All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis

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Overview

"Hell is empty, and all the devils are here."
-Shakespeare, The Tempest

As soon as the financial crisis erupted, the finger-pointing began. Should the blame fall on Wall Street, Main Street, or Pennsylvania Avenue? On greedy traders, misguided regulators, sleazy subprime companies, cowardly legislators, or clueless home buyers?

According to Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera, two of America's most acclaimed business journalists, the real answer is all of the above-and more. Many devils helped bring hell to the economy. And the full story, in all of its complexity and detail, is like the legend of the blind men and the elephant. Almost everyone has missed the big picture. Almost no one has put all the pieces together.

All the Devils Are Here goes back several decades to weave the hidden history of the financial crisis in a way no previous book has done. It explores the motivations of everyone from famous CEOs, cabinet secretaries, and politicians to anonymous lenders, borrowers, analysts, and Wall Street traders. It delves into the powerful American mythology of homeownership. And it proves that the crisis ultimately wasn't about finance at all; it was about human nature.

Among the devils you'll meet in vivid detail:

• Angelo Mozilo, the CEO of Countrywide, who dreamed of spreading homeownership to the masses, only to succumb to the peer pressure-and the outsized profits-of the sleaziest subprime lending.

• Roland Arnall, a respected philanthropist and diplomat, who made his fortune building Ameriquest, a subprime lending empire that relied on blatantly deceptive lending practices.

• Hank Greenberg, who built AIG into a Rube Goldberg contraption with an undeserved triple-A rating, and who ran it so tightly that he was the only one who knew where all the bodies were buried.

• Stan O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, aloof and suspicious, who suffered from "Goldman envy" and drove a proud old firm into the ground by promoting cronies and pushing out his smartest lieutenants.

• Lloyd Blankfein, who helped turn Goldman Sachs from a culture that famously put clients first to one that made clients secondary to its own bottom line.

• Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae, who (like his predecessors) bullied regulators into submission and let his firm drift away from its original, noble mission.

• Brian Clarkson of Moody's, who aggressively pushed to increase his rating agency's market share and stock price, at the cost of its integrity.

• Alan Greenspan, the legendary maestro of the Federal Reserve, who ignored the evidence of a growing housing bubble and turned a blind eye to the lending practices that ultimately brought down Wall Street-and inflicted enormous pain on the country.

Just as McLean's The Smartest Guys in the Room was hailed as the best Enron book on a crowded shelf, so will All the Devils Are Here be remembered for finally making sense of the meltdown and its consequences.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

According to the United States National Bureau of Economic Research, the global recession began in December 2007; but although it has been nearly three years since the meltdown's onset, experts are still divvying up the blame. Who was at fault: Wall Street, Main Street, or Pennsylvania Avenue? Was it cynical derivative dealers, foolish homebuyers or negligent regulators? Business journalists Bethany McLean (The Smartest Guys in the Room) and Joe Nocera delve beneath the surface in this history of financial folly over two decades. Worth recommending. (P.S. The book borrows its title from a line from Shakespeare's Tempest: "Hell is empty. All the devils are here.")

Kirkus Reviews

A closely written account of the late financial meltdown, when, in the words of one analyst, "we went from a collective belief in soundness to a collective belief in insolvency."

That change of attitude is entirely understandable, inasmuch as the financial system was predicated on abstractions. The origins of the meltdown and the subsequent Great Recession, write former Fortune and current Vanity Fair contributor McLean (co-author: The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, 2003) andNew York Timesreporter Nocera (A Piece of the Action : How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class, 1994), largely lie in the speculator's dream called the mortgage-backed security, which "allowed Wall Street to scoop up loans made to people who were buying homes, bundle them together by the thousands, and then resell the bundle, in bits and pieces, to investors." This innovation netted fortunes for the players at the top, undoing the former bond between buyer and seller and leading directly to the rise of the subprime industry and its toxic holdings. Ironically, write the authors, the securitizing of mortgages was not an invention of Wall Street but of government, with the federal agencies Ginnie Mae and then Freddie Mac selling securities 40 years ago. Scrupulously fair, McLean and Nocera look inside the closed doors of agencies, some now extinct, such as Bear Stearns and Countrywide, which took the official rhetoric, shared by George Bush and Bill Clinton alike, that there is something near-sacred about homeownership and ran with it. Interestingly, the authors attribute the failed policing of the subprime industry, whose criminal business practices were the engine of the meltdown, to a very real fear on the part of the government that cracking down would harm the people who most needed help. Those little fish were soon swallowed up by the Wall Street sharks, who sagely played the odds to the end, when it finally became apparent that the system was being hit by a perfect storm far beyond the worst of worst-case scenarios.

