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The End of Wall Street
Cover of The End of Wall Street
The End of Wall Street
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    The roots of the mortgage bubble and the story of the Wall Street collapse-and the government's unprecedented response-from our most trusted business journalist.
    The End of Wall Street is a blow-by-blow account of America's biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression. Drawing on 180 interviews, including sit-downs with top government officials and Wall Street CEOs, Lowenstein tells, with grace, wit, and razor-sharp understanding, the full story of the end of Wall Street as we knew it. Displaying the qualities that made When Genius Failed a timeless classic of Wall Street-his sixth sense for narrative drama and his unmatched ability to tell complicated financial stories in ways that resonate with the ordinary reader-Roger Lowenstein weaves a financial, economic, and sociological thriller that indicts America for succumbing to the siren song of easy debt and speculative mortgages.
    The End of Wall Street is rife with historical lessons and bursting with fast-paced action. Lowenstein introduces his story with precisely etched, laserlike profiles of Angelo Mozilo, the Johnny Appleseed of subprime mortgages who spreads toxic loans across the landscape like wild crabapples, and moves to a damning explication of how rating agencies helped gift wrap faulty loans in the guise of triple-A paper and a takedown of the academic formulas that-once again- proved the ruin of investors and banks. Lowenstein excels with a series of searing profiles of banking CEOs, such as the ferretlike Dick Fuld of Lehman and the bloodless Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan, and of government officials from the restless, deal-obsessed Hank Paulson and the overmatched Tim Geithner to the cerebral academic Ben Bernanke, who sought to avoid a repeat of the one crisis he spent a lifetime trying to understand-the Great Depression.
    Finally, we come to understand the majesty of Lowenstein's theme of liquidity and capital, which explains the origins of the crisis and that positions the collapse of 2008 as the greatest ever of Wall Street's unlearned lessons. The End of Wall Street will be essential reading as we work to identify the lessons of the market failure and start to reb...
    Watch a Video

  • Watch a video
  • Download the cheat sheet for Roger Lowenstein's The End of Wall Street »

    The roots of the mortgage bubble and the story of the Wall Street collapse-and the government's unprecedented response-from our most trusted business journalist.
    The End of Wall Street is a blow-by-blow account of America's biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression. Drawing on 180 interviews, including sit-downs with top government officials and Wall Street CEOs, Lowenstein tells, with grace, wit, and razor-sharp understanding, the full story of the end of Wall Street as we knew it. Displaying the qualities that made When Genius Failed a timeless classic of Wall Street-his sixth sense for narrative drama and his unmatched ability to tell complicated financial stories in ways that resonate with the ordinary reader-Roger Lowenstein weaves a financial, economic, and sociological thriller that indicts America for succumbing to the siren song of easy debt and speculative mortgages.
    The End of Wall Street is rife with historical lessons and bursting with fast-paced action. Lowenstein introduces his story with precisely etched, laserlike profiles of Angelo Mozilo, the Johnny Appleseed of subprime mortgages who spreads toxic loans across the landscape like wild crabapples, and moves to a damning explication of how rating agencies helped gift wrap faulty loans in the guise of triple-A paper and a takedown of the academic formulas that-once again- proved the ruin of investors and banks. Lowenstein excels with a series of searing profiles of banking CEOs, such as the ferretlike Dick Fuld of Lehman and the bloodless Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan, and of government officials from the restless, deal-obsessed Hank Paulson and the overmatched Tim Geithner to the cerebral academic Ben Bernanke, who sought to avoid a repeat of the one crisis he spent a lifetime trying to understand-the Great Depression.
    Finally, we come to understand the majesty of Lowenstein's theme of liquidity and capital, which explains the origins of the crisis and that positions the collapse of 2008 as the greatest ever of Wall Street's unlearned lessons. The End of Wall Street will be essential reading as we work to identify the lessons of the market failure and start to reb...
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    Excerpts-
    • From the book In the late summer of 2008, as Lehman Brothers teetered at theedge, a bell tolled for Wall Street. The elite of American bankers wereenlisted to try to save Lehman, but they were fighting for somethinglarger than a venerable, 158-year-old institution. Steven Black, the veteranJPMorgan executive, had an impulse to start saving the daily newspapers,figuring that historic events were afoot. On Sunday, September14, as the hours ticked away, Lehman's employees gathered at the firm,unwilling to say goodbye and fearful of what lay in wait. With bankruptcya fait accompli, they slunk off to bars for a final toast, as peopleonce did in advance of a great and terrible battle. One ventured that"the forces of evil" were about to be loosed on American society.Lehman's failure was the largest in American history and yet anotherfinancial firm, the insurer American International Group, was but hoursaway from an even bigger collapse. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, thetwo bulwarks of the mortgage industry, had just been seized by the federalgovernment. Dozens of banks big and small were bordering on insolvency.And the epidemic of institutional failures did not begin todescribe the crisis's true depth. The market system itself had comeundone. Banks couldn't borrow; investors wouldn't lend; companiescould not refinance. Millions of Americans were threatened with losingtheir homes. The economy, when it fully caught Wall Street's chill,would retrench as it had not done since the Great Depression. Millionslost their jobs and the stock market crashed (its worst fall since the1930s). Home foreclosures broke every record; two of America's threeautomobile manufacturers filed for bankruptcy, and banks themselvesfailed by the score. Confidence in America's market system, thought tohave attained the pinnacle of laissez-faire perfection, was shattered.

      The crisis prompted government interventions that only recentlywould have been considered unthinkable. Less than a generation afterthe fall of the Berlin Wall, when prevailing orthodoxy held that the freemarket could govern itself, and when financial regulation seemed destinedfor near irrelevancy, the United States was compelled to socializelending and mortgage risk, and even the ownership of banks, on a scalethat would have made Lenin smile. The massive fiscal remedies evidencedboth the failure of an ideology and the eclipse of Wall Street'sgolden age. For years, American financiers had gaudily assumed morepower, more faith in their ability to calculate—and inoculate themselvesagainst—risk.

