Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President

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The hidden history of Wall Street and the White House comes down to a single, powerful, quintessentially American concept: confidence. Both centers of power, tapping brazen innovations over the past three decades, learned how to manufacture it.

Until August 2007, when that confidence finally began to crumble.

In this gripping and brilliantly reported book, Ron Suskind tells the story of what happened next, as Wall Street struggled to save itself while a man with little experience and soaring rhetoric emerged from obscurity to usher in “a new era of responsibility.” It is a story that follows the journey of Barack Obama, who rose as the country fell, and offers the first full portrait of his tumultuous presidency.

Wall Street found that straying from long-standing principles of transparency, accountability, and fair dealing opened a path to stunning profits. Obama’s determination to reverse that trend was essential to his ascendance, especially when Wall Street collapsed during the fall of an election year and the two candidates could audition for the presidency by responding to a national crisis. But as he stood on the stage in Grant Park, a shudder went through Barack Obama. He would now have to command Washington, tame New York, and rescue the economy in the first real management job of his life.

The new president surrounded himself with a team of seasoned players—like Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner—who had served a different president in a different time. As the nation’s crises deepened, Obama’s deputies often ignored the president’s decisions—“to protect him from himself”—while they fought to seize control of a rudderless White House. Bitter disputes—between men and women, policy and politics—ruled the day. The result was an administration that found itself overtaken by events as, year to year, Obama struggled to grow into the world’s toughest job and, in desperation, take control of his own administration.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind intro-duces readers to an ensemble cast, from the titans of high finance to a new generation of reformers, from petulant congressmen and acerbic lobbyists to a tight circle of White House advisers—and, ultimately, to the president himself, as you’ve never before seen him. Based on hundreds of interviews and filled with piercing insights and startling disclosures, Confidence Men brings into focus the collusion and conflict between the nation’s two capitals—New York and Washington, one of private gain, the other of public purpose—in defining confidence and, thereby, charting America’s future.

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About the author

RON SUSKIND is the author of The Way of the World, The One Percent Doctrine, The Price of Loyalty, and A Hope in the Unseen. From 1993 to 2000 he was the senior national affairs writer for The Wall Street Journal, where he won a Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Harper Collins
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Published on
Jun 19, 2012
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Pages
528
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ISBN
9780062225320
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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New York Times Bestseller

One of our wisest and most clear-eyed economic thinkers offers a masterful narrative of the crisis and its lessons.

Many fine books on the financial crisis were first drafts of history—books written to fill the need for immediate understanding. Alan S. Blinder, esteemed Princeton professor, Wall Street Journal columnist, and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, held off, taking the time to understand the crisis and to think his way through to a truly comprehensive and coherent narrative of how the worst economic crisis in postwar American history happened, what the government did to fight it, and what we can do from here—mired as we still are in its wreckage.

With bracing clarity, Blinder shows us how the U.S. financial system, which had grown far too complex for its own good—and too unregulated for the public good—experienced a perfect storm beginning in 2007. Things started unraveling when the much-chronicled housing bubble burst, but the ensuing implosion of what Blinder calls the “bond bubble” was larger and more devastating. Some people think of the financial industry as a sideshow with little relevance to the real economy—where the jobs, factories, and shops are. But finance is more like the circulatory system of the economic body: if the blood stops flowing, the body goes into cardiac arrest. When America’s financial structure crumbled, the damage proved to be not only deep, but wide. It took the crisis for the world to discover, to its horror, just how truly interconnected—and fragile—the global financial system is. Some observers argue that large global forces were the major culprits of the crisis. Blinder disagrees, arguing that the problem started in the U.S. and was pushed abroad, as complex, opaque, and overrated investment products were exported to a hungry world, which was nearly poisoned by them.

