help one of America's biggest cities recover from a disaster produced by excessive government borrowing. American has had "credit card government" since 1981. Now we face a day of reckoning. This books gives insights on a way out of today's mess.
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Format: Hardcover
"Bold encounters" tells of ten large and transformative public initiatives in American history, often unpopular at the time, but later proven visionary. Those included are the Louisiana Purchase - doubled the size of the country, the construction of the Erie Canal - opening a water route to the West, Lincoln's strong support for the transcontinental railroad, creation of Land Grant colleges and the Homestead Act, building the Panama Canal, bringing electricity to rural America, the G.I. Bill, and creating the interstate highway system.

The underlying purpose of "Bold Endeavors" is to present an urgent call to rebuild America's infrastructure - roads and bridges, schools and hospitals, ports and dams, water, sewer, and electric lines. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $1.6 trillion will be needed to make our infrastructure dependable and safe. Doing so will also create tens of thousands of new jobs, and reduce the estimated 13,000 deaths attributed to poor highway maintenance.

Rohatyn contends that the ten stories in this book demonstrate that large-scale public investments can work, and with remarkable long-term success.

The federal government is spending $73 billion/year on infrastructure, without a system to objectively prioritize. Rohatyn proposes a National Infrastructure Bank to both issue bonds for their funding and to rank proposals. Interestingly, Rohatyn, a former Wall Street investment bank leader, also believes that these problems are due to investment having been replaced by speculation, and that capitalists are killing capitalism.

Finally, Rohatyn reminisces on his earlier service helping New York City avert bankruptcy - unfortunately, irresponsible leadership since then has brought the problem back through overly generous funding of public employee wages and retirement benefits. Meanwhile, China is investing $200 billion in railroads over 4 years, starting in 2006.
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Format: Hardcover
As a fellow European in the U.S., I share Mr Rohatyn's admiration for the ability of this country to conceive of great projects and to carry them out to the benefit of future generations. I also share his concern for the sorry state of the nation's infrastructure and the urgent need to address its shortcomings.

The puzzling question is why it was so difficult to develop an effective response to this crisis. A number of recent bills before Congress to increase spending on infrastructure have all run into a brick wall. Last year's report by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission attracted little attention and prompted no action. I would have been interested in Mr Rohatyn's analysis of this situation.

The book was probably written before the financial crisis and the reaction of the Obama administration developed. It could not have anticipated the stimulus package that the President signed into law a few days before publication.

The "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" includes $45 billion to spend on transportation infrastructure projects, doubling the federal budget for this purpose. This part of the plan benefited from strong and mostly bipartisan support in Congress.

Hopefully this initiative opens the way to further and more stable funding, in the context of the aviation and highway reauthorizations that will be before Congress later this year.
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Format: Hardcover
Bold Endeavors will whet you appetite to dig into the long list of books on each of the 10 "bold endeavors" the author provides in the back of the book. Each chapter of the book gives a very brief history of the original idea and implementation of a major American project, ranging from the Louisiana Purchase to the Interstate Highway System. The book is a whirlwind of famous projects and some not so famous names. For example, who knew that a Congressman named Morrill was responsible for the Land Grant Colleges? In fact, if you did know than this book is not for you because you need something a bit more in depth.

The author's epilogue endorses an existing proposal for a national infrastructure bank, partially to cure the nation's economic woes. But the book demonstrates that America needs to invest regardless of the gyrations of the stock market or home prices. Because imagine if we hadn't done some of the major investments in the book:
No Panama Canal-Less US role as a global economic and naval power.
No GI Bill-Less US role as a higher education leader.
No transcontinental railroad-A much less united nation in the post-Civil War years.

The list goes on. Check out the book.
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