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on May 10, 2014
Reporter, storyteller, historian, teacher, communicator; Ron Suskind is all of those things and more. I previously admitted ignorance when it came to matters of Wall Street or the economy but Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President has turned that around for me. This book is definitely 'required reading' for Real World 101, which should be a mandatory course for every American. This story begins at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Wall Street, where dreams and realities are forced to interact and deal with one another.

In the summer of 2007 Robert Wolf, the forward-looking Chairman and COO of UBS America, began to recognize the 'financing dilemma' that was to about to overtake the US economy. When 'market asset' values began to drop, he shared his unique perspective with a new friend that he admired, Barack Obama, the young Senator from Illinois who was now beginning to campaign for the presidency.

Through his extensive research, Suskind has allowed us to watch the interactions of these forces of change from the inside, like a fly on the wall, through the voices of the very people involved. 'Confidence Men' includes all the politicians, the market giants, the campaigns, the Bear-Sterns collapse, the Lehman bankruptcy, the TARP, the historic election, the Administration change, the unemployment, the stimulus, the job loss, the healthcare debate, the debt ceiling; and you are right there watching these crises unfold and feeling the tangible forces competing with one another right up until the 2010 Midterm election and the change of forces. It's truly fascinating!

In his last three chapters, Suskind's prose just sparkles as he describes how the world adapted to the machinations of those in power, who were at the controls on both ends of the New York-Washington spectrum. The sad part is that now we can clearly see that not much has truly changed in this 'game of life' but the clock is still running. Our personal futures may still be in the hands of Fate but we have stabilized, our systems have matured on several fronts and our current predicaments have been connected with the broader arc of our American history. Hopefully we can learn to benefit from the deep lessons that Suskind has skillfully captured for us. We now have our elected President in office for a second term, attempting to help each of us to be confident in ourselves and in our future. This process is one that could only be accomplished in America and we must carry it forward.

I admit that my review is biased; this is not my first effort involving Suskind's words and wisdom. If the truth must be known, I very much enjoy the way that he thinks. I hope that you might check out One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies and The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism as well and perhaps you too will have multiple chances to enjoy him as I have.

Bob Magnant is the author of The Last Transition..., a fact-based novel about politics, the Internet and US policy in the Middle East...
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on October 9, 2011
This book could be used at almost any business school as a case study on the impact an inexperienced manager has on the success or failure of the organization he/she leads. President Obama surrounded himself with extremely expert and strong willed men, Lawrence Summers, Rahm Emanuel, and Tim Geithner. Those appointments at first blush would seem exactly the type of people the President of the United States should have surrounded himself with. Unfortunately in this case those strong willed personalities with world class expertise overwhelmed a tentative President unsure of himself, who entered office with virtually no management experience. These men, and others, ill served Obama, openly ignoring presidential directives, and openly insulting him in front of others in the organization. Summers said more than once "We are Home Alone" implying that there would be no leadership or decisions coming from the President.

Susskind has written a fascinating glimpse into a presidency that has been widely seen as ineffective and even inept. This book is well researched, entertaining, and enlightening.

Highly recommended
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on September 29, 2011
Because we are entering an election cycle, much of the attention this book is receiving is based on how it might help or hurt Obama's chances for reelection. What the book is is an insightful look into the events leading up to and following the great financial crisis of 2008. You will definitely come away with a deeper understanding of the workings of Wall Street e.g. credit default swaps, tranches, leveraging, etc. and the difficulty of dealing with the problems through government policy. The inside look at White House dynamics is not always pretty, but could one really expect a leader with limited experience to effectively handle the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression and the most complicated crisis ever. How this book may effect your vote in 2012 depends on your personal analysis of whether or not Obama has grown into the Presidency.
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on December 11, 2011
This fascinating book reads like a first-rate thriller. It addresses not only Barack Obama's first steps as President, but also the Wall Street confidence men who, not content to have created the world's financial crisis, perpetuate it thanks to Obama's inability to manage Geithner et al.

