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The End of Wall Street

Cover of The End of Wall Street

The End of Wall Street

Borrow Borrow

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 rebuild.

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 rebuild.

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  • From the cover 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...

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