Adam Snider's Reviews > Confidence Men

Confidence Men by Ron Suskind
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Jan 06, 2012

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Read in January, 2012

This is both the first book I've read on the Obama presidency, and the first book I've read by Ron Suskind, and it has left me feeling slightly ambiguous about both. Confidence Men isn't just a book about the Obama phenomenon - it jumps repeatedly back and forth between Wall Street and Washington, using the story of the first two years of the new administration as a doorway into a host of other topics: the evolution of the financial industry since the '70s, the rise of the Tea Party, the 2008 election, etc. This isn't handled badly - Suskind is an excellent narrator, but the book nevertheless feels kind of stretched out and incomplete by the end.

Part of that, of course, is that the main thematic topics of the book - the Obama administration and the recession - are both ongoing, and in fact much that has happened recently isn't covered Confidence Men, leaving it as a book which just can't put itself forth as the "authoritative" take on its subject matter. At the same time, the cast offered by the book (many of whom the author interviewed directly) means that a lot of folks get short-changed, or only dealt with sporadically. Names you haven't seen since the third chapter show up in the tenth, forcing you to troll back through your memory (or the book itself) to remind yourself of who they are and what their history is. In many ways, Confidence Men is less a story than a series of very well done snapshots of an unfolding crisis and the people caught in its net.

As a collection of snapshots, however, the book is quite engaging, and Suskind doesn't pull punches in the conclusions he draws. Confidence Men is quite critical of Obama, who is portrayed throughout as a man more comfortable making speeches and moderating discussions than actually pushing legislation through Congress or meeting sworn enemies on the political field of battle. At times he is incapable of facing the resistance of his own advisors, never mind Republicans and Wall Street CEOs. The latter are actually given a very nuanced look - rather than being treated as uniformly culpable, considerable effort is made to tease out who among the luminaries of the financial industry 1) understood what was going on before, during, and after the Crash, 2) understood the ramifications of what had happened for the future of the US economy, and 3) were willing to press for reforms - and how far.

Certainly a book worth reading, and one that will keep your attention, although the financial jargon will make certain parts tougher to get through than others. I just feel that the author should have waited a few more years, and written a much more comprehensive and complete book.
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