Book Review: A Colossal Failure of Common Sense – The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers by Lawrence G. McDonald with Patrick Robinson, Crown Business – an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc. NY, NY Copyright © 2009 by Lawrence G. McDonald and Patrick Robinson
If you must pick one book to satisfy your hunger for riveting insights into the rise and fall of Wall Street over the past several years, this is it. Lawrence McDonald (former V.P. of distressed debt and convertible securities trading at now defunct Lehman Brothers) and Patrick Robinson craft a thrilling and action-packed literary journey through this period. This book is written for a broad audience – you certainly do not need to possess a Series 7 securities license to thoroughly enjoy this book.
The authors do a fantastic job providing the reader with a feel for the tension, the people, the context and the conundrum that, among other things, resulted in the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The authors use a phrase from Texas to characterize the realization that Lehman Brothers was on the verge of embracing the reality of a potentially fatal collapse; “big hat, no cattle.” — A phrase that appropriately captures the challenge of the U.S. to emerge from the structural damage that has been incurred since the Fed and U.S. Treasury were required to step in and stabilize the systemic risk and ongoing aftershocks of Wall Street’s penchant for irrational exuberance.
This book makes a point that other treatments of this subject might overlook: A business is a group of people; real human beings with families, livelihoods, hopes and dreams. When people become deceived about the nature of the world around them, they have succumbed to myth and illusion – and begin making business decisions that compromise the welfare of all concerned, resulting, in this case, the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
This book is replete with fundamental truths that we need to be reminded about, as we move ahead. The following excerpt is a prudent example:
“The truth was, this was the starting point of America living in a false economy, because all this free money was in defiance of the natural laws of the universe. All bubbles, down the centuries, have started that way, leading to the inevitable time when people begin to think it’s normal, that nirvana has finally arrived — But, of course, it wasn’t. It never is. You can ask my dad who watched the start of the insane credit boom in late 2003 by observing, dryly, “Here we go again. Straight back to the edge of the cliff.” (p.77).
How do millions of people get to the edge of the cliff? What happens when the precipice upon which we are standing breaks off? Common sense would tell you not to stand on the edge of a cliff with millions of others wouldn’t it?
Is it the cliff’s fault, or the colossal failure of common sense attributable to those gathered there?
Only an insider such as Lawrence McDonald (and his co-author Patrick Robinson) can provide a poignant perspective having hung on this precipice.
This is a truly great read. Buy it. Think about it.
Book Review: It’s Really All About God – Reflections of a Muslim, Atheist, Jewish, Christian by Samir Selmanovic, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, CA Copyright © 2009 by Samir Selmanovic.
Enjoy a video preview of the book here:
This book made me glow.
What would hope say, after silently holding its breath?
The book begins with the following insight:
“Our children are looking at us, holding their breath in silence. Their unspoken accusations and mute hopes are not only about the physical environment of the world we are leaving them; they are also about the spiritual environment they are inheriting.”
In this phenomenal work of the heart, Samir Selmanovic exhales and breathes life into words, capturing the essence of what millions have been silently hoping, holding their breath, unable to speak. This is a work of faith, as defined by Selmanovic; “to set one’s heart on and forge a working relationship with a mystery.”(p.270).
It is a profound invitation to reconciliation for all human kind. Samir weaves his own personal faith journey into the story that adds tremendous texture and legitimacy to the invitation he is extending. The writing is superb. The story-telling is tremendous. The prejudice piercing truths will rearrange the composition of your heart.
Over the past several years, my wife and I have had the opportunity to invite Muslim high school students from other countries to live with us here in our home for the school year. Our objective in doing so had nothing to do with proselytizing another. It was acting on a sense that perhaps “the other” might somehow change us. It was an act of opening our lives to embracing the living mystery of what God may have for us to learn, to grow, to understand, to change. Samir Selmanovic captures the essence of our experience when he writes:
“When God visits us through the other, we are awakened and begin to feel what we could not feel before, we see what we could not see before, and we think what we could not think before. In the presence of the other, everything changes.” (pp.260-261).
