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

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In this gripping, revelatory, and brilliantly reported book, acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind tells for the first time the full story of America's financial meltdown and an untested new president charged with commanding Washington, taming Wall Street, rescuing an economy on the verge of collapse, and restoring the confidence of a shaken nation. Suski In this gripping, revelatory, and brilliantly reported book, acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind tells for the first time the full story of America's financial meltdown and an untested new president charged with commanding Washington, taming Wall Street, rescuing an economy on the verge of collapse, and restoring the confidence of a shaken nation. Suskind moves from the frenzied trading floors of lower Manhattan to the power corridors inside the Beltway and introduces a larger than life cast of politicians and advisors, titans of high finance, reformers, lobbyists, and others who faced a crisis unlike anything they had ever imagined. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews and exhaustive research, filled with piercing insight and startling disclosures, Confidence Men goes beyond the headlines and previous accounts, bringing into focus the unprecedented struggle between the nation's two capitals; New York and Washington, one of private gain, the other of public purpose;that continues to divide and roil America.


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In this gripping, revelatory, and brilliantly reported book, acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind tells for the first time the full story of America's financial meltdown and an untested new president charged with commanding Washington, taming Wall Street, rescuing an economy on the verge of collapse, and restoring the confidence of a shaken nation. Suski In this gripping, revelatory, and brilliantly reported book, acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind tells for the first time the full story of America's financial meltdown and an untested new president charged with commanding Washington, taming Wall Street, rescuing an economy on the verge of collapse, and restoring the confidence of a shaken nation. Suskind moves from the frenzied trading floors of lower Manhattan to the power corridors inside the Beltway and introduces a larger than life cast of politicians and advisors, titans of high finance, reformers, lobbyists, and others who faced a crisis unlike anything they had ever imagined. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews and exhaustive research, filled with piercing insight and startling disclosures, Confidence Men goes beyond the headlines and previous accounts, bringing into focus the unprecedented struggle between the nation's two capitals; New York and Washington, one of private gain, the other of public purpose;that continues to divide and roil America.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    This has got to be one of the most infuriating books ever written. First, the author knows nothing, and I mean nothing, about the basic economics that underpins the whole debate the book is putatively about. He confuses bank assets with liabilities, the "multiplier effect" with consumption spending, annual deficits with total debt, and on and on and on. Even more frustrating, however, is the fact that I have never in my life read a book with more plain and simple factual errors. It is almost ine This has got to be one of the most infuriating books ever written. First, the author knows nothing, and I mean nothing, about the basic economics that underpins the whole debate the book is putatively about. He confuses bank assets with liabilities, the "multiplier effect" with consumption spending, annual deficits with total debt, and on and on and on. Even more frustrating, however, is the fact that I have never in my life read a book with more plain and simple factual errors. It is almost inevitable that any time Suskind spends at least a paragraph discussing the background or history of an issue, he will write something glaringly and indisputably false. He seems to think "BASEL" is the acronym for the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) (Basel is the city it is based in), he says Columbia is the third greatest oil exporter to the US (it's at least seventh), Geithner was President not "chairman" of the New York Federal Reserve, the terms billion and trillion are continuously confused. Other reviewers, and the White House itself, have noted a stream of similar basic errors. If I had to guess at Suskind's research methodology, I'd say that he looked up something on Wikipedia once, and then included it in the book months later based on the best of his recollections about it. There's no explanation for some of these. Literally dozens of errors in the book could have been corrected with a 10 second Google search done by a college intern. Yet, for whatever reason, this was not done. The editors for this book should seriously reconsider their career choices. In any case, I didn't read this book hoping to get another hackneyed exegesis on the financial crisis, I read it to get an inside look at how economic policy is made in the Obama White House. Now there has also been plenty of dispute about a few of the quotes and characterizations in the book by Obama's staff, but in my mind Suskind has come out okay in most of these. A surprisingly large amount of the book is told by people on the record and for attribution, and when they are not quoted directly it is patently obvious that they are the source ("Summers and Krueger met alone in...") His basic sources are Peter Orszag of OMB, Christina Romer of the CEA, Alan Krueger of Treasury, Gary Geneslar of the CFTC, and a handful of others, all trusted and respected individuals. Some of the stories to come out of their descriptions are indeed fascinating and funny, like when Obama almost tears up when talking about his aide Pete Rouse at a press conference and later tells him "you almost made me pull a Boehner there," or when Larry Summers is turned down for the job of chairman of the Fed, which he felt had been promised him, and in a huff demands "two rounds of golf" with Obama and a government car. The book did make me marginally more convinced that the Obama White House was disorganized and chaotic in its early days, and that Larry Summers and his imperialistic ambitions as head of the National Economic Council was at the root of this chaos (when the President personally asked Orszag to deliver a memo to him on recession responses, Summer stomped into Orszag's office and told him that he should know the rules were everything was to go through Summers (never mind a request from the President himself)). Overall though, Suskind seems more interested in making facile comparisons between "good guys" and "bad guys" in the administration. The good guys just happen to be whoever will talk to him, and, usually, whoever will be more interventionist in the economy. Considering Suskind's shaky grasp on the whole subject of economic policy you'd think he would try a more Woodwardian, non-judgmental stance, but instead much of the book is taken up with cheap editorializing. Finally, for all the talk of disorganization, Suskind seems pressed to explain how such a disorganized White House could pass the most comprehensive health care bill in history, the biggest stimulus in history, the most interventionist wall street reform act in 60 years, and on and on. For all the stories from this book that have made it into the press, the biggest story should be that there's no real story here at all.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David Drum