      As a consequence of this faith, banks and investors had plied theaverage American with mortgage debt on such speculative and unthinkingterms that not just America's economy but the world's economyultimately capsized. The risk grew from early in the decade, whenlittle-known lenders such as Angelo Mozilo began to make waves writingsubprime mortgages. Before long, Mozilo was to proclaim that evenAmericans who could not put money down should be "lent" the moneyfor a home, and not long after that, Mozilo made it happen: homesfor free.

      But in truth, the era began well before Mozilo and his ilk. Its seedstook root in the aftermath of the 1970s, when banking and marketswere liberalized. Prior to then, finance was a static business that playedmerely a supporting role in the U.S. economy. America was an industrialstate. Politicians, union leaders, and engineers were America'sstars; investment bankers were gray and dull.In the postindustrial era, what we may call the Age of Markets,diplomats no longer adjusted currency values; Wall Street traders did.Just so, global capital markets allocated credit, and hordes of profitminded,if short-term-focused, investors...

    Reviews-
    • Publisher's Weekly

      February 8, 2010
      Lowenstein (When Genius Failed
      ) offers an overview of the causes and consequences of the financial crisis that rises above the glut of similarly themed books with its juicy behind-the-scenes detail and thoughtful analysis. He sets out to prove that the current financial difficulties began long before the summer of 2008, and long before the failure of Lehman Brothers. He begins with the history of Fannie Mae and the rise of mortgage-based securities and a dangerously burgeoning housing bubble, and hits the high points of the 2008-2009 news cycles, including Washington Mutual’s unwise loan strategies, the panic following Bear Stearns’s near-demise, a rash of foreclosures, TARP, and the woes of Citigroup. The insider knowledge lends flavor and context to many of these stories—a ranting Jim Cramer, Ben Bernanke’s loss of confidence, and Alan Greenspan’s astonishing 2008 testimony to Congress. Lowenstein’s strong knowledge of the source material and flair for the dramatic—and doomsday title—should draw readers who still wonder what went wrong and how.

    • Kirkus

      February 15, 2010
      A veteran financial/business journalist examines the past three years of economic collapse, chronicling actions and inactions from dozens of villains and a few heroes.

      New York Times Magazine and Bloomberg contributor Lowenstein (While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis, 2008, etc.) teases out the upsetting saga of ignorance and greed without adding much to the story already related in newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets, not to mention a few books that beat his to bookstores. Nonetheless, he handles the recap skillfully, in language nonspecialists can understand. The author identifies more than 100 key players, almost all of them middle-aged white males from Wall Street, private mortgage companies, law firms, federal government agencies and the U.S. Congress. The narrative consistently demonstrates how almost all of those who could have halted the coming recession by employing common sense instead decided that the housing market would never collapse. When it did, nearly all of the smart guys in the room expressed shock, even though some of them had worried privately about a looming disaster. Among the most loathsome of the destroyers in Lowenstein's case are Angelo Mozilo, chief executive of Countrywide Financial, which wrote billions of dollars of home loans bound to default; and Joseph Cassano, an executive of insurance behemoth AIG who overexposed the company and its clients to the risks of credit-default swap losses. The leading heroes, chosen from a slim field, are Brooksley Born, chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who tried to discuss government regulation of derivatives a decade before the debacle; and Robert L. Rodriguez, chief executive of First Pacific Advisors, who protected his investors from the insane greed while trying to warn anybody who would listen about the house of cards about to collapse.

      A well-delineated chronicle likely to cause readers to ask who put the clowns in charge of the circus, and why aren't they confined to prison cells.

      (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

    • Library Journal

      Starred review from March 15, 2010
      This account of the credit crisis of 200708 follows many others. Being later means that Lowenstein ("When Genius Fails") is able to extend his coverage into the 2009 recession and assess the financial carnage from the perspective of more time. He blames the origins of the crisis on the hubris of those in the financial industrywho deluded themselves into thinking that the credit markets would never retrenchand acquiescent politicians who saw loosened credit as a means of bolstering the economic prospects of the poor. He blames the depth of the crisis and resulting recession on early misjudgments by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bush administration; by the time they moved to shore up the banks in late 2008, it was necessary for the government to absorb much of the cost, which meant a weaker dollar, bigger government, higher unemployment, and increased taxes. Lowenstein is able to make arcane financial concepts like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and leveraged balance sheets intelligible to average readers. VERDICT While CNBC reporter Charles Gasparino's "The Sellout" paints a more colorful picture and Andrew Ross Sorkin's frenetic "Too Big To Fail" focuses more specifically on the crucial events of early fall 2008, in breadth Lowenstein's work is the most complete yet to appear and is essential reading for everyone. [See Prepub Alert, "LJ" 12/09.]Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., PA

      Copyright 2010 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

    • Booklist

      April 15, 2010
      Lowenstein has written four books on business trends and financial crises and has written for the Wall Street Journal for more than a decade. Although the events leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 have been chronicled from many angles, Lowenstein takes a deeper look at the systemic oversights that led up to that event. The media often blames the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the failure of AIG for the calamity that froze credit markets and ground the economy to a halt, leading to record job losses and the worst downturn since the Great Depression. But the structural damage to the financial system had already been in place by then, brought on by the speculative bubble in real estate nationwide, which was accelerated by lax regulation in subprime mortgages and the securitization of mortgages and endless derivatives, which spread the risk like toxic waste throughout the financial system. Lowenstein does a great job of explaining all this in understandable terms that unobtrusively avoid the injection of emotion and politics.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2010, American Library Association.)

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