This book is an invitation to experience the beauty of celebrating this life God has bestowed upon us as a gift – together. It is call for action dedicated to intentionally discarding the illusions and breaching the artificial boundaries that continue to separate us from “them.” It is a heart rendering summons to live the next dimension of human existence by embracing the beauty offered through how our faith persuasions “complement and illuminate one another.” (p.XVII).
This book made me glow with hope – a fresh, new hope: A hope worth living.
One of my Top 3 books for 2009. Buy it. Bask in it.
I developed a new word: “Cynclical” – A recognition that cynicism is cyclical – You always ends up in the same place you started. Yet, this phenomenon possesses an inertia and a trajectory, like a whirlpool…round and round and down. Whether you are the originator of cynicism or the recipient of it, it has an energy that negatively impacts all concerned…it maintains the dizziness essential to preserving the illusion that we cannot make progress, and retards the willingness to expend our energies toward the pursuit of the possibilities.
The Splendor of Surrender to Sunglasses After Sunset
I truly enjoyed this ride. You will too. Trust me. Real life. Real people. Rugged honesty. Wrenching reality.
A mosaic of granting permission to take ourselves less seriously, to confront the challenge of facing ourselves through the eyes of others, the courage to seek or stumble into relationships where the grace of God can work the miracle of transforming us into what we might be — it’s all here in Bo’s Café – Will Grace Finally Win?
Jesus really never told people what to think. For the most part, he attracted people to see life with new eyes. Sure, He reasoned with some folks. Yet, he truly appealed to their imagination versus their reason (or lack thereof) — Sunglasses after sunset (p.29) is a profound embodiment of the ongoing new era of storytelling that gives new life and relevance to the reality of Jesus presence and unrealized impact in our lives. Come as you are to this book. Bring all your stuff along. Reach for grace. What’s grace? Listen to the authors (John Lynch, Bill Thrall and BruceMcNicol):
“Grace is a gift only the nonreligious can accept. They’re the only ones who can get it. Religious folks see grace as soft. So they keep trying to manage their junk with their own willpower and tenacity. Nothing defines religion quite as well as a bunch of people trying to do impossible tasks with limited power while bluffing to themselves that it’s working.” (p.89).
It’s very important to note that this novel is not written for religious types (although those who consider themselves as such would definitely enjoy it). I am not going to spoil the plot, the characters, or the many poignant truths that will innocently harness your heart in this review. It would be a crying shame to do that. Speaking of shame, take note of the following excerpt:
“You know what shame does? It takes a particular violation or several violations from your past, something that really got to you, and convinces you felt like in that violation is who you’ll always be, for the rest of your life. Sad,huh? — We don’t want others to see us for the person the lie has told us we are. We almost unconsciously create a lie to protect us from the lie. Bad combination.” (pp.146-147).
You can’t write those words without having lived it, and experienced the freedom that lies on the other side of this deception.
Ride with these guys. There should be warning label on the jacket of this book: Read with Sunglasses On. You’ll need them to peer into the timeless truths this story reveals in a new, creative, relevant light.
In The Cul-De-Sac Syndrome – Turning Around The Unsustainable American Dream, John Wasik provides a surgical strike into the heart of the socio-economic and social-structural challenges currently facing the U.S.
He begins with a characterization of the false economics that got us into this mess, a scholarly historical overview of the origins of suburbia in the U.S. and how debt and finance played a fundamental a role in the current conundrum.
As Wasik states, “The age of froth is long over. It’s a time for reckoning and renewal.” (p.174). This book focuses on re-imagining, re-engineering and rebuilding our communities…and a sustainable way of life for America.
Wasik spears the illusions and assumptions that fueled the unsustainable rise in residential real estate prices. He moves on to characterize how we must “clean up and move on.”
This is not one of those books that simply summarizes and criticizes a crisis in hindsight. It provides terribly important insights into the correction required to stabilize and grow this nation.
Listen to Wasik. After devouring this work, I’m convinced he is a thinker legitimately worth paying attention to.
One of my favorites for 2009.