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VINE VOICEon April 17, 2011
In his now famous - infamous? - Rolling Stone article Matt Taibbi refers to Goldman Sachs as a "...great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells of money." Cohan,whose earlier books gave you the inside scoop on Lazard Freres and Bear Stearns now turns his searchlight on Goldman Sachs, arguably one of the most powerful financial institutions that ever existed.

It is not really a Goldman "bashing" book but there is plenty of hard reporting that lead one to wonder how Goldman can get away with proclaiming itself to be a temple of team play and a firm where customer interests always come first. Team playing culture? Cohan gives you details about the unusually sharp knives that came out frequently in succession struggles from earlier days - Gus Levy clashing with Sid Weinberg - to more recent events - Hank Paulson ousting Jon Corzine - and paint a picture quite at variance with Goldman PR.

Customer comes first? Cohan reveals that way back in the sixties Goldman was sued for "...fraud, deception, concealment, suppression and false pretense..." in connection with the Penn Central fiasco. Creditors claimed that Goldman "...made promises and representations as to the future (of the company) which were beyond reasonable expectations and unwarranted by existing circumstances." You make up your mind about whether this was a disgruntled customer trying to splash mud or a depiction of Goldman's approach. It certainly was a harbinger of later developments such as the firms disingenuous statement that it was not "betting against its customers" during the sub-prime crisis but merely and prudently managing its risk profile. If you believe that may I interest you in a solid gold brick I found on Fifth Avenue the other day? I will let you have it real cheap because I like you.

Whether you like it or not Goldman executives - past and present - play larger than life roles on a global stage. Cohan gives you engaging details about the real person behind the persona. Did you know that Robert Rubin dropped out of Harvard Law to bum around Europe and persuaded the dean of the school to hold his admission for a year by getting a psychiatrist to testify that he was making a "reasonable" decision?

Cohan does a splendid job of describing how Goldman grew from a small but influential investment bank - and a partnership where the partners were liable to the full extent of their personal net worth - to the titan that it is today with the ability to shake the central banks of major nations and tentacles into the inner political circles of many countries and where Croesus may envy the amount of moolah the senior guys rake in with limited liability.

It is possible, indeed likely, that Goldman is actually the "good guy" in the field in which it plays and that its competitors are far worse in morality and tactics. And that, my friend, is the really scary story.
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on August 16, 2017
The definitive biography of Goldman. Very well written, very well researched, very well told, if a bit long, and perhaps too detailed in some areas. It is obvious that Goldman supported this book, as the author got broad access to pretty much all of the major figures in Goldman over the last several decades. That said, Mr. Cohan doesn't pull any punches in discussing the many scandals around Goldman, even going back to its earliest days.

My only objection is the almost lavish praise the author places on former Goldman head and US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. He says almost nothing negative about Mr. Paulson and depicts him as a reluctant, country boy, with no ambition, who was brought to the head of Goldman by happenstance. He even depicts Mr. Paulson as reticent and benevolent in wresting control of Goldman from John Corzine. Its a little hard to believe that Mr. Paulson rose through the ranks of the most competitive, testosterone laden, killer investment bank in the world, just by chance, with no ambition. You can make your own judgment.

You can't read this book without ending up with at least a grudging admiration for Goldman Sachs. Having worked in several large bureaucracies, what was most impressive is that despite its size, and resultant bureaucracy, Goldman has managed not to become risk averse and to maintain its edge. Much of this appears to be its ability to hire the best and to compensate them accordingly.

Time and again, when other investment banks were zigging, Goldman was zagging. At no time was this more evident than the recent 2007-2008 financial crisis, which Mr. Cohan describes in fantastic detail. Mr. Cohan also points out the many conflicts of interest, and very interestingly, how over time Goldman has moved away from being client focused to being profit focused.

All in all, an excellent read, that you will find interesting and informative if you are interested in Wall Street and investing.
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The book is organized as a history, beginning with Marcus Goldman's arrival in Philadelphia and moveto New York. Cohan offers a convincing description of business in the era of the robber barons. Goldman of course was no robber baron - he was just a clever Jewish guy good at being the middleman - but his shrewdness in buying and selling commercial paper made him a wealthy man. The business also exposed him to the same kinds of moral dilemmas which face the business today. As an agent, did he have any responsibility for bogus promissory notes that he had brokered? It is similar to Goldman's much more recent problems with the ABACUS transactions in the housing meltdown.

The history of Goldman Sachs is a history of strong personalities and extraordinary ability. The story that the author conveys is that Goldman's uniqueness is in its ability to raise up incredibly capable people and to bind them to the company with an unusual degree of loyalty. It has done this by establishing ethical principles - sometimes honored in the breach, a very elaborate hiring process and a similarly rigorous system for pushing deadwood aside, partners included, and a system for providing outsized rewards.