I supported Hillary but ultimately voted for Obama. Friends of mine were so enamored with Obama, so blind to what (to me) appeared to be his most glaring defect: no experience. Hillary sniped: "all he brings to the table is a speech". I agree and the book provides a few laughs (bitter ones, though) by quoting David Axelrod: whenever things are really dire, empty rhetoric is called for... Obama makes a speech! Obama comes off as a man who left a job he was well suited for (Senator) for a job he has no talent for. He just wants to "relitigate", showing no management skills and - apparently - little judgment. He was elected to clean up the mess Wall Street had created.

The bold visions he outlined during his campaign have been translated into timid actions. He keeps comparing himself to JFK - well, that's within his reach: all style, no substance. Out of frustration with Obama's seeming inability to guide the country toward a progressive agenda (which was the will of the electorate), I kept wishing he would channel Lyndon Johnson, not John Kennedy. It was amusing to read that a number of leading progressive Democrats were also wondering "what would Lyndon do?". He squandered a mandate and gave us Timothy Geithner (described - deliciously - by Suskind as having "the darting eyes of a shoplifter").

Once you've read this book - fire yourself even more with the brilliant documentary "Inside Job" - then go and pitch a tent on Wall Street!
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on July 18, 2012
CONFIDENCE MEN is an elegantly written and convincing analysis of the challenges of Obama's daunting first two years in the Oval Office. Suskind is an undeniably brilliant writer, and his research is exhaustive and compelling. The larger-than-life personalities surrounding Obama come alive in this work - Summers, Orszag, Geithner, Emanuel, Romer and (the epic/heroic) Volcker and (the man-behind-the-scenes) Pete Rouse.

This book is admirable on many levels. Suskind was given Woodward-like inside access to the players and conducted hundreds of interviews - nearly a thousand hours' worth. Upon finishing the book, one gets a sense that Suskind is a thorough and driven reporter. This likely is the most comprehensive account of Obama's potential and his bitterly-disappointing first two years as president.

There are some issues I had with the book. 1) the ambitious scope of Suskind's book causes it to seem, at times, disjointed and unfocused. A leaner, faster-reading version would have been preferable. 2) the author makes no mention of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and Guantanamo - whatsoever! - and though Suskind wanted to stay focused on the financial and health care crises, his nothing-to-see-here approach to this challenge of the young president is a striking omission; 3) occasionally, it seems that Suskind had his sacred cows in the narrative (i.e., seemingly the ones who gave him full access such as Orszag, Volcker, Romer, and Axelrod), while he utterly eviscerated "The Brilliant Larry Summers"(given the mainstream press' constant description of Summers as "brilliant," you would've thought he had legally changed his name as such).

This is sometimes a challenging read because it is so comprehensive in scope, and though I thought Suskind charitable view of Obama at the outset of the book began to verge on sycophancy, at the end of it all, he had a clear-eyed vision of the president's failings. Obama is humble: he blames himself for the missed opportunity to redefine history.

Suskind is a terrific stylist and he has a superb ear for dialogue, a unique ability to conjure up a picturesque metaphor. His ambitious approach to the complexities of this frenetic period of time in America occasionally finds him a bit over his skis with a meandering narrative. It's a minor quibble overall; Ron Suskind has created what seems to me is the consummate account of the internecine squabbles inside the White House that derailed the first two years of the Obama presidency, and left a nation dejected by the enormity of this missed opportunity to "change the arc of history."

Disclosure: I voted for Obama in 2008.
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on October 21, 2011
Ron Suskind has written an engaging, engrossing look at the White House in Mr. Obama's first two years. It has a "Bob Woodward feel" to it, in that all the principal White House players, including Mr. Obama, wanted to get their point of view in the book. Some off the record, many on the record. With the precision of hindsight, those who argued, and there were not many, that Mr. Obama had absolutely no relevant experience of any kind, you were right.