    My liberal friends have two views of President Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected President. The most cynical view is that Obama was always a “Trojan horse,” talking liberal talk while always basically aligned with the interests of corporate America and Wall Street. A more sympathetic view is that Obama went into office a good man with great ideas, and simply couldn’t pull them off because he wasn’t up to the job. Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, an My liberal friends have two views of President Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected President. The most cynical view is that Obama was always a “Trojan horse,” talking liberal talk while always basically aligned with the interests of corporate America and Wall Street. A more sympathetic view is that Obama went into office a good man with great ideas, and simply couldn’t pull them off because he wasn’t up to the job. Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, published in 2011, comes down on the side of the latter. Suskind takes a long look at Obama’s first two years and paints a devastating portrait of an inspirational figure who fell to earth, dreadfully short of public expectations. In Suskind’s view, Obama’s lack of management skills allowed the supremely confident trio of Ron Emanuel, Larry Summers, and Timothy Geither to take virtual control of the White House’s response to the economic crisis, and basically abort Obama’s reformist agenda which was swept, piece by piece, off the table and into the dustbin of good ideas. Suskind doesn’t get into Obama’s nearly complete cave in to what has been called the military-industrial complex, his continuation of former President George W. Bush’s two wars and its expansion into other countries such as Pakistan. He doesn’t mention Obama’s refusal to prosecute anyone in the Bush administration for crimes against the Constitution, his inability to close Guantanamo or any of that. And he doesn’t waste many words on the hatchet dance that Republican senators and representatives embarked on from the day he entered office, vowing to make Obama a one-term president, warning signs that Obama seemed to ignore in his naïve or idealistic search for the winning compromise. As the book’s subtitle indicates, Suskind focuses on the Obama administration’s nearly complete cave in to Wall Street, a place where casino investing and exotic financial instruments had replaced common sense and led to a devastating financial crash. During his run for office, Suskind notes, Obama had plenty of friends on Wall Street, many of whom he’d met at fund-raising events. His contacts gave him an inside track to understanding the financial crisis as it was looming, and allowed him to appear to be ahead of the curve when the financial walls began to come down, calling for reform, which helped him win the election. A lucky guy, Obama had been elected senator from Illinois because of his Republican opponent self-destructed in a sex scandal. As presidential candidate, and a brilliant speaker, the economic meltdown played into his hand. But once in office, enjoying solid Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Obama’s inexperience began to show. He had never managed a company or an agency before. His jobs – corporate lawyer, teacher, community organizer, politician --were basically jobs which required him to think, write, and talk. Afraid to show his imperfect mastery of the many crises which he found on his plate the minute he took office, Obama pushed aside advisers like Paul Volker and Robert Reich who had guided his campaign, and took on what Suskind calls “the B team.” Two aggressively self-confident bullies, Ron Emanual and Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard, were appointed to crucial positions. New Chief of Staff Emanual, a foul-mouthed mover and shaker as well as architect of the Democratic party’s conservative “Blue Dog” strategy, tightly controlled access to Obama. Summers, who was briefly Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton and so confident in his own intellect that he bragged he could win either side of any argument, took over the framing of economic policy. Both of these confident men had received lots of money from the financial community, and both rose to control much of the debate as the economic crises compounded. The third “confidence man,” sartorially-challenged Treasury Secretary Geithner, a tax dodger who once led the New York Fed, worked to preserve business as usual in the financial casino and basically accomplished that. Suskind makes clear there was a moment early on when Wall Street would have accepted whatever medicine the president chose to dole out, including limits on their big bonuses and regulation of their risky business operations which were sucking money and talent out of the economy without providing anything in return. But when the president called the titans of Wall Street into his office and told them that they had a public relations problem, and that he wanted to help them, this helped signal that the bottom line was still business as usual. In staff meetings, many observed that Obama seemed unable to make a decision he couldn’t see as an all-encompassing compromise, and get his staff to agree with. While many women on his staff felt shut out of the game, Obama’s staff had lots of meetings where ideas were hashed and rehashed or “relitigated” with no significant action because Obama wasn’t confident in moving forward. Meanwhile, millions of Americans were getting thrown out of their jobs and houses. Obama’s early decision to go for health care reform rather than completely focus on the economic mess is presented as a mistake. For one thing, Obama could not get the knowledgeable former Senator Thomas Daschle appointed to head Health and Human Services, which would have helped. Working out the tedious details of health care reform, through many back-room deals and compromises, left Obama with a package which didn’t contain what many advisers felt was the most important element of his original proposal – cost controls in the form of incentives for doctors and hospitals to practice “evidence based” medicine which eliminates dubious tests and treatments and financially rewards medical treatments that are proven to work. Suskind doesn’t make much of Obama’s refusal to support the popular “public option,” which would have provided private health insurance companies some price competition, and perhaps lowered costs, too. Obama is presented as inconsistent rather than sinister, making glorious speeches one day, and not following through the next. His inexperience under the microscope of the world’s biggest job, plus his vacillation and his unfortunate B team appointments, basically left him after two years in office on a par with Jimmy Carter at projecting confidence. Near the end of the book, when Obama realizes the need to shake up his staff, Emanual resigns to run for mayor of Chicago, and Summers leaves his position with admiring words from Obama, but without the appointment to head the Federal Reserve that he expected. Probably no president since Franklin Roosevelt had come into office with challenges like those Obama faced, and with such public support to shake things up. Unfortunately, Obama is too timid to become a Roosevelt. Suskind describes Obama as a brilliant amateur who arrived at the presidency believing he’d make his case with correct answers to complex problems, but because of inexperience, a lack of confidence, and bad personnel choices he could not competently execute his good ideas. Obama admittedly admires former President Ronald Reagan’s ability to inspire confidence in people while playing the role of president, and Reagan’s mastery of symbols and gestures. In an interview with Obama near the end of the book Suskind makes it clear that he is still working on that confidence thing. Even for a Pulitizer Prize winning reporter, the task of nailing down the moving target of public policy as it develops through hundreds of late-night meetings and the clashes of big egos and practical considerations is enormous. Suskind manages to make sense of this tedious process in Confidence Men, a supremely readable book. He has written a brilliant first draft of the history of Obama’s first two years, and he extracts some lessons from the chaos in which hopes were betrayed, and opportunities for meaningful change were squandered away. Obama’s failure to impose significant reform on Wall Street, so important and so apparently within his grasp at one time, may well come back to haunt this country in the years ahead.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    Ron Suskind’s book provides two valuable services for readers. First is an excellent analysis of the roots of the current financial crisis and second an in-depth and behind-the-scenes description of how Washington reacted to the crisis. Suskind brings to the table an ability to synthesize the experiences of most of the key players into a compulsively readable narrative. If you don’t understand what happened and how Wall Street gambled the country away then this book will illuminate that. Suskind Ron Suskind’s book provides two valuable services for readers. First is an excellent analysis of the roots of the current financial crisis and second an in-depth and behind-the-scenes description of how Washington reacted to the crisis. Suskind brings to the table an ability to synthesize the experiences of most of the key players into a compulsively readable narrative. If you don’t understand what happened and how Wall Street gambled the country away then this book will illuminate that. Suskind isn’t hesitant in apportioning blame and the blame goes in many, many different directions but he also allows the Wall Street power players to have their say. Suskind makes abundantly clear that President Obama was completely out of his depth and when he did decide on certain courses of action these decisions were deliberately “slow-walked” away until they fell off the table. His economic team’s avoidance of Obama’s orders to close and restructure CITIgroup, Treasury secretary Tim Geithner’ s attempts to kibosh the nomination of Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency are just two examples. Those who hold no brief for Obama and his lack of leadership will find much to agree with. Certainly the fact that re-regulation of the financial services industry failed to be enacted in any meaningful way is damaging. What Suskind notes is that the opportunity to reform Wall Street disappeared when Wall Street was no longer afraid of what the government might do. That Obama ran meetings with his economic advisers looking for consensus meant that critical decisions were not made. On the other hand, Suskind’s insider view clearly illustrates that the financial crisis was not something that any president, however experienced, could have been prepared for. After the mid-term shellacking in 2010 Obama acknowledged the fact that his first two years were mired in too many tentative half-steps. He also swept out the old staff in an acknowledgement, perhaps, that he hadn’t been well served by them. For Obama supporters the lessons learned, plus what happened subsequently, may be all that’s needed to forgive, forget, and move on. What Suskind also presents is an examination of what should be the proper relationship of government and business. Part of it seems to be to stay out of the way and the other to regulate those areas of risk that can damage the country. It is this lack of regulation and also a too cozy relationship between Congress that allowed the subprime mortgage mess to get so out of control. And it allowed investment firms to neglect their fiduciary duties as they bet against their clients. How shaky the whole edifice was is illustrated with this explanation of “repo” and it’s effects. 'Repo' was industry-speak for “repurchase agreement,” a growing practice in the financial sector by which firms borrowed and lent each other huge sums of money on short-term bases—a few weeks, a few days, sometimes just overnight. Like any other loan, collateral has to be put up to secure the loan. . . . Bear Stearns died because it could not roll over its repo book. Why? It was using mortgage-backed securities and related derivatives, still sporting their triple-A ratings from Moody’s, as collateral. In its final weeks, other firms, getting jittery about Bear, were shorting the repo durations, from months to weeks to days. In its last week, Bear had to raise $50 billion a night in repos to replace the expiration of its day-to-day obligations and to fund operations. This is called “rolling your book” of debts. This is how financial firms die in this era. It’s not from losses, or declining revenues. It happens when they can’t roll their debts—essentially replacing old credit cards with new ones, every day. Note that point 'Bear had to raise $50 billion a night in repos to replace the expiration of its day-to-day obligations and to fund operations.' It should be noted that this is not an exclusive catalog of the sins of the greedy and the stupid. Several noble characters emerge in the book. People like Paul Volcker, former chair of the Federal Reserve, or BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, who despite managing $3.9 trillion in assets, wasn’t a principal and ensured BlackRock did not trade its own account, like Goldman-Sachs or JP Morgan. On the government side, Gary Gensler, former Wall Street exec, now working for the government, pushed relentlessly to require derivatives to be traded transparently, in open exchanges, regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission enduring the scorn and hostility of the banking lobby in D.C. as he did so. To sum up: read this book for that dual understanding of finance and government. Then, probably read more. If you don’t understand what went wrong then you’re not equipped to help make sure it doesn’t happen again. Note that some reviewers have noted misunderstandings on Suskind’s part and various typos. All true but in a larger perspective irrelevant to the accomplishment of the tale.

