BOOK REVIEW: Hank Paulson’s Diary of What Happened During Financial Crisis
ON THE BRINK is Hank Paulson’s first-person account of the catastrophic economic events of 2008.
From the man who was in the very middle of this perfect economic storm, Paulson puts the reader in the room for all the intense moments as he addressed urgent market conditions, weighed critical decisions, and debated policy and economic considerations with of all the notable players-including the CEOs of top Wall Street firms as well as Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, Sheila Bair, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, and then-President George W. Bush.
More than an account about numbers and credit risks gone bad, ON THE BRINK is an extraordinary story about people and politics-all brought together during the world’s impending financial Armageddon.
Purchase on Amazon.com: On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System
As Paulson tells it “The pace of events during the financial crisis of 2008 was truly breathtaking. In this book, I have done my best to describe my actions and the thinking behind them during that time, and to convey the breakneck speed at which events were happening all around us.” He continues “I believe the most important part of this story is the way Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, and I worked as a team through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
There can’t be many other examples of economic leaders managing a crisis who had as much trust in one another as we did. Our partnership proved to be an enormous asset during an incredibly difficult period. But at the same time, this is my story, and as hard as I have tried to reflect the contributions made by everyone involved, it is primarily about my work and that of my talented and dedicated team at Treasury.
On the Brink is basically a diary of Paulson’s time as Treasury Secretary, which ran from 2006 to 2008. That, of course, encompasses the most dramatic period of the financial crisis, running from when things started coming unglued in 2007 to the point at the end of the Bush administration when the financial markets were just about finally stabilized. The book details the sequence of events which covers the Bear Stearns take-over, the Lehman collapse, the receivership of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the AIG bailout, TARP and just about everything in between.
This is NOT a history of the financial crisis. Paulson doesn’t really get into the “How did we get here?” in any dedicated or focused fashion (for something more along those lines you may want to read Financial Shock by Mark Zandi). This book is Paulson telling the story of how Treasury, the Fed, the FDIC, the SEC, Congress, the President and others worked together to try to resolve the problems facing the financial markets during the timeframe in question from his perspective. As such, one may be inclined to think of it as an individual trying to establish his legacy.
Perhaps it is, but I also found it to be a very honest telling. The book doesn’t shy away from Paulson’s insecurity at different points, or the impact the long hours and intense stress had. I didn’t come away from the book thinking Paulson had portrayed himself as the hero of the tale. If anything, he spends considerable time talking about the tireless work of the numerous people involved.
ABOUT HENRY M. PAULSON
Henry M. Paulson, Jr. served under President George W. Bush as the 74th Secretary of the Treasury from June 2006 until January 2009. Before coming to Treasury, Paulson was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs since the firm’s initial public offering in 1999. He joined Goldman Sachs Chicago Office in 1974 and rose through the ranks holding several positions including, Managing Partner of the firm’s Chicago office, Co-head of the firm’s investment Banking Division, President and Chief Operating Officer, and Co-Senior partner.
Prior to joining Goldman Sachs, Paulson was a member of the White House Domestic Council, serving as Staff Assistant to the President from 1972 to 1973, and as Staff Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon from 1970 to 1972.
Paulson graduated from Dartmouth in 1968, where he majored in English, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and an All Ivy, All East football player. He received an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1970.