Although Goldman and Sachs were Jewish, the firm was headed by ambitious Gentiles as early as the 1920s. The author speaks of the firm's DNA, which would seem to reflect Jewish cultural values, but it is clear that the firm is quick to recognize those values in people regardless of background. Recent presidents Jon Corzine and Hank Paulson were Gentiles from the middle West; Bob Rubin and Lloyd Blankfein happen to be Jewish. Blankfein is an archetype - a kid from a hardscrabble background who found his way into Goldman via the back door, but his talent could not be denied.

The book analyzes the tensions and moral issues facing Goldman itself and any Goldman employee. People are attracted to the firm by ego and ambition - it is known to be a place where you can make a great deal of money quickly. It is a crab pot of alpha males, ego confronting ego on a daily basis. The money becomes a marker, and this is the problem. Once one achieves a certain level of success, enough money to live well is no longer an issue. It is generally a competition in acquiring the trappings of great wealth, though there are exceptions. According to Cohan, Hank Paulson is one of those exceptions, and he spends a lot of effort analyzing Paulson's motivations, especially in contrast with John Thane and John Thornton.

In this era of Occupy Wall Street and other similar movements, this book should be a valuable background. The key players that Goldman are not born evil, but rather prisoners of the system, or you might even stretch to say victims of the system. There is no doubt that much of what they did is morally questionable, and certainly damaging to the economy. In writing legislation to attempt to right the situation one should understand the motivations of the players. Cohan analyzes them very well.

As an afterthought, Cohan's description of the way Jon Corzine ran Goldman should have made anybody wary of investing with him. Apparently history repeated itself in a spectacular way, as Corzine's lack of oversight led to the bankruptcy of MF Global, with $1.2 billion of client funds unaccounted for.
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on March 3, 2012
In depth investigation Goldman's rise.
The early pioneers of the company are worth reading about as characters.
As times change the personae become a little less dramatis.
The work rate of the partners brings to mind an old New Yorker cartoon:
Two harried execs are shown rushing across an airport lounge. One says to the other.
"This job is killing me, but I'm making a fortune."
Sydney Bernstein, for example, was known for his cat napping during meetings.
At one meeting the cat nap was his valediction: he never woke up. He was 62.
The company seems to be the Richelieu, or, Mazarin, of the modern age with feet planted firmly
in both business and government.
If you are in the business, or, even on the periphery of financial services, it is worth buying.
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on August 3, 2011
It's fun to learn, and this book teaches. Cohen has a lively style, and his collection of stories and opinions about Goldman Sachs will keep you pressing on through this well-written 614-page book. You'll recognize many of the characters, and the brief bios of these alpha males force you to appreciate this select group of financial wizards.

The reporting captures the spirit of Goldman Sachs, warts and all, and there are many warts. You will come away with a deep wariness of anyone offering to handle your money for you. You are often seen as the patsy for someone else's sales objective.

Cohen's effort would have been improved by editing. As is typical with historians, there is a tendency to include too much detail just because it has been collected and typed up. And there is sometimes a whiff of repetitiveness, e.g., praise for Goldman's core values. There are no pictures.

Those quibbles aside, Money and Power is a worthwhile read. Investors and students of finance will benefit from the lessons Cohen presents. You'll be smarter at the end, and what more could you ask of a book?
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on June 26, 2015
Cohan must be heralded for his indepth analysis of Goldmans' history and prowess. As an avid reader of Finance (Wall St. as a central interest) I found this book to have a huge matter of investigative narrative. At times it was dry, some times it was salacious, but overall a must read. Add this title to your ever growing GS/LTCM/ QE induced mania, etc. etc. library .
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on April 21, 2014
A very detailed but interesting history of Goldman Sachs. When a 600 page book can keep your interest right through its entire reading, you can be sure you are in the hand of a masterful writer. My only complaint is that the writer skims over details on most of the financial innovations Wall Street thinks up to increase its earnings. The writer probably does that to keep the book interesting but readers will be left mystified. If not for the excellent book, All the Devils Are Here by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera, I would have found the later portions of Money and Power frustrating as they deal with the confusing world of derivatives. I think writers should not underestimate the capability and interest of their readers, especially those who would spend their time reading 600 pages about an investment bank.
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on January 22, 2018
Tells the beginning of Goldman Sachs ,and how they became successful and some down times
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on January 17, 2017
In process of reading. Enjoying it very much.
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on October 11, 2017
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