One-Minute Book Reviews

May 21, 2009

Kate Kelly’s ‘Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street’

As a rule, the business of business books is anything but good writing. But the Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt from a new book by one of its reporters, Kate Kelly’s Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street (Portfolio, 256 pp., $26.95), that had sprightlier writing than most in the category. And Tim Rutten quotes a telling paragraph from this hour-by-hour account of the last days of the Bear Stearns investment bank in his Los Angeles Times review:

“Regulators may never know what really happened [to cause Bear Stearns to collapse in 2008]. But one thing is clear: Once confidence in a company falls away on such a grand scale, it can never recover. Bear started that week with more than $18 billion in capital, its largest cash position ever. Three days later, negative headlines, a stock drop, lender reticence and big withdrawals from client accounts had cut those capital levels in half. Eight hours later, it was nearly dead.”

The first sentence of that paragraph, Rutten rightly notes, is chilling: “Regulators may never know what really happened.” He adds:

“ … this was a situation so threatening to the fabric and substance of global finance that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would subsequently insist that, absent government intervention to essentially force the deal with JPMorgan, Bear would have gone into bankruptcy, causing a ‘chaotic unwinding’ of investments in all the American markets.

“Yet regulators may never know what really happened.

“That’s the intolerable fact of public policy on which this whole mess turns, along with all the pain it set rippling through the nation’s human economy, the one where ordinary people struggle to pay the deceptive mortgages that backed all those derivatives and where women and men who’ve lost jobs as a consequence of this calamity now scratch to find new livings.

“There are timeless human failings to ponder anew in Kelly’s artful narrative journalism — ego, hubris, venality and folly, the whole sad crew. They, unfortunately, will always be with us, consequences of our fallen nature. What we need not tolerate is a federal regulatory structure that is blind to the operations of those who wheel and deal at the very center of the global economy and federal officials who are so uncertain of their aims and prerogatives that they fumble in the face of crisis.”

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December 1, 2008

Books About Financial Crashes, Panics, Bailouts and Meltdowns

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:06 pm
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Back in October, Martin Mayer described his five favorite books on financial meltdowns to the Wall Street Journal. One that has since remained timely: Irvine H. Sprague’s Bailout (Basic Books, 1986). Mayer told the Journal:

“Bailout is a superbly honest first-person account of the big bank traumas of the 1980s, written by a long-term director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Irvine H. Sprague lived through it all – the collapse of Commonwealth Bank of Detroit, First Pennsylvania of Philadelphia, Penn Square of Oklahoma City, Seafirst of Seattle, Commonwealth of Chicago. … He wrote the book, he says, to show how banking regulators make decisions, and after reading Bailout we do in fact know more about how the sausage got to be sausage. He leaves us with a question: ‘Should megabanks continue to receive favored treatment?’”

Mayer also recommended Charles P. Kindleberger’s Manias, Panics, and Crashes (Basic Books, 1978), Stephen Fay’s Beyond Greed (Viking, 1982), Roger Lowenstein’s When Genius Failed (Random House, 2000) and James Grant’s The Trouble With Prosperity at online.wsj.com/article/SB122367719361224329.html. And Steve Fraser deals with financial crashes and panics as part of his brief and well-written new history of Wall Street Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace (Yale University Press, 2008) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 22, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Steve Fraser’s New ‘Wall Street’

Filed under: History,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:58 pm
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How long will it take Americans to recover from the latest upheavals on Wall Street? Steve Fraser makes a useful distinction between psychic and economic recovery his new Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace (Yale University Press, 200 pp., $22), a brief history of the Street yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300117554. After the Crash of 1929, Fraser writes: “Psychic recovery took longer than economic rebirth. A national preoccupation with security and an aversion to risk lasted for a long generation.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 15, 2008

Remembering ‘Black Tuesday,’ Oct. 29, 1929, on Wall Street and a Crowd ‘Wild-Eyed’ With Fear — How Much Worse Could It Get Than Today’s 500-Point Stock Market Drop?

Filed under: Quotes of the Day,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:46 pm
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Today’s 504.48-point stock market plunge may stir fears of another “Black Tuesday.” How did New Yorkers react when the market crashed on Oct. 29, 1929? Catherine Gourley writes:

“On that overcast autumn morning in New York City, rumors swirled through the narrow streets like wind. Something had gone terribly wrong. The stock values weren’t just dropping. They were crashing. America’s banks and businesses were losing money. By afternoon ten thousand people had jammed the streets and sidewalks. Some had climbed onto the statue of Alexander Hamilton outside the stock exchange building because it was the only space left to stand and wait. A reporter for the New York Times described the crowd as ‘wild-eyed’ with fear. Men wept. A few days ago they had been wealthy. Now they were penniless.”

Catherine Gourley on “Black Tuesday” in War, Women, and the News: How Female Journalists Won the Battle to Cover the World War II (Atheneum, $21.99, ages 10–14, 2007) www.simonsayskids.com, a nonfiction book about some of the country’s greatest war correspondents.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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