Without "banging the partisan drum", Suskind describes the most inept, dysfunctional White House of modern times. Everyone seems to "like" Mr. Obama but they make it clear he is inept. If you are an Obama supporter (Full disclosure: I voted for Mr. Obama in 2008.), it is clear that Larry Summers, Rahm Emanuel and other main players almost sabotaged the early years of Mr. Obama's Presidency. Tim Geithner was not a plus either as he and Summers conspired to make sure Wall Street was unscathed in any of the proposed reform legislation being discussed.The Dodd-Frank Bill is a good example...2,000 pages of, for the most part, nothing. Summers famously describes the Obama W.H. as the "Home Alone" White House... no adults present. Mr. Obama, for all his wonderful qualities, especially at making speeches, is too naive and inexperienced to realize that despite his good intentions, very little of substance was getting accomplished. The other aspect of the White House that surprised me was the rampant sexism. Summers was brutal on almost everyone but especially women such as Christine Romer who left early. Forced out is the wrong phrase but underappreciated may be a nicer way to communicate the thought. Valerie Jarrett helped but all in, she was a small player.
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on August 3, 2013
Through a financial industry contact, Obama knew about the looming crisis long before many inside players did. But what could a then junior senator do to stir action on such a prediction? At least the forewarning helped arm candidate and President-elect Obama to act when George Bush virtually abdicated his financial role when the crisis came.

As President, Mr. Obama then had to choose a financial advisory team, not just to handle the Wall Street crisis, but to design and push his plan for medical care reform. Did he choose the right team? Was it more important to preserve the country's confidence in its banking system, or to break up the biggest banks, restore tighter oversight and punish those who played fast and loose with the system? Did he choose the best fundamental options and political partners in designing Obamacare? Who knew better what the future might hold -- certain women advisors, or the men who shut them out? (It will help if you make an organization chart as you go.)

This is what this book is about, and it's also an insight into the huge egos of people who are not like the rest of us. You be the judge. The insights into the Administration's values and strategies are still relevant.
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on October 14, 2011
Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President. By Ron Suskind

Occupy Wall Street might get fuel for their fire if they read "Confidence Men". Based on 746 hours of interviews with over 200 individuals (including President Obama) Ron Suskind has written a story of great interest.

And story-telling is the focus of the Obama campaign and White House, stories written and delivered describing the Obama who knew how to run for office, but not run his office. Add the personal, long-term relationships between Obama staff and Wall Street, from Larry Summer To Secretary Geithner, and the links to Wall Street from the White House are way too chummy. Mr. Suskind has done a good job of linking the past with the present.

It was "what did you know" and "when did you know it" all over again. And its fairly clear candidate Obama knew enough that by 10/13/11 he could have and should have had rule changes and legislation to right the wrongs of the financial meltdowns of 2008.

The startling admission in the book by President Obama that he "needs a narrative in order to function" and without one he ends up in "relitigation" on every issue, was as disturbing as the information on the connections to Wall Street.

If you want a great education in the world of derivatives and "toxic assets" then "Confidence Men" is for you. Just don't be surprise at the President's comments - "the reason I was in the office (of Pres.) is because I the a story to the American people". The next story he'll need to tell is what his prescence in the White House has changed for the better.

Getting through the historical aspect of where CEO's came from and what they have done might require pen and paper to draw your own map. Do it! It's worth the time. The Kindle formatting was excellent.

Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President
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on February 15, 2013

I will not go into depth with how much I enjoyed this book, as it is already echoed in so many of the other reviews, in much greater detail and better written than I can do here. I will say I loved how this book covered the good, the bad, and the ugly about the financial meltdown and the good, the bad, and the ugly of how Barack Obama and his staff handled it. The author was not writing in admiration of President Obama, and he wasn't writing it to skewer him either, which I liked. Most books are one way or the other. I just read this book for the second time, and I am reminded about the story covered early on about Carmine Visone, his upbringing, and his career trajectory. Carmine Visone, if you should see this, please consider writing your autobiography! I Googled you (or, rather, Yahoo'd you...) and there is very little about you. I think a lot of Americans could benefit from hearing about your life and experiences in and out of the Lehman Brothers institution.
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on September 15, 2013
There is a real question in our country about who really controls our government. Susskind provides some of the answers, and they are not pretty.

Susskind details the close, unhealthy, relationship between the large banks and our government "representatives". He provides a virtual transcript of the meeting in March of 2009, where Obama "sold-out" his supporters, and the rest of the population, to the big banks.

This is an important read if you are trying to understand how our goverment really works, and why it is failing to meet the those outside the One Percent.
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