The second part of the story explains how American and international government intervention kept us from a total meltdown. Many of the U.S. government’s actions, particularly the Fed’s, were previously unimaginable. And to an amazing—and certainly misunderstood—extent, they worked. The worst did not happen. Blinder offers clear-eyed answers to the questions still before us, even if some of the choices ahead are as divisive as they are unavoidable. After the Music Stopped is an essential history that we cannot afford to forget, because one thing history teaches is that it will happen again.
From Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author Ron Suskind comes a startling look at how America lost its way and at the nation's struggle, day by day, to reclaim the moral authority upon which its survival depends. From the White House to Downing Street, from the fault-line countries of South Asia to the sands of Guantánamo, Suskind offers an astonishing story that connects world leaders to the forces waging today's shadow wars and to the next generation of global citizens. Tracking down truth and hope within the Beltway and far beyond it, Suskind delivers historic disclosures with this emotionally stirring and strikingly original portrait of the post-9/11 world.

In a sweeping, propulsive, and multilayered narrative, The Way of the World investigates how America relinquished the moral leadership it now desperately needs to fight the real threat of our era: a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists. Truth, justice, and accountability become more than mere words in this story. Suskind shows where the most neglected dangers lie in the story of "The Armageddon Test" —a desperate gamble to send undercover teams into the world's nuclear black market to frustrate the efforts of terrorists trying to procure weapons-grade uranium. In the end, he finally reveals for the first time the explosive falsehood underlying the Iraq War and the entire Bush presidency.

While the public and political realms struggle, The Way of the World simultaneously follows an ensemble of characters in America and abroad who are turning fear and frustration into a desperate—and often daring—brand of human salvation. They include a striving, twenty-four-year-old Pakistani émigré, a fearless UN refugee commissioner, an Afghan teenager, a Holocaust survivor's son, and Benazir Bhutto, who discovers, days before her death, how she's been abandoned by the United States at her moment of greatest need. They are all testing American values at a time of peril, and discovering solutions—human solutions—to so much that has gone wrong.

For anyone hoping to exercise truly informed consent and begin the process of restoring the values and hope—along with the moral clarity and earned optimism—at the heart of the American tradition, The Way of the World is a must-read.

FACING THE WORST ECONOMY SINCE THE 1930S, PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA HIRED A CRACK TEAM OF ESCAPE ARTISTS: financial wizards who had pulled off numerous white-knuckle getaways during the Clinton era and who were ready to do it all over again. Three years later, with the economy still in a rut, it’s clear that they fell far short. This is the inside story of what went wrong.

The Escape Artists features previously undisclosed internal documents and extensive, original reporting from the highest levels of the administration. Star White House journalist Noam Scheiber reveals the mistakes and missed opportunities that kept the president’s pedigreed team from steering the economy in the right direction. He shows what responsibility the president bears for those missteps, what bold actions his brain trust refused to take despite its preternatural confidence, and how the White House was regularly outmaneuvered by Republicans in Congress.

Tracking the administration’s efforts deep into the fall of 2011, The Escape Artists provides a gripping look inside the meeting rooms, in-boxes, and minds of the men who tried to manage the defining crisis of the Obama presidency: how the very qualities that made these men and women escape artists in the 1990s ultimately failed them.



***



THREE YEARS INTO THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY, THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE WAS PAINFULLY HIGH, THE GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR HAD WIDENED, AND THE STIMULUS HAD NOT DONE ENOUGH TO BRING JOBS BACK. WHAT WENT WRONG?

A PRESIDENT WITH OTHER PRIORITIES . . .

Barack Obama hadn’t run for president just so he could clean up someone else’s mess, however urgent the task. He’d run for president to usher in once-in-a-generation achievements like health care reform—“to change the trajectory of America.”

Timothy Geithner remarked to President-elect Obama that “your signature accomplishment is going to be preventing a Great Depression.” Obama’s response was slightly jarring. “That’s not enough for me,” he said. It dawned on Geithner that he and his colleagues were a sideshow rather than the main attraction. “If you don’t do that, nothing else is possible,” Geithner protested. “Yeah,” Obama repeated, “but that’s not enough.”