  4. 5 out of 5

    George Bradford

    Why did President Barack Obama fall so short of the expectations of the citizens who elected him? What happened to the change he promised? Where did the hope go? Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind lays it out in excruciating detail. And for a reader like me (who supported, campaigned, raised money and voted for Barack Obama), "Confidence Men" is a brutally painful book to read. But the pain is worth it (if, like me, you love your country, believe its best days are still ahead and want Why did President Barack Obama fall so short of the expectations of the citizens who elected him? What happened to the change he promised? Where did the hope go? Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind lays it out in excruciating detail. And for a reader like me (who supported, campaigned, raised money and voted for Barack Obama), "Confidence Men" is a brutally painful book to read. But the pain is worth it (if, like me, you love your country, believe its best days are still ahead and want to make it better for your ancestors than it was for you. You know, the ideals that fueled so many of us that supported Barack Obama's candidacy for the presidency.) So, once elected, what went wrong? Over the course of 515 pages Ron Suskind reveals all the details. There are a lot of details. And they document a disaster worse than I ever imagined. First, the president surrounds himself with all the wrong people. (A roster of Washington insiders and Wall Street champions.) Second, the president is incapable of making a decision. (He'd rather pursue consensus than make a difficult choice.) Third, in the rare instance when the president actually makes a decision his team refuses to act on it. (And there's no accountability or consequences.) Fourth, the White House is a men's club --i.e., a hostile work environment -- where females are not welcome. (At all.) Fifth, the president is so lacking in even rudimentary leadership skills that it takes him almost two years to realize his White House is in chaos. (That's right: chaos.) And those are just the "tips of the icebergs". As a result of this fiasco, the president produces no cohesive economic policy, no meaningful financial regulations, no solution to the banking crisis, no improvement for unemployed Americans, no genuine health care reform and, well, you get the idea. . . But it's not all "bad". "Confidence Men" is very well written. Its 'you are there' narrative will remind readers of Bob Woodward's 'insider accounts' of previous administrations. However, Suskind is a better writer (who doesn't use omniscient perspective). And it's very well researched and documented. Prior to publication, Suskind presented his most explosive revelations to the parties and includes their responses in the book. (Since the books publication Suskind has responded to administration officials claiming to be misquoted -- or taken out of context -- with audio recordings of their interviews that verify the accounts in his book.) As stated above, "Confidence Men" is a painful book to read. I often felt like screaming. I often felt like crying. And, on several occasions, I felt like doing both. If you love the United States and believe it deserves better than its getting right now and/or you are wondering why the Obama administration got so far off course so quickly, I recommend Ron Suskind's "Confidence Men". It's a good read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kent

    Some people have told me that they thought this book was a “hit piece” on the President. I can't agree; however, it is clearly not written from the perspective of blind love for him either. It seems to be a fair record of events during the first few years of the Obama administration. The story is of two capitol cities Washington, DC and New York, NY (capitol of capital and finance). It covers contributing elements of the economic collapse; how a new administration attempted recovery, and finance Some people have told me that they thought this book was a “hit piece” on the President. I can't agree; however, it is clearly not written from the perspective of blind love for him either. It seems to be a fair record of events during the first few years of the Obama administration. The story is of two capitol cities Washington, DC and New York, NY (capitol of capital and finance). It covers contributing elements of the economic collapse; how a new administration attempted recovery, and finance reform and regulation, and healthcare reform; and how the President and his staff managed (or didn't) their efforts. Wall Street was painted as operating on the edge of legality, manipulating, and taking all they could get at any cost. Regulators wore halos. Congress was slippery (in places slimy). The President was in innocent ignorant bliss resembling a fog of his own making, while his staff were dysfunctional. ...And even the most enlightened can be sexists. The huge take away here is the shallow folly of choosing elite academics to lead without any kind of track record of actual performance. They may have the ability to learn to lead, but we learn best from our mistakes. Intellect is important, but let's face it, we all know a lot about very little. High flying academics, have in their career been told that they are very intelligent about things in their specialty area. They tend to believe it, and then extrapolate their competence to places they don't belong. A few humbling experiences help. Without experience in the real world, surfing shark infested waters, following rules, and managing and leading people to accomplish substantive goals, big brains and the egos that come with them become a liability. ...Lots of learning. Detect that I'm on a soap box?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Maddi Hausmann

    Four and a half stars. While I thought this would be a political inside-the-mind-of-the-advisors type of book, there's quite a bit of The Big Short (Michael Lewis) in here too; an explanation of the Wall Street shenanigans that led to the near-collapse of the US economy. Suskind has to spend time getting us into that mileau to explain where the economic advisors either came from or were reacting to. Certainly some of the advisers come across better than others, and with a book of this type one alw Four and a half stars. While I thought this would be a political inside-the-mind-of-the-advisors type of book, there's quite a bit of The Big Short (Michael Lewis) in here too; an explanation of the Wall Street shenanigans that led to the near-collapse of the US economy. Suskind has to spend time getting us into that mileau to explain where the economic advisors either came from or were reacting to. Certainly some of the advisers come across better than others, and with a book of this type one always wonders if that's due to their actions, their personalities, or how cooperative they were with Suskind. The two who come across the worst are Lawrence Summers and Rahm Emanuel. Tim Geithner isn't far behind. Summers is shown as manipulative and petty, trying to stay ahead of everyone by jumping in to frame every discussion and bringing back policy discussions on issues Obama had already told his advisers what he wanted. Emanuel is shown as a chief of staff who didn't handle chief of staff issues such as getting all these personalities working effectively instead of against each other, to the point that many advisers considered him part of the problem the chief of staff should be solving. And Geithner is called out for flat-out insubordination; stalling when Obama asked him to come up with a plan to break up Citibank. I found the Wall Street and economic explanations fascinating, but I love that sort of thing, and I was a huge fan of The Big Short. So for me that was an unexpected bonus. Getting inside the worldview of so many of the White House staff was fascinating. In fact, the only reason I can't give this book five stars is the execution. Since there are so many viewpoints, the book jumps around a lot, not only through people but through timelines as well, and in many cases, I didn't think the structure effectively made the points as well as it could have. There were a few places where I completely lost track of where we were in time and who was in the room because Suskind uses a lot of flashbacks. That's an excellent literary technique for a film or even a novel, but for a current affairs piece, he'd better be damned sure we're clear who is talking and when. Suskind switches back and forth in name use, which also doesn't help when some of the actors have the same first name (Larry Summers and Larry Fink got me confused because he spent so much time on Summers and then did an extended piece on Fink but kept calling him Larry, for example). That's not enough for me to say don't bother reading this. In fact, if you enjoy knowing why a politician's promises are often not acted upon, this is as good a presentation as any to show the difficulty in getting everyone to agree even before they try selling it to Congress or Business. I just wish Suskind had either spent some time getting the continuity a little better or had his editor do a better job helping him with it. This is the sort of problem that can happen with a book that goes through multiple re-writes, and I wonder if publishers just aren't recognizing the value of an excellent editor anymore. Suskind already won a Pulitizer for his reporting in 1995, and this book does show us why he was worthy of it. One quote that stayed with me after finishing it was his musing on the change in the American economy, from manufacturing to abstract financial instrument. As he put it, we changed from a country that made things to a country that "made things up."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Adam Snider

