Key Lessons From the Chronicles of the Crash

Gregory Zuckerman's The Greatest Trade Ever takes a look at how fund manager John Paulson earned Wall Street's respect with an enormously successful bet that the U.S. mortgage market was in for a major collapse.

Lesson: An unassuming outsider can become top dog if he commits fully to an unconventional strategy. Kind of like The Karate Kid, or Boogie Nights.

In The Sellout, Fox Business reporter Charles "Charlie" Gasparino goes back to the 1970s to find the roots of the financial crisis of the late 2000s.

Lesson: Wall Street is vulnerable to greed, hubris and idiocy. So is the average homeowner, government bureaucrat and -- come to think of it -- humanity in general.

Like many of the crisis tomes, CNBC reporter David Faber's And Then the Roof Caved In has a two-part title. The second part is, How Wall Street's Greed and Stupidity Brought Capitalism to Its Knees.

Lesson: It's hard to enjoy a lazy Sunday watching football when you know that systemically important financial institutions are about to go bankrupt.

Many critics have called New York Times reporter Anderew Ross Sorkin's Too Big to Fail the definitive account of the financial crisis of 2008. Perhaps at 640 pages it was also too big to fail?

Lesson: Play your cards right, and your account of one of the biggest events of your own lifetime can become a major motion picture.


Michael Lewis, who also wrote bestsellers Liar's Poker and Moneyball, follows Steve Eisman and other Wall Streeters who spotted various signs of the financial crisis before the collapse.

Lesson: If you make a big enough contrarian bet during an economic boom, someone will write about you. Even if you're kind of a jerk or like to dress up like Paris Hilton.

Larry McDonald, former vice president at Lehman Brothers, offers an inside account of the firm's collapse. Ex-Lehman CEO Dick Fuld does not come off very well in this account.

Lesson: Sometimes, being scrappy, aggressive and bull-headed will make you a lot of money as it did for Dick Fuld. But if your scrappiness, aggression and bull-headedness goes too far, it will be your undoing, as it was for Dick Fuld.

Roger Lowenstein also wrote When Genius Failed, an account of the failure of Long Term Capital Management, so he's something of an old hand at writing financial-crisis books. He traces the roots of the crisis back to the origins of mortgage securities, government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and elsewhere.

Lesson: Did you know that the financial crisis was extraordinarily complicated and had many different causes dating back to several different decades?


Charlie Gasparino (again!) contends that President Barack Obama is playing a double game of sorts -- calling Wall Streeters "fat cats" while at the same time coddling them in hopes of currying favor.

Lesson: Charlie Gasparino is infinitely more trustworthy than Barack Obama. 

Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is another financial crisis author who couldn't resist a two-part title. On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System is his first-person account of the government's decisions regarding the fate of the financial system during the Panic of 2008.

Lesson: Being in charge of the nation's finances during the financial crisis requires good improvisational skills and a lot of Pepto Bismol.

William Cohan's House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street is pretty much what the title suggests -- an exploration of the arrogance and silliness that led to the collapse of a fragile financial system.

Lesson: In the heated competition for "best subtitle among financial-crisis books," it's hard to win without using both "wretched" and "hubris."


Lehman brothers was definitely murdered. But who was the killer? Pseudonymous Lehman insider Joseph Tibman blames greed, dumb politicians and a host of other things.

Lesson: In times of great rage, Dick Fuld's veins pump "adrenaline rather than blood."

SEC-investigated former "car czar" Steve Rattner's Overhaul offers a searing and highly opinionated glimpse into the Obama administration's handling of the financial crisis during its peak moments. See also: Max Abelson's take on the tome.

Lesson: One of the many ways to irritate Malcolm Gladwell is to: 1) be Steve Rattner and 2) write Overhaul.


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