AN ECONOMIC TEAM RELUCTANT TO TAKE BOLD ACTION . . .

David Axelrod was preparing Christina Romer, Obama’s chief economist, for a Sunday talk show. Many experts were voicing doubts about the size of the original package, and so Axelrod asked, “Was the stimulus big enough?” Without hesitating, Romer responded, “Abso-f---ing-lutely not.” She said it half-jokingly; Axelrod did not seem amused.

AND A BRAIN TRUST THAT BELIEVED IT KNEW BETTER . . .

It was the worst of all worlds for the Obama administration: a country that took one look at the languishing economy and another at the recovery on Wall Street and concluded that its government had put big banks ahead of ordinary people. Generously, the S&P officials didn’t point out any of this. Instead, the leader of the group confessed that the agency was mostly concerned about the prospects for bipartisan compromise.

At this, Geithner became dismissive. His message was unmistakable:

TRUST US, WE’VE DONE THIS BEFORE.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter's explosive account of the inner workings of the George W. Bush administration, the most secretive White House of modern times.

This vivid, unfolding narrative is like no other book that has been written about the Bush presidency -- or any that is likely to be written soon. At its core are the candid assessments of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, for two years the administration's top economic official, a principal of the National Security Council, and a tutor to the new President. He is the only member of Bush's innermost circle to leave and then to agree to speak frankly about what has really been happening inside the White House.
O'Neill's account is supported by Suskind's interviews with many participants in the administration, by transcripts of meetings, and by voluminous documents that cover most areas of domestic and foreign policy. The result is a disclosure of breadth and depth unparalleled for an ongoing presidency. As readers are taken to the very epicenter of government, this news-making volume offers a definitive view of the characters and conduct of Bush and his closest advisers as they manage crucial domestic policies and global strategies at a time of life-and-death crises.
Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Christine Todd Whitman, and many of their aides are seen in an intimate, "unmanaged" way -- as is Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, O'Neill's close friend and ally. Along the way, the central conflicts of this administration's governance -- between politics and policy, ideology and analysis -- are starkly visible through the lens of recent events and the revelation of the often unseen intentions that underlie actions.
In this book Suskind draws on unique access to present an astonishing account of a President so carefully managed in his public posture that he is unknown to most Americans. Now, he will be known.
NAACP 2017 Image Award Finalist

2018 Michigan Notable Books honoree

The author of Baldwin’s Harlem looks at the evolving culture, politics, economics, and spiritual life of Detroit—a blend of memoir, love letter, history, and clear-eyed reportage that explores the city’s past, present, and future and its significance to the African American legacy and the nation’s fabric.

Herb Boyd moved to Detroit in 1943, as race riots were engulfing the city. Though he did not grasp their full significance at the time, this critical moment would be one of many he witnessed that would mold his political activism and exposed a city restless for change. In Black Detroit, he reflects on his life and this landmark place, in search of understanding why Detroit is a special place for black people.

Boyd reveals how Black Detroiters were prominent in the city’s historic, groundbreaking union movement and—when given an opportunity—were among the tireless workers who made the automobile industry the center of American industry. Well paying jobs on assembly lines allowed working class Black Detroiters to ascend to the middle class and achieve financial stability, an accomplishment not often attainable in other industries.

Boyd makes clear that while many of these middle-class jobs have disappeared, decimating the population and hitting blacks hardest, Detroit survives thanks to the emergence of companies such as Shinola—which represent the strength of the Motor City and and its continued importance to the country. He also brings into focus the major figures who have defined and shaped Detroit, including William Lambert, the great abolitionist, Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, Coleman Young, the city’s first black mayor, diva songstress Aretha Franklin, Malcolm X, and Ralphe Bunche, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

With a stunning eye for detail and passion for Detroit, Boyd celebrates the music, manufacturing, politics, and culture that make it an American original.

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