    This is both the first book I've read on the Obama presidency, and the first book I've read by Ron Suskind, and it has left me feeling slightly ambiguous about both. Confidence Men isn't just a book about the Obama phenomenon - it jumps repeatedly back and forth between Wall Street and Washington, using the story of the first two years of the new administration as a doorway into a host of other topics: the evolution of the financial industry since the '70s, the rise of the Tea Party, the 2008 el This is both the first book I've read on the Obama presidency, and the first book I've read by Ron Suskind, and it has left me feeling slightly ambiguous about both. Confidence Men isn't just a book about the Obama phenomenon - it jumps repeatedly back and forth between Wall Street and Washington, using the story of the first two years of the new administration as a doorway into a host of other topics: the evolution of the financial industry since the '70s, the rise of the Tea Party, the 2008 election, etc. This isn't handled badly - Suskind is an excellent narrator, but the book nevertheless feels kind of stretched out and incomplete by the end. Part of that, of course, is that the main thematic topics of the book - the Obama administration and the recession - are both ongoing, and in fact much that has happened recently isn't covered Confidence Men, leaving it as a book which just can't put itself forth as the "authoritative" take on its subject matter. At the same time, the cast offered by the book (many of whom the author interviewed directly) means that a lot of folks get short-changed, or only dealt with sporadically. Names you haven't seen since the third chapter show up in the tenth, forcing you to troll back through your memory (or the book itself) to remind yourself of who they are and what their history is. In many ways, Confidence Men is less a story than a series of very well done snapshots of an unfolding crisis and the people caught in its net. As a collection of snapshots, however, the book is quite engaging, and Suskind doesn't pull punches in the conclusions he draws. Confidence Men is quite critical of Obama, who is portrayed throughout as a man more comfortable making speeches and moderating discussions than actually pushing legislation through Congress or meeting sworn enemies on the political field of battle. At times he is incapable of facing the resistance of his own advisors, never mind Republicans and Wall Street CEOs. The latter are actually given a very nuanced look - rather than being treated as uniformly culpable, considerable effort is made to tease out who among the luminaries of the financial industry 1) understood what was going on before, during, and after the Crash, 2) understood the ramifications of what had happened for the future of the US economy, and 3) were willing to press for reforms - and how far. Certainly a book worth reading, and one that will keep your attention, although the financial jargon will make certain parts tougher to get through than others. I just feel that the author should have waited a few more years, and written a much more comprehensive and complete book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

    First, it struck me as strange to be reading a book about a sitting president’s cabinet. It felt like a forced telescoping (microscoping?) of history. I still have mixed feelings about this. I have never read a book like this before (one about a sitting president’s cabinet). It felt lurid. I couldn’t resist after so many members of said cabinet tried to backtrack in the press after the book was released. To me, this meant whatever was in the book was probably true. Or maybe the author had misrep First, it struck me as strange to be reading a book about a sitting president’s cabinet. It felt like a forced telescoping (microscoping?) of history. I still have mixed feelings about this. I have never read a book like this before (one about a sitting president’s cabinet). It felt lurid. I couldn’t resist after so many members of said cabinet tried to backtrack in the press after the book was released. To me, this meant whatever was in the book was probably true. Or maybe the author had misrepresented his sources. With those preliminaries out of the way, the gist is that Obama choose the wrong economic team and that Tim Geithner and Larry Summers deliberately ignored Obama’s policy intentions and enacted what they themselves thought was best. The degree to which this was intentional on their part is I suppose a matter of debate. Suskind faults Obama for not being able to control these two men. There you go - start arguing with your conservative family members. Suskind criticizes Obama for asking “What’s my narrative?” instead of being concerned with specific policy points. But Suskind himself deliberately shapes a novel-esque narrative: Obama is the patsy, Geithner & Summers are the villians, and Gary Gensler is the hero. [ed. note: someone should out me here: Obama is the POTUS; Suskind is a journalist]I’m sure Obama’s experience during the time Suskind is writing about would be different. I’m reminded of Jimmy Carter’s Whitehouse Diary. Carter’s subjective experience (and his later analysis thereof) provide a telling lens for what is generally considered a failed presidency. That comparison should be enough to tell you all you really need to know without reading Suskind’s book. Outside of those considerations, the first chapter is too overtly literary. Suskind is better served sticking to the “facts.” Which he does in later chapters. But he does repeat certain passages or points over and over. I couldn’t help but think this was for the benefit of people who wouldn’t bother to read the whole book. I suppose people who typically read books like this don’t read the whole thing. I feel so provincial.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michele Weiner

    I loved this inside look at the Obama White House by Ron Suskind, whose recent current affairs efforts have been equally stunning. He says that Barack Obama was forced by crisis to change his course dramatically in key areas: the Bush tax cuts, health care, and Wall Street reform were all impacted by his fear of doing harm to desperate Americans. Also, he was stymied by the strong opinions of his advisors, including most notably Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Rahm Emmanuel. In the end, having c I loved this inside look at the Obama White House by Ron Suskind, whose recent current affairs efforts have been equally stunning. He says that Barack Obama was forced by crisis to change his course dramatically in key areas: the Bush tax cuts, health care, and Wall Street reform were all impacted by his fear of doing harm to desperate Americans. Also, he was stymied by the strong opinions of his advisors, including most notably Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Rahm Emmanuel. In the end, having contended that Geithner ignored clear orders from Obama to restructure Citibank immediately in favor of his stress test plan, Suskind asks if Geithner's slow and steady, no quick or violent moves philosophy was the right one. The jury's still out, but what remains is the knowledge that there was a kind of vacuum where a strong president should have been. Obama is seen as a man who had no strong philosophy at all, which could be a drawback, unless it is a plus to be without ideology. In the end, who can know?? Certainly not Suskind. The big surprise here was the feeling among the women on Obama's team that there was a locker room atmosphere that demeaned them, and that Obama appeared mystified and not very interested in changing things when they had a meeting to discuss it with him. I'll be he doesn't give Hillary that kind of trouble!!! Anyway, a very interesting look at how a president must learn to manage his staff and the expectations of his supporters. It's not a given that a smart guy with good intentions and lots of high-powered help will be able to do what he wanted to do when he was on the outside looking in.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Les Aucoin

