McNay on Money

All the Devils Are Here: The Best Business Book of the Year

By: Don McNay
By: Don McNay

When New York Times columnist Joe Nocera told me that he was taking an extended leave to write a book (with Bethany McLean) about the financial crisis, I wished my friend well.

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste

-Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

When New York Times columnist Joe Nocera told me that he was taking an extended leave to write a book (with Bethany McLean) about the financial crisis, I wished my friend well.

In the back of my mind I was really thinking that the last thing the world needs now is another book about the financial crisis.

I was wrong. 

We needed this book.  All the Devils Are Here is the best business book of 2010.  Gary Rivlin's Broke, USA is a close second.

McLean and Nocera have the same skill set.  They know how to tell a story.  In Devils, they put numbers and nuances into a human drama and wrote a business book that is as riveting as an adventure novel.

After reading  such books as Andrew Ross Sorkin's  Too Big To Fail, Michael Lewis's The Big Short,  Gregory Zuckerman's The Greatest Trade Ever and Roger Lowenstein's The End of Wall Street,  I thought the financial crisis had been completely covered with great books by great writers and there wasn't anything else left to say. 

McLean and Nocera were able to build on the story and trace the crisis back, 30 years ago, to its roots.

I had expected the book to be well-written.

Bethany McLean was the co-author of the monster best seller, The Smartest Guys in the Room. Her work at Vanity Fair and Fortune has always been first rate.    

It's rare for me to agree with CNBC commentator Jim Cramer about anything, but he is correct when he calls Joe Nocera, "The best business writer alive."   Nocera's 1994 book, A Piece of the Action:  How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class, is considered one of the best business history pieces ever written.

What makes All the Devils Are Here my top pick is noted in its subtitle: it truly is "The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis."

It's easy for us in the media to vilify key players in the financial crisis.  Goldman Sachs and Hank Paulson are particular punching bags of mine.  McLean and Nocera give a straight down the middle view of all the players.  It seemed to me that the authors viewed Paulson as a well- intentioned and, possibly, heroic figure with some fatal flaws.  I'm not buying a kinder, gentler Hank Paulson, but McLean and Nocera don't argue a viewpoint.  They tell a story and give the readers something to think about.

Some of us want to tie the financial crisis to Wall Street and Washington.   Others want to blame greedy and ill-informed consumers, rouge traders and brokers, out-of-control lenders and people with a Pollyanna view of the world.

McLean and Nocera make a convincing argument that it's all of the above.  And more.  

The authors do an excellent job of taking us to the roots of the financial crisis.  Businesses were too concerned with immediate profits and with lapdog regulators and friends in Washington.    Greed led to stupidity at every level, be it a 25 year-old mortgage broker making six figures or the heads of Wall Street firms such as AIG and Goldman Sachs.

The authors show how efforts to goose the housing market at Fannie Mae and the Federal Reserve Board lead to tons of unintended consequences.

McLean and Nocera have ferretted out the root causes and given us something to think about as we move toward the future.

The unique view of history, research, and detail alone would make this a great book.  It is the writing style and flow that make it a masterpiece.  Once I received the book, I could not put it down until I hit the ending, 380 pages later.

Like The Smartest Guys in the Room or A Piece of the Action, I suspect this book will have an impact far beyond the literary world.

Although they don't tell us an idea where to look for angels, I feel certain that all the devils are here.

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