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The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery Hardcover – February 28, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Scheiber writes with ease and authority about complicated financial matters . . . and proves particularly adept at showing how [the Obama economic team’s] personalities, philosophies and previous experiences with one another shaped their interactions and the policy-making process.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“A Woodwardian account of infighting in the White House’s economics team . . . Scheiber is a smart, clear-eyed reporter who frames his arguments elegantly.” Bloomberg Businessweek

The Escape Artists is a compelling narrative, deeply reported and beautifully written.” —Jonathan Chait, New York

“Diligently reported and informative.” —John Cassidy, The New Yorker

"The Escape Artists reads like a Bob Woodward book—albeit better written and informed by a more sophisticated understanding of economics and policymaking." —Daniel Gross, Yahoo! Finance

“Noam Scheiber offers a persuasive take on administration policymaking . . . [and] provides a template for future administrations—even a future Obama administration—to avoid the trap of thinking too narrowly and too politically in a crisis.” —Matthew Yglesias, Slate

“What Scheiber offers is a judicious, nuanced and ultimately . . . persuasive chronicle of how contentious experts jockeyed to influence a young president stuck with an almost impossible set of chal­lenges. . . . Such sophisticated analysis of how the nation’s most powerful officials think—however one regards the wisdom of that thinking—distinguishes Scheiber’s book.” —Paul M. Barrett, The New York Times Book Review

The Escape Artists offers great insight into Obama’s self-perception. . . . Scheiber’s reporting has naturally sparked a great deal of second-guessing in Democratic circles, and his book will provide plenty of ammunition for the president’s liberal critics . . . [and] to those critics on the right who believed that the White House never really earned their trust.” —Reihan Salam, The Daily

About the Author

Noam Scheiber is a senior editor at The New Republic, writing about politics and Obama administration economic policy. He has written for the New York Times, The Washington Post, New York magazine, and Slate, and has appeared on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, and NPR. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439172404
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439172407
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #290,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A superb treatment of President Obama's first years in office, Noam Scheiber's "The Escape Artists" is an extraordinary blend of reportage, analysis and opinion.

Although Scheiber covers the same territory as a number of other recent books, there is a great deal of new information here that makes the book valuable as a first draft of history. Scheiber's punctilious coverage of the internecine battles among Obama's economic advisers alone sets his book apart. In particular, Scheiber lays bare for the first time National Economic Chair Lawrence Summers' thoroughgoing efforts to bury CEA Chairwoman Christina Romer's recommendation for a much larger, $1.8-trillion stimulus package in the first months of the administration. The exceptional detail of this episode is quite helpful in furthering the picture of Summers as hectoring bully that has emerged in more breathless, but less satisfying, books, such as Ron Suskind's "Confidence Men."

And while the reportage in "The Escape Artists" is terrific, Scheiber's lucid analysis of the 2009-2010 economic terrain gives the book an added dimension. Indeed, Scheiber's explication of the path not taken with respect to additional stimulus, derivative regulation, and "too big to fail" financial institutions is as helpful as anyone will find anywhere. This book deserves a widespread audience and here's to hoping that it finds one.
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Format: Hardcover
The other reviews are largely devoted to how this book squares with the reviewers' own political leanings. That isn't too useful (except for one point noted below).

Some general interest issues:

A. Noam Scheiber is obviously a strong, if occasionally hyperbolic, writer who writes with a novelist's panache. The editor, however, could been tougher and reined him more. There are a number of places in which they could have demanded more coherence. The most obvious example of this is the title, which doesn't make much sense on a number of levels. The phrase `the escape artists' doesn't clearly point to any central theme, and the word `fumbled' isn't an accurate description of what Scheiber describes (except for a homeowner relief package mentioned toward the end of the book). A more accurate subtitle for this work would have been `How Republicans tripped up the economic recovery'.

Scheiber himself, however, seems to reluctant to reach this conclusion, in part I suspect because he doesn't want to appear partisan and in part because if that really was the story, that would mean a different book with a whole set of more interviews. I'm not saying this to blame Republicans but to say that Scheiber doesn't want to go where his evidence is leading him. And if he followed the trail, he would have had to interview a lot more Hill Republicans, which might have complicated the story he got from talking to White House insiders. Or it might have made him squarely face his own evidence that Wall Street effectively captured a White House promising change.

B. Toward the beginning of the book especially, Scheiber fetishizes intelligence, talking about how brilliant or analytical this or that person is.
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Format: Hardcover
Scheiber has done a masterful job of putting a human face on the policies that have been argued back and forth about the Obama administration and its handling (or non-handling) of the economy. For those of us not privy to the inside scoop, Scheiber has managed to give us a detailed picture of who said what to whom, and when, and why, and how that catapulted into what someone else said to whom, and when, and why. Though we peruse the newspapers and blogs scrupulously, listen to the cable talkers, and debate with our friends, most of what we hear and know has an ephemeral quality to it. Scheiber provides the down-to-earth human element--the missed opportunities, the flawed judgement, the personal history of the actors-- and we learn, once again, why the person, not just "the idea," matters.
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Format: Hardcover
I like this book because Scheiber is a Senior Editor of the The New Republic an editorially liberal magazine and he as a presumptive Obamaphile analyzes Barak Obama's failures in the financial sector. Although subtitled "How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery" it is more a reflection on the Executive decisions of the President. In Chapter One we learn that Obama's decison was to bring together ex-Clintonites as the heart of his financial team upon winning the election. They had dealt with financial crises during the Clinton Presidency and Obama sought that background. The advice that Obama received from Geithner, Rahm Emanuel and others was to put a priority on economic recovery. Scheiber reports that Obama deflected that advice as not transformative enough. Scheiber points out that Obama quickly exhibited what Scheiber calls a "Messianic" self view.

In subsequent chapters Scheiber analyzes the backgrounds the financial team and learn what a "grab-bag character" this team had in terms of their own financial priorities. Through some 200 interviews documented in 30+ pages of notes, Scheiber elaborates on the infighting of the Obama team. While the author's documentation is that of the debates themselves, the picture that emerges is that of a President that was not in control of his own team. Simply stated the tail was wagging the dog.

Scheiber states that this atmosphere was the environment that Obama wanted. The tone is that rather than engaging in the nitty gritty of policy formation, Obama would survey opinions then make a choice.

There are two specific failures that Scheiber assigns to Obama's team. First they failed to request the level of the stimulus that they believed they needed for economic recovery.
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