    This book by an award-winning author, the first who had inside access to the Obama White House, names names of culprits in the greatest failure of the American financial system since the Great Depression and how they worked to enrich themselves while building a bubble economy that produced little underlying value. It spotlights Wall Street flimflam artists whose venal hawking of credit swap derivatives of sub-prime mortgage instruments led to the Great Recession of 2008 (a calamity which may yet This book by an award-winning author, the first who had inside access to the Obama White House, names names of culprits in the greatest failure of the American financial system since the Great Depression and how they worked to enrich themselves while building a bubble economy that produced little underlying value. It spotlights Wall Street flimflam artists whose venal hawking of credit swap derivatives of sub-prime mortgage instruments led to the Great Recession of 2008 (a calamity which may yet prove to be only the first dropped shoe; the second "shoe" being an even more devastating financial collapse up the road). And it reveals how the same charlatans--whose Too Big To Fall banks rescued with public money--are engaging in the same flimflam today rather than making loans to American businesses to get the economy moving again. But in some ways, the truer villains in Confidence Men are the bloodless, cold-eyed operators inside the Obama Administration who hijacked for their own ends the Obama presidency and the hopes of millions of voters. Here again, Ron Suskind, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, names names--White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and Director Larry Summers of the National Economic Council. Geithner was jaw-droppingly insubordinate, ignoring Obama's order to the Treasury to consider breaking up the banking behemoth, Citigroup. Geitthner also stifled Elizabeth Warren's repeated attempts at bold financial reform--reforms that would prevent devil-may-care Too Big Fail banks from piling up debts far in excess of the government's revenues, thus posing not only the clear and present danger of another bailout but also the possibility of a Greece-like insolvency for the United States. But, if possible, Summers was worse than Geithner. White House budget chief Peter Orszag quotes the imperious Summers (the temperamental, misogynistic ex-president of Harvard) as saying of them and the Obama White House, "You know, Peter we're really home alone. There's no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes." Later, Orszag tells Suskind, "Larry just didn't think the president didn't know what he was deciding," he was "likely saying" flat-out, "I know more than the president." Author Suskind documents how push-back from Emmanuel, Summers and Geithner led to interminable "re-litigation" of policy choices, resulting in sputtering decision-making, with no real jobs program produced in the first two years of the Administration and botched opportunities for transformational change in health care coverage and cost containment and financial reform. And if anyone still doubts that money is corrupting the American political system, this book dispels the myth. Lobbyists for Wall Street bankers, Big Pharma, and the insurance industry are seen working like termites, boring into the timber of governance, hollowing out policies into a shell of what they should have been and could have been in earlier age when money wasn't all-pervasive in politics. Finally this is a book about a young man in the Oval Office--a good and virtuous man--who inherits the biggest financial calamity since the depression and two wars, who, rendered insecure by warring advisers and inexperience, forgets his gift for connecting with ordinary people and instead, tragically, relies on wonkish, technocratic half measures. Obama's men (Axelrod, et al) hate this book, but it is axiomatic that truth hurts. The book does has failings that frustrate the reader. Suskind lacks the skill of, say, a Michael Lewis (The Big Short and Boomerang) to explain in lay terms the exotic and reckless securities Wall Street connived to invent, and how lightly regulated bankers--not the Republicans' favorite whipping boys, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--were (and still are) the cause of our unstable financial system. Confidence Men is oddly haphazard in its organization, too, coming from an author with such a pedigree. Finally, in a large sin of omission, the author introduces us to hundreds of figures in this saga but, once identified, wrongly assumes the reader will remember exactly who they are throughout the remainder of the book. A simple table of characters, which the reader could refer to, would have been a helpful boon. Still, Confidence Men is an extraordinarily important work. In this election year, it will help readers understand who is spinning fanciful tales about our deep and still-present financial dangers (the Tea Party) and who is dealing with reality (Elizabeth Warren). Which is extraordinarily important. Because rarely has the U.S. been as in need of well-informed political consumers.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joseph D. Walch

    There is a point at which journalism turns into historiography, when the current events have passed sufficiently to allow the historian beach-comber to piece together a more comprehensive representation of the events. This was one of those first historical accounts to emerge from the nascent Obama administration. The author was given plenty of access to the President and his economic team in writing this book. Previously, Ron Suskind had written critically of Pres. Bush and so perhaps the admini There is a point at which journalism turns into historiography, when the current events have passed sufficiently to allow the historian beach-comber to piece together a more comprehensive representation of the events. This was one of those first historical accounts to emerge from the nascent Obama administration. The author was given plenty of access to the President and his economic team in writing this book. Previously, Ron Suskind had written critically of Pres. Bush and so perhaps the administration thought that Suskind was ‘on their side.’ That extraordinary access provides a clear look into President Obama’s management style, thinking, and the resulting conflict and success in his first two years. There are several themes that run through this book. It is principally rooted in the events and people surrounding the 2007 financial meltdown and aftermath. It is not a rosy assessment of Pres. Obama or his economic team, which Suskind labels the ‘B-team’ of Summers, Geithner, Romer, &co.. The book outlines how many of these advisors were the very people who sowed the seeds of financial collapse by removing the laws that resulted in the 2007 financial collapse during the final hours of the Clinton Administration. It was interesting to read about how Wall Street financiers were able to cloak the true market price and risk of their collateralized debt obligation derivatives by operating financial cartels (Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citibank), and backed up by low-interest non-risk adjusted lending and a quasi-governmental business that was essentially guaranteed not to fail (Fanny May and Freddie Mac). The focus of the book, however shows Obama administration reacted to the crisis, and can be summed up in the words of Larry Summers who said they were ‘home alone’ in the white house (his full quote was “We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”). President Obama did exhibit his grasp of the issues, however he saw his role as more a storyteller in chief who needed to instill confidence in the American People by inspiring them to greatness rather than by substantive ‘administration’ or legislative work. This resulted in a supremely dysfunctional administration where actions and agendas were constantly being relitigated, ignored, or pursued independently of other administration officials. President Obama serves more as an impartial sage moderating the bickering amongst his staff, all the while nothing is actually accomplished. For example, the supposed chief accomplishment of the Obama administration, Health Care Reform, took a year before Nancy Pelosi was able to get the bill to President Obama with almost zero input from the administration (a fact that enraged Nancy Pelosi). That’s not the worst managerial flaw of this administration—as the book points out, which is the burdensome and pervasive sexism of the good-ol’-boy mingled with the juvenile boy’s only basketball and golf games that clearly favored men. Having read the books chronically the Bush Administration written by Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rove, and Bush himself, I find it interesting to compare the two administrations up to this point. Sure, Bush’s administration had similar problems with e.g., Condoleezza Rice taking action before getting approval from the President—a degree of power assumption is par for the course with such a large unwieldy administration, but whereas Bush saw himself as a decider, Obama appears to see himself as the inspirer—a movement president who actualizes greatness through the sheer force of words and speeches. Perhaps Bush was less curious (although he was reportedly a voracious reader of history and non-fiction), and perhaps Bush’s intellect was not so grand (although this too seems to be overstated since his grades were in fact comparable to both his opponents Kerry and Gore). Even so, it will be interesting to see how the clarifying hindsight of history compares both of these presidents: one, the decider, and the other, the inspirer.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dave Lefevre

    Everything that has been said about this book in the media has been a red herring. Outlets like CNN have chosen to focus the book's sub-narrative about problems female members of the administration faced or that the book shows Obama as "weak." The problems women had in the first two years of the administration are important, but when compared to the overall story of the massive banking crisis Obama faced it's a secondary story that was meant to provide insight into how the Obama Whitehouse took Everything that has been said about this book in the media has been a red herring. Outlets like CNN have chosen to focus the book's sub-narrative about problems female members of the administration faced or that the book shows Obama as "weak." The problems women had in the first two years of the administration are important, but when compared to the overall story of the massive banking crisis Obama faced it's a secondary story that was meant to provide insight into how the Obama Whitehouse took on characteristics of male dominated brokerage houses in New York. Furthermore, Obama's weakness as President in his early days only describes half the story of the book. The real antagonists in this story are the overcompensated and arrogant robber-barrons of Wall Street. The 2008 crisis was directly attributable to their actions through the previous years. Obama's most important mistake was made right as he was made president-elect. As per the normal "revolving door" structure of regulation in Washington, Obama made some of the Wall Street insiders and some of the Clinton regulators that eased the rules would of curbed the crisis his most important advisors. Because of this the Obama Whitehouse was often wrapped up in furious internal debates that never seemed to resolve. Some advisers even "slow walked" some Obama decisions that would have been inconvenient for their former professions. In the end the book makes it clear that while Obama learned from the experiences of his first two years in office (his "education"), Wall Street learned nothing. They made free money off of the TARP program and then sent lobbyists to try to kill every reform that was proposed. The behavor that led to the 2008 collapse continues almost unabated. The book paints the stark picture of a financial industry that doesn't invest in the U.S., that while constantly championing the "free market" when it was convenient has managed to socialize every major loss, and who continues to run amok in Washington by way of lobbyists. But you won't hear this on the TV news. Any sentiments that makes major corporations look bad no longer make the cut. Television reporters have become corporate cheerleaders first, television personalities second, and journalism has become a distant third. Because of this there continues to become no fail national dialog on fair regulations. CNN parrots John Boehner's call for "less regulation" daily without critically looking into the claims while smart people of all political beliefs have come to the conclusion that the easing of regulations during the Clinton era helped cause the Great Recession of 2008. No voices critical of corporate power make it onto television, and that's where the masses get the "unbiased" information today. Television's reaction to this book makes that reality even more apparent.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Flavio

