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Andrew Ross Sorkin is The New York Times's chief mergers and acquisitions reporter and a columnist. Mr. Sorkin, a leading voice about Wall Street and corporate America, is also the editor of DealBook, an online daily financial report he started in 2001. In addition, Mr. Sorkin is an assistant editor of business and finance news, helping guide and shape the paper's coverage.
Mr. Sorkin, who has appeared on NBC's "Today" show and on "Charlie Rose" on PBS, is a frequent guest host of CNBC's "Squawk Box." He won a Gerald Loeb Award, the highest honor in business journalism, in 2004 for breaking news. He also won a Society of American Business Editors and Writers Award for breaking news in 2005 and again in 2006. In 2007, the World Economic Forum named him a Young Global Leader.
He hosts three daily business reports on radio that are syndicated nationally called "The Business Brief with Andrew Ross Sorkin."
Mr. Sorkin began writing for The Times in 1995 under unusual circumstances: he hadn't yet graduated from high school.
The problem with this book is not just that the author makes virtually no effort to explain why the whole financial system would have collapsed in 2008 absent huge taxpayer bailouts, other than in a few sentences in an epilogue. The problem is that throughout the book he uncritically channels the explanations for the collapse provided by the titans of Wall Street. The CEOs blame the government, the profit-seeking hedge funds and the shorts, never themselves. They come up with ludicrous justifications for billions in salaries and bonuses that fund their lavish lifestyles. You can almost hear Sorkin's pain when he describes how much the net worth of the Lehman CEO, Dick Fuld, declined, and how he has to consider selling his wife's art collection. The fact that he had redeemed hundreds of millions worth of stock ($482 million according to Fortune magazine) as his company was disintegrating around him barely gets mentioned. The accounting tricks used to prop up these paragons both to take their toxic assets temporarily off the books and to underreport the real compensation to executives go unmentioned. After reading this you also wonder what it is that these people actually do to earn these billions. Sorkin uncritically says that this money is necessary to "retain the talent." But Bank of America decided to pay $38 billion for Merrill Lynch after doing due diligence for a total of two days. Was this actually a demonstration of "talent"? The only sense you get of these people is that they're all scrappy testosterone-filled climbers from disadvantaged backgrounds who still feel a deep need to prove themselves and who also want to belong to an all-male club.Read more ›
This is an excellent book that reads like something that Dan Brown might have written. But its real. The part that amazed me was the level of detail Sorkin was able to get about behind the scenes conversations that took place. Stuff about how people such as Dick Fuld of Lehman reacted to the problems when it was becoming clear that the company was going down and he was in denial. How Paulson was reacting to things when there were no rules about what to do.
But probably the most interesting parts were how the different personalities were reacting while the ground was shifting under them. At the peak, many of the people involved were literally working 24 hours a day highlighted by a phone call made to Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citibank at 3 am telling how a deal he made at midnight for Wachovia had instead been trumped by another and that that deal had already been signed and blessed by the government. How major decisions were being made on the run and how solid institutions became institutions on the brink in a matter of hours.
The book also explains how companies like Barclays and China Investment Corporation were working behind the scenes as well how Paulson, Geithener and others in the government were scrambling to keep things from collapsing. There is a lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacking going on and some of the things these people did may not have been the best, but they pulled it off and we should all be grateful.
But there some bad guys, namely the short sellers and as usual some in congress. The book makes clear that out of control short selling added fuel to the flames that were occurring and that when we were facing this emergency some members of Congress were focused on their own butt instead of doing what was needed.
There is a huge cast in this book and its is sometimes hard to keep the people and their roles straight, but make the effort. You will be rewarded.
The book details the events, the people and the conversations that roiled the banks in 2008. The book does not really discuss why the events happened. If you're looking to understand why these banks fell, this is not the book to read.
The book is very readable and even at 539 pages, a person can finish it quickly. Another plus is that unlike most NY Times reporters, the author keeps most of his opinions out of the story until the last 2 pages.
His opinions are:
The government allowing Lehman to go into bankruptcy was the catalyst that caused the floodgates to open. This is probably why he spends a lot of the book developing the Lehman story.
He's ambivalent about whether the government players could have prevented the collapse of the banks or even if they did the right things when they did act. But he's quite clear that more banking regulation was needed then and is needed now.
One can disagree with his opinions, but he does well to leave most of them till the end of the book.
A few criticisms:
As mentioned, he does not discuss why exactly these events happened. In the epilogue, he briefly mentions 4 events that percolated over 10 years that conspired to cause the perfect storm in 2008. But he could have spent a chapter (prologue) describing these events and how they conspired to cause the problem. Apparently he's not a banker or an academic, so maybe he didn't feel qualified to do this.
Second criticism: In a few places prior to his epilogue, he lets us know his (negative) opinion of some players. It's obvious his disdain for Chris Cox and Sheila Bair. But he's particularly vitriolic towards the Wall Street Journal editorial page.Read more ›