Hard-hitting reporting and fluent writing bring the utter devastation of the Great Recession to life—with John Cassidy'sHow Markets Fail (2009) an essential aid to understanding where all the money went, and who benefited.

Daniel Gross
[The authors]…were willing to sacrifice speed and buzz for the sake of quality writing and a textured, multilayered story. Unlike many of the quickie books on the crisis, All the Devils Are Here is tightly written, methodical and unsensationalistic…it's very much worth reading for its damning conclusions and its craftsmanship. McLean and Nocera weave seemingly unrelated strands of the story into a coherent tapestry…this narrative was constructed by skilled professionals with great care and attention. It's a shame the same can't be said for our mortgage industry.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591843634
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/16/2010
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 9.60 (w) x 11.80 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind are Fortune senior writers. McLean, a former investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs, lives in New York City. Her March 2001 article in Fortune, "Is Enron Overpriced?," was the first in a national publication to openly question the company's dealings.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 77 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 18, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Well-Written and Ambitious Book

    "All the Devils are Here" is a very ambitious book that attempts to weave together a wide range of narratives into a single story that explains the financial crisis. In general, I think the book does a very good job of taking on this challenge, but there is no way to get around the fact that it is a complex undertaking. The book takes a full 8 pages just to list the "cast of characters."

    The story begins with the invention of mortgage-backed securities in the late 1970s and traces the founding and evolution of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. We learn about innovations in risk management and derivatives at JP Morgan and how they created the first credit default swaps and then later lured AIG into the game. Also covered are greed and mortgage fraud at Ameriquest and the failure of the ratings agencies to do anything close to an adequate job. There is also a lot of material on internal politics at Wall Street firms and especially how the risk management process at Merrill Lynch was undermined. Much of the story has been written about extensively elsewhere, for example how the Greenspan/Rubin/Summers trio pushed back against regulation of derivatives.

    While "All the Devils are Here" offers one of the broadest takes on the financial crisis, I think it still fails to address one of the "devils" -- or perhaps even the elephant in the room. The book focuses entirely on the financial sector and misses the larger, structural shift that has occurred in the overall U.S. economy. That shift has been driven primarily by globalization and technology and the result has been stagnant incomes for the vast majority of people while a tiny few have seen their incomes explode. That left the middle class with little choice except to borrow in order to maintain their lifestyles. I think it is important to understand this broader trend toward income concentration because it shows no sign of abating and may well lead to another crisis. For more on this issue and the danger we may face in the future, I would also suggest reading this book:

    "The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future"

    Read "All the Devils are Here" for a good overview of the major players in the crisis and how they interconnect. However, it's important to keep in mind that the real causes of the crisis cannot be divorced from the long term changes that are occurring in the economy as a whole.

    20 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2011

    The best book on the financial crisis

    I have read several books on the 'great collapse', and this one is the fairest assessment of factors the lead to financial disaster. The authors focus on the people and personalities involved in creating and championing the financial instruments that went terribly wrong. They also dispel the myth that 'no one saw it coming', and recount how hubris and greed fostered an atmosphere of blindness to the inevitable conclusion of predatory mortgage lending coupled with complex packaged debt instruments. If you're looking for one book that covers all the bases, this is you best bet. It is clearly written, thorough, and guileless.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 30, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Very Good Read

    Very Good Read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2011

    Most comprehensive assessment of the Financial Crisis

    I've read several books on the Wall Street meltdown, and this book does the best job of providing the historical context. In addition, the authors avoid the trap of blaming just one party or institution. Complex concepts are described clearly.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 14, 2011

    Very Good Read

    This book explains particular components of the financial collapse in great detail and digestible terms. I think if you read this book in combination with two or three others such as , Too Big to Fail, 13 Bankers, and On the Brink, you will have a better appreciation for this book. You will also have a good understanding of how severe this collapse really is.
    I worked in the business and I have read many of the books on the financial collapse, this is a must read!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 18, 2011

    In depth

    A really informative book on the whole financial crisis that culminated in 2008.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2011

    MUST READ RECOMMENED BY TALK SHOW HOST B BRINKER MONEY TALK

    IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPEN TO YOUR HOME VALUE THEN THIS BOOK WILL LAY IT OUT STEP BY STEP

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