    Confidence men makes the case that "confidence" is a quality that determines outcomes in the political process more often than one imagines. In one sense the book uses confidence to mean faith. Picking a leader is an act of faith in some measure.By faith I mean belief without absolute knowledge.The book also points out that many of the actors in the political and economic arena in recent years have also projected confidence, may times unwarranted confidence, in order to convince others and push Confidence men makes the case that "confidence" is a quality that determines outcomes in the political process more often than one imagines. In one sense the book uses confidence to mean faith. Picking a leader is an act of faith in some measure.By faith I mean belief without absolute knowledge.The book also points out that many of the actors in the political and economic arena in recent years have also projected confidence, may times unwarranted confidence, in order to convince others and push their agendas. If you are a news junkie, the vast majority of the content of the book will already be familiar to you. Some of the interviews conducted with various players provide a bit more visibility into the inner workings of the White house, but generally speaking, there is not much new. The book paints Obama as a well intentioned but inexperienced and at times detached leader, I believe that is a fair statement. It also makes the case that the economic team he selected was a bit too sympathetic to the financial sector and didn't take advantage of the economic crisis to push the financial reform that would be needed to prevent future catastrophes. The case is made that Obama surrendered control of the White house to the more vocal and seemingly confident members of his cabinet (Summers, Geithner, Emanuel... ) and that he tolerated acts of outright insubordination by his cabinet. As the book puts it he lets them "slow walk" his instructions and permits his cabinet to "re-litigate" issues he has already decided. The book was worth the read mainly because i enjoy the subject matter and the author is a very good writer. The book affirmed some of the conclusions I have drawn over the years about the Obama White house, gathered by reading, digesting, and synthesizing the information available through various news media outlets. If I am disappointed with he results Obama has obtained so far, in part I blame the naive expectations I may have held regarding what is possible. My belief that Obama is an intelligent person with his priorities and heart in the right place is still intact. Perhaps a second term will see him develop in the leader he has the capacity to become.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dan Petegorsky

    Suskind’s book has drawn wide attention mainly for some “palace intrigue” passages featuring various WH staffers’ uncharitable assessments of one another and for several sources’ subsequent denials of the accuracy of Suskind’s attributions. That’s a shame, because while these do feature in his book, it’s really much more than that: it’s a sobering, indeed depressing overview of the financial crisis and how it affected and was handled first by candidate and then President Obama and his administra Suskind’s book has drawn wide attention mainly for some “palace intrigue” passages featuring various WH staffers’ uncharitable assessments of one another and for several sources’ subsequent denials of the accuracy of Suskind’s attributions. That’s a shame, because while these do feature in his book, it’s really much more than that: it’s a sobering, indeed depressing overview of the financial crisis and how it affected and was handled first by candidate and then President Obama and his administration. This wider scope of the book is both a strength and weakness. A strength in that, especially for those who haven’t delved into the wider literature on the economic collapse and its roots on Wall Street and in DC, it’s a relatively lucid and non-expert friendly telling. The drawback is that if you’ve read other treatments, much of the narrative has been told already. That said, even where Suskind goes over familiar territory he tells parts of the story through the eyes of some figures who haven’t received much attention elsewhere and who give it fresh perspective. Plus, while he does focus on a circumscribed network of characters and how they influenced the process of trying to reform (or block reform of) the financial industry, he really is most interested in the policies and moral issues themselves. So while there are flaws (including some factual errors various reviewers have noted), overall it’s still a pretty strong and unfortunately necessary indictment of the Administration’s failure to have taken full advantage of a moment when it had Wall Street’s back against the wall to implement a far more systemic reform that it has so far achieved. Perhaps the mounting protests now underway across the country can help change that. [One note on the Audible version: while they’ve employed a generally skillful narrator, it’s beyond merely irksome that he regularly butchers the pronunciation of major figures’ names, including such prominent public figures as Valerie Jarrett and Vikram Pandit, and even including one of the book’s central figures, Gary Gensler.]

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    This is one of those hard-to-rate books that has five star elements mixed with a little too much pedestrian pontification. The book shines when it's providing an inside look at the dynamics within the Obama Administration, especially focusing on his strengths and, more often, weaknesses as a manager and at the interpersonal tensions among members of his economic team. Suskind pulls together inside accounts from countless people in the administration and expertly puts the puzzle pieces together to This is one of those hard-to-rate books that has five star elements mixed with a little too much pedestrian pontification. The book shines when it's providing an inside look at the dynamics within the Obama Administration, especially focusing on his strengths and, more often, weaknesses as a manager and at the interpersonal tensions among members of his economic team. Suskind pulls together inside accounts from countless people in the administration and expertly puts the puzzle pieces together to show the sources of what many might consider to be the failures of Obama's first term. High profile members of Obama's foreign policy team, most notably Panetta and Gates, have aired their opinions on the inside politics of the Obama White House, and this book provides a needed complement on the economic side, since members of the economic team have not, so far, been as willing to put their opinions to paper. In that sense, it's an important work. It's somewhat weaker when it delves too far into opinions on the causes of the economic mess, on financial regulation and on healthcare policy. Everyone and his mother has a theory about how the financial crisis should have been prevented, and most of them are half-baked at best. We've all been treated to plenty of ramblings about how it's all because of the repeal of Glass-Steagall, few of which bother to attempt to explain how the rambler believes mandatory separation of commercial and investment banks would have impacted a derivatives market crisis' takedowns of mostly pure investment banks. Suskind provides his readers with more of the same on that front. Similar 200-level theorizing abounds on healthcare, on fiscal policy, etc. There's a lot of excellent material in Confidence Men, and the book couldn't have ignored the policy matters with which its main subjects were grappling. It's a much better read on the people issues than it is on the policy ones, though, and you have to sift through a lot of not particularly enlightening policy talk to get to the diamonds at the heart of the story.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Al

    I am willing to believe that in the preparation of this book, Mr. Suskind conducted "... 746 hours of interviews ... with more than 200 individuals..." I for one am glad that he didn't talk to more, or longer, than he did. As best I can determine, this book is a wealth of data and stories in search of a theme. It wanders from story line to story line, and from person to person. It's confusing, if not maddening, to find policies and people first viewed favorably, later unfavorably, and in some c I am willing to believe that in the preparation of this book, Mr. Suskind conducted "... 746 hours of interviews ... with more than 200 individuals..." I for one am glad that he didn't talk to more, or longer, than he did. As best I can determine, this book is a wealth of data and stories in search of a theme. It wanders from story line to story line, and from person to person. It's confusing, if not maddening, to find policies and people first viewed favorably, later unfavorably, and in some cases just lost in the shuffle. To try to summarize: What I take from this book is that Mr. Suskind views Obama, in his first year, as totally lost, but now, after two-plus years, totally in control; he (Suskind) views Larry Summers as a brilliant, egotistical, manipulative bastard who constantly kept Obama from doing what he (Obama) wanted to do; and he views Tim Geithner as someone who was hopelessly over his head but has suddenly become a master of the universe. It makes no sense, particularly in the case of Summers, since all the things that Obama wanted to do, but was ostensibly prevented from doing by Summers, would have been disastrous if he had actually been able to try to do them. Maybe Summers is obnoxious, but it seems to me that he saved Obama from totally self-destructing. But, hey, what do I know? Mr. Suskind wanted to write something, he had the contacts and the chops to interview all these people, and there's enough spicy stuff in there, that you won't read anywhere else, to sell some copies. I do believe there are a few people that he won't be having lunch with for a while.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ken McDouall

