Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System from Crisis — and Themselves

tags: finance, history

This is the story of one week in 2008 – the week when Lehman Brothers was about to fail, and then almost everything went with it. It was the week that ended with TARP – the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package.

And to be clear: this is 600 pages about that one week. It’s a nauseatingly detailed retelling of the phone calls, conversations, and other events that happened during that single week.

Honestly, I found it hard to believe the level of detail that the author presented. I read his research notes at the end where he explained how he got his information. However, he relays each phone call in Hemingway-esque dialogue. He even discusses small details about the room, and what people were thinking at the time. I have no idea how he managed to obtain (or justify exaggerating) that level of detail.

The book gets tedious. It’s basically the story of a dozen or so billionaires and how they were all scared of losing their money. There’s a larger point about how all the Wall Street investment banks were inter-related (they all depended on each other for trades), and so if one went down, they would supposedly all go down.

But I feel like the author could have done a better job explaining the mechanics of it all. I’m not a dumb guy, but you really need some understand of finance to get all of this. I feel like one chapter that went back a decade or so and explained how the mess started would have been helpful.

The book proceeds almost minute-by-minute through the week, ending with the announcement of TARP and the saving of AIG and some others (Lehman was allowed to fail).

Did I care at the end? …not really, I guess.

(It’s worth mentioning as well that HBO did a great movie adaptation of this book. I had actually watched that tears ago, not knowing it was based on a book. Maybe just watch the movie instead? Or just read the Wikipedia summary.)

Book Info