    Ron Suskind has a knack for turning obscure history into compelling narratives, and he doesn't disappoint here. He fills in the cast of characters like a novelist wielding his creative toolbox--Obama's economic advisers, the Fed, the politicians making up the legislative milieu. We learn quite a lot about Obama's personality, his methods of managing meetings, and his managerial style. It is the latter the comes up severely lacking in Suskind's account. Always engaging, intelligent, concerned, an Ron Suskind has a knack for turning obscure history into compelling narratives, and he doesn't disappoint here. He fills in the cast of characters like a novelist wielding his creative toolbox--Obama's economic advisers, the Fed, the politicians making up the legislative milieu. We learn quite a lot about Obama's personality, his methods of managing meetings, and his managerial style. It is the latter the comes up severely lacking in Suskind's account. Always engaging, intelligent, concerned, and optimistic, Obama apparently is just a horrible manager. The greatest weakness of this account is Suskind's tendency to pick his favorites: his heroes and his villains. Larry Summers is clearly the bad guy here, Tim Geithner bringing up a close second. Meanwhile, Suskind relies too much on the point of view of his more favored informants--those who seemingly were resisting the tide, though with what degree of effort we can't really be sure. We only have their word. Of course, any journalist has to believe some of his or her sources. I just wish Suskind had taken the accounts of the "good guys" with a few more grains of salt.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Johnson

    FROM CONFIDENCE MEN: "It was on a Friday, November 21, that [Christina] Romer first entered Obama's curtain-sealed office in Chicago. Unlike Orszag, she was nervous about meeting Obama and she hadn't even come with any ultimatum or conditions about taking the Council of Economic Advisers job. She was just elated to get to know the guy. But their first meeting would open on an odd note. Before exchanging hellos or even shaking hands, the president-elect delivered what seemed intended as a zinger. " FROM CONFIDENCE MEN: "It was on a Friday, November 21, that [Christina] Romer first entered Obama's curtain-sealed office in Chicago. Unlike Orszag, she was nervous about meeting Obama and she hadn't even come with any ultimatum or conditions about taking the Council of Economic Advisers job. She was just elated to get to know the guy. But their first meeting would open on an odd note. Before exchanging hellos or even shaking hands, the president-elect delivered what seemed intended as a zinger. "It's clear monetary policy has shot its wad." [snip] Later it would seem a foreshadowing of something that came to irk many of the West Wing's women: the president didn't have particularly strong "women skills." The guys-guy persona, which the message team would use to show Obama's down-to-earth side, failed to account for at least one thing: What if you didn't play basketball or golf? [snip] "What do you mean?" she asked. Obama extended his hand, now ready to greet her. "I guess we need to focus on fiscal policy," he said. "No, you're wrong," Romer corrected him. "There's quite a bit we can still do monetarily, even with the historically low interest rates.""

  19. 4 out of 5

    Muhammad Ahmad

    Like his previous book, an otherwise excellent work of investigative journalism is marred by an excess of superfluous detail. This book wouldn't suffer from losing at least 200 of its pages. Suskind writes in the non-fiction novel style of Bob Woodward, though he is a much better writer. But unlike Woodward, he has a tendency to easily get lost in unnecessary embellishment through novelistic details about minor characters. Like Woodward's last book, Confidence Men paints an unflattering picture Like his previous book, an otherwise excellent work of investigative journalism is marred by an excess of superfluous detail. This book wouldn't suffer from losing at least 200 of its pages. Suskind writes in the non-fiction novel style of Bob Woodward, though he is a much better writer. But unlike Woodward, he has a tendency to easily get lost in unnecessary embellishment through novelistic details about minor characters. Like Woodward's last book, Confidence Men paints an unflattering picture of a president clearly out of his depth and routinely played by his advisers. Obama's over-riding concern seems to be to present himself as an 'establishment' guy, who is not there to rock the boat. His compromising disposition has bred contempt which allows his subordinates to frequently ignore his orders. In the most telling quote from the book, Lawrence Summers speaks about being 'home alone' without 'adult supervision' something that 'Clinton would never do'. There could hardly be a more serious indictment.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rodney Harvill

    In Confidence Men, Ron Suskind discusses the 2008 presidential campaign and the first two years of Barak Obama’s presidency. I get the impression that he is on the liberal side of the political spectrum and supported President Obama’s ideology and policies but was disappointed over some aspects of the president’s performance. For the record, I am an economic, political and social conservative who didn’t particularly like President Obama, and my review of this book will necessarily reflect those In Confidence Men, Ron Suskind discusses the 2008 presidential campaign and the first two years of Barak Obama’s presidency. I get the impression that he is on the liberal side of the political spectrum and supported President Obama’s ideology and policies but was disappointed over some aspects of the president’s performance. For the record, I am an economic, political and social conservative who didn’t particularly like President Obama, and my review of this book will necessarily reflect those ideological differences between me and Mr. Suskind. It is easy to see political opponents as monolithic, without internal diversity, and diametrically opposed to one’s own political views; consequently, I was quite surprised to see just how much differences in opinion dominated the policy discussions within the Obama administration and just how much continuity there was with the outgoing Bush administration. For example, there were two major schools of thought regarding financial policy. One represented the ideology of Paul Volker, and the other represented the free-market ideology of Alan Greenspan. The policies ultimately implemented by President Obama’s financial team, many of who had served under President Clinton, were far more consistent with Greenspan than with Volker. So, the financial policies of Presidents G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama were fairly consistent with each other although the Volker side of the economic team persistently and regularly tried to relitigate decisions already made. I also found it interesting just how critical and candid Mr. Suskind could be in discussing the president that he supported, something I really appreciated: • When he was describing presidential candidate Obama, the seemingly sycophantic and fawning tone made me think of Sir Buttkiss from the movie Bedtime Stories, but the tone changed as candidate Obama became President Obama. At some point in the book that I cannot remember, Mr. Suskind made the point that Barak Obama’s face-to-face manner can give the false impression that he agrees with the person talking with him; consequently, people often would see what they wanted to see rather than who he really was. So, I think this difference in tone before and after the inauguration was a literary device to contrast the Barak Obama’s image with his reality. Once I got past wanting to throw up because of the apparently sycophantic praise, I realized just how clever a literary device it was. • Early on, President Obama had to decide on his top domestic priority, dealing with the struggling economy or health care reform. Some of his advisors considered getting the economy on track to be more important because it would help to pay for potentially costly health care policy initiatives. The president chose health care. • Much of the early concerns in the health care reform debate related to the high cost of health care, further exacerbated by the widespread use of expensive medical procedures. This high cost was impacting the ability of the poor to get proper health care. Ultimately, however, what was intended to be health care reform became health insurance reform, an attempt to improve access to health care by improving access to health insurance that Mr. Suskind conceded was unsustainable. Cost is access. • In discussing insurance, Mr. Suskind didn’t hesitate to acknowledge that one of the functions of health insurance companies is cost control by refusing to pay for certain procedures. If they say yes to everything, their expenses rise out of control, and they either go bankrupt, raise premiums or both. I have seen utopian fantasies that government-sponsored health care would ensure that everyone would receive all the health care they needed. As acknowledged by Mr. Suskind, shifting from private sector funding to government funding would merely mean that a different person was saying no. Regardless of who is paying, health care costs must still be controlled. Mr. Suskind and I may have different ideas about how to address health care reform, but I must give him credit; he is no utopian. • Sometimes a politician can leverage a Senate career into a successful run for the presidency, but a sufficiently long career to master parliamentary procedure, etc., also produces the baggage of a voting record that can be used by political opponents in the presidential campaign. Mr. Suskind points out that Barak Obama’s lack of experience was considered an asset on account of this issue. He also points out that it produced a steep learning curve for him once he became president. His preferred style apparently was to provide a safe space for deliberation. In a culture where he was expected to take charge, this left the impression among even his supporters of a leaderless, rudderless ship of state. Late in the development of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, he began to flex his leadership muscles and take charge. I am not sure if he ever shifted from this modus operandi in foreign policy, but he clearly mastered the shift in domestic policy, at least. I am not sure if he would have won reelection otherwise. Although Mr. Suskind and I come from different sides of the political spectrum, I recognize the value in reading his insights. He corrected some misconceptions that I had and probably helped me to see some of my own blind spots. Furthermore, he helped me to appreciate one aspect of President Obama. I, too, have faced some steep and bruising learning curves in my life. Personally, I think he was insane to run for president with his level of inexperience, but he did, and he didn’t back down from the learning curve, garnering himself some valuable lessons. One of the quandaries of politics is that the skills and experience that allow a political leader to be effective also allow him to more easily enact policies that his political opponents do not like. President Obama proved quite successful in this matter. I did not like his policies, and this book has not changed my mind about that, but it has helped me to develop a respect for President Obama as a man who faced down and overcame adversity.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Mccracken

    This could be such a great book; and the insights into the people and dynamics of the White House are great. The association of the book with particular individuals agendas is clear enough that you can take the appropriate pinch of salt with the angle the author takes, and really feel that you're seeing in to the challenges of governing in prose after so effectively campaigning in poetry. However, the editing and structure of the book is just impossible to fathom. The massive cast of characters, This could be such a great book; and the insights into the people and dynamics of the White House are great. The association of the book with particular individuals agendas is clear enough that you can take the appropriate pinch of salt with the angle the author takes, and really feel that you're seeing in to the challenges of governing in prose after so effectively campaigning in poetry. However, the editing and structure of the book is just impossible to fathom. The massive cast of characters, the jumping from issue to issue, the sections that are almost word for word repetitions of earlier parts of the book, all make it tough, tough reading. I think someone could edit it down to half the size and have a sharp, readable, fascinating book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Harry Lane

    Suskind reports indepth and with great detail on the inner workings of the Obama administration's first two years. The conclusion I come away with is that Obama had hoped to become a transformative President, but is failing badly for several reasons. First, a strong argument can be made that he chose the wrong people for his economic team. Second, his strong instinct is to achieve consensus to the degree that it got in the way of making decisions. He did not exercise strong oversight, and severa Suskind reports indepth and with great detail on the inner workings of the Obama administration's first two years. The conclusion I come away with is that Obama had hoped to become a transformative President, but is failing badly for several reasons. First, a strong argument can be made that he chose the wrong people for his economic team. Second, his strong instinct is to achieve consensus to the degree that it got in the way of making decisions. He did not exercise strong oversight, and several strong personalities on his staff were allowed to pursue their own agenda. An important, but depressing, book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I found The Confidence Men to be a fascinating book, but it's not for the faint of heart. The detail Suskind goes into breaking down the economic crisis and the decision making process in Obama's first couple of years is phenomenal. If you like lots of detail and analysis, you'll love this book. Examining the collapse of the housing market, the bailout of the auto industry and the fight for healthcare are a few of the things laid out on the table with tons of behind the scenes interviews and inf I found The Confidence Men to be a fascinating book, but it's not for the faint of heart. The detail Suskind goes into breaking down the economic crisis and the decision making process in Obama's first couple of years is phenomenal. If you like lots of detail and analysis, you'll love this book. Examining the collapse of the housing market, the bailout of the auto industry and the fight for healthcare are a few of the things laid out on the table with tons of behind the scenes interviews and information.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Uwe Hook

    A stunning portrait of the first 2 years of Obama's administration filled with in-fighting, inexperience and inaction. An important read for any voter, a good glimpse into the psyche of the President.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Just started...already fascinating...and does not reflect very well on the President.

  26. 4 out of 5

    William Ratliff

    This book was a little too long, but overall it was an interesting look at what, exactly, went wrong in the Obama's Administration's first two years. It's exhaustively reported and examines how seasoned political operatives like Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel pushed the new president toward neoliberal centrism, while Wall Street sycophants like Tim Geithner effectively slow-walked Obama's most ambitious financial proposals. It makes clear, though, that Obama himself let the opportunity for drama This book was a little too long, but overall it was an interesting look at what, exactly, went wrong in the Obama's Administration's first two years. It's exhaustively reported and examines how seasoned political operatives like Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel pushed the new president toward neoliberal centrism, while Wall Street sycophants like Tim Geithner effectively slow-walked Obama's most ambitious financial proposals. It makes clear, though, that Obama himself let the opportunity for dramatic, Rooseveltian reform slip away. Suskind provides in-depth (and often boring) explanations of Wall Street's inner workings, especially in the first third of the book. I'm not particularly interested in how derivatives function, but it illustrates that Wall Street is all smoke and mirrors. There are also some fascinating overviews of the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill–while it's no secret that these bills were substantially weakened throughout the legislative process, it is, nonetheless, really depressing to learn exactly how it happened. Suskind was also oddly light on foreign policy discussions, and while I understand that the book is focused on domestic policy, it really glosses over the role of the Iraq War in the 2008 Democratic primary. Given how detailed the rest of the book is, this struck me as an odd omission. Moreover, some of Suskind's descriptions of Obama's oratory are predictably trite, talking about American greatness and blah blah blah. I'm not so much into that, but the reporting in the book is so great that I could live with it. I really enjoyed the way Suskind uses the concept of confidence throughout the book, and the final chapter culminates with a discussion with Obama about the importance of symbolism in politics–policy details don't inspire people, and, in spite of what many technocrats might argue, substance needs style. This seems particularly relevant as we try and understand why Trump's base is immovably behind him, even with his dearth of policy achievements. If you're a politics junkie, this is a great book. Can't say I would recommend it to anyone else, though.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Byron

    Confidence men discusses the first two years of the Obama administration, focusing on the administrations efforts to address the economic crisis and to pass health care reform. Susskind presents a solid critique of Obama and his missteps during this period, while maintaining an appreciation for the man and his goals. Susskind discusses the dysfunctions created by Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers, but Obama's ownership of these dysfunctions, and his loyalty to these men. One of the best aspects of Confidence men discusses the first two years of the Obama administration, focusing on the administrations efforts to address the economic crisis and to pass health care reform. Susskind presents a solid critique of Obama and his missteps during this period, while maintaining an appreciation for the man and his goals. Susskind discusses the dysfunctions created by Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers, but Obama's ownership of these dysfunctions, and his loyalty to these men. One of the best aspects of this book is the way it describes Obama's desire to govern by consensus, which can be a very ineffective style when the right people are not around you.

  28. 4 out of 5

    James

    I liked many parts of this, and felt others were incomplete or just less satisfying. Perhaps just the result of trying to bring so many strands of history, politics and relationships together to explain Obama’s first two years. I think it is worth a read now to get a view from the White House on what the Great Recession looked like. My biggest takeaway was that if Obama’s White House can be criticized for such poor organization and leadership, it’s hard to have much confidence if/when the Trump I liked many parts of this, and felt others were incomplete or just less satisfying. Perhaps just the result of trying to bring so many strands of history, politics and relationships together to explain Obama’s first two years. I think it is worth a read now to get a view from the White House on what the Great Recession looked like. My biggest takeaway was that if Obama’s White House can be criticized for such poor organization and leadership, it’s hard to have much confidence if/when the Trump White House has to deal with a real crisis.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Eric Michels

    The booked was clearly well sourced as evidenced by the inclusion of many anecdotes that would have been known only to high level officials that had participated in the discussions. Unfortunately, the book seemed to mostly be a compilation of those anecdotes with no overarching storyline or point of view that I could decipher. The fly-on-wall commentary could have made an interesting book had it focused on any one particular event during the period covered by the book but, as it is, it jumps aro The booked was clearly well sourced as evidenced by the inclusion of many anecdotes that would have been known only to high level officials that had participated in the discussions. Unfortunately, the book seemed to mostly be a compilation of those anecdotes with no overarching storyline or point of view that I could decipher. The fly-on-wall commentary could have made an interesting book had it focused on any one particular event during the period covered by the book but, as it is, it jumps around between events and people too often to provide meaningful insight in to any of it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mike Lewis

    This was an excellent entry point into Wall Street and the housing bubble burst of the late 2000’s. While I was there, I was not fully aware of the economic implications other than witnessed in gas prices and the like. Siskund writes in a way that makes you feel like you are part of the crew rather than a voyeur. This was an excellent book.

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