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In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  614 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Robert Rubin was sworn in as the seventieth U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in January 1995 in a brisk ceremony attended only by his wife and a few colleagues. As soon as the ceremony was over, he began an emergency meeting with President Bill Clinton on the financial crisis in Mexico. This was not only a harbinger of things to come during what would prove to be a rocky per ...more
Paperback, 472 pages
Published September 7th 2004 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2003)
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Andrea James
Feb 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
I appear to have quite a different opinion of this book to most of the other reviewers on Goodreads. As much as Robert Rubin may have accomplished both in the private and public sector, he is simply not good at writing or storytelling or indeed at providing insights into how he solves problems and makes decisions, the emotional and intellectual conflicts one faces or any astute observations of what other people might be going through.

The book reads like "I applied to Harvard and then I went ther
Greg Talbot
Sep 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
With the snappy title, you'd think this was a much more interesting book. The sad reality is that Robert Rubin's biography does not live up in style, content or IQ level of the writer. Having obtained kingmaker status as CEO of Goldman Sachs, and treasurer of Bill Clinton, it's obvious that Robert has stories and strong opinions about events. At times he approaches topics with nuance like a good storyteller - one example is with the Tequila crisis in the 90s where he brings how Mexico's currency ...more
Jul 15, 2014 rated it liked it
A book about Rubin's upbringing and professional experience in banking and politics.

Nothing is for sure. Life is more about odds, choices, and trade-offs. There is no definitive answer. One would be better off focusing on building good process for decision making than judging solely on the outcome because bad decisions can produce good result due to randomness or luck. Conversely, good decisions can produce bad result and one should expect losses as part of the business. Risk taking is u
May Ling
Jun 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: finance
This is an interesting book in which many people glean different gems given their background.While a lot of people enjoyed Chapter 2 about risk, I get a little upset when they quote this book as a risk management book. Indeed, what is discussed here shows most clearly why merger arb is one of the single riskiest strategies. The hedge that is taken will actually magnify the lost in the way that options do. Those often engaging find themselves in really bad circumstances when deals break. Rubin do ...more
Brian Fisher
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Great book and a unique perspective (a wall streets risk arbitrager and secretary of the treasury - Robert Rubin). He applies his free market mentality to some of the most pressing international and domestic economic issues. Similar to the World is Flat or the Lexus and the Olive Tree (with a stronger economic bend), but told by someone with more expertise and experience

"The best social program is a strong economy"
-Bill Clinton

" A change-oriented culture has been central to America success and w
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was ok
This is fine. I like Rubin, but the past decade hasn't been great to his reputation. Spends a lot of time talking about Clinton years, which would be interesting - except that he wasn't really part of the inner circle. His views on uncertainty are good. But just read Black Swan instead. ...more
Nov 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
Two-and-a-half stars.
158,000 words (sigh).

Rubin comes across as a reasonable, sober-minded nice guy who has lived an absolutely charmed life. His wife and kids make numerous, sometimes odd, cameos in these pages.

For many observers Bob's employment in the Clinton administration signaled the advent of what has since become pejoratively labeled "neo-liberalism," a supposed economic paradigm that is now blamed for having inadvertently given rise to its aftershock, populist Trumpism.

Dave Schoettinger
Mar 28, 2022 rated it liked it
This is the autobiography of Robert Rubin who was Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors during the first Clinton administration and Secretary of the Treasury during most of the second Clinton administration. He wrote the book in 2003 so much of his opining on economic matters sounds quaint and dated. He gives detailed accounts of the handling of US guarantees on loans to Mexico and Indonesia in the 90s to prevent economic collapse of those countries. He had no way of knowing that the glob ...more
Oct 19, 2022 rated it liked it
I never knew I was so excited about international finance, banking and being reminded that everyone is DC is still in DC. I knew nothing about this author but enjoyed his story. No footnotes, just personal reflections during the Clinton Admin in the Dept of Treasury. It helped get me ready for Napier's book, The Asian Financial Crisis ('95-98), which is still quite expensive. Would I recommend this book to anyone? Only if they are moving to another world and are using the Total Avoidance Protoco ...more
Jul 12, 2016 rated it liked it
It took me a while to slog through this book; the fault was partly mine, and partly Rubin's. While the subject matter is fascinating for me--a remarkable career in both finance and public service--Rubin's prose was passionless. Moreover, his writing was not crisp or energetic.

There were great parts of the book: an insider's look at Goldman Sachs, the Clinton administration, and some of the crucial dilemmas that Rubin faced as Secretary of the Treasury. While I generally concurred with his view o
Dec 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
Rubin has the most humble and sincere narrative. As an introvert myself, I immensely resonate with a lot of his view points and decisions. The first three chapters of this book offer a lot of genuine advice to intellectually driven yet professionally aspiring people. However, while that kind of narrative is refreshing for the first 100 pages, it gets tiring as one reads on. After all, most people buy this book to gain insights of what happened in the boom and bust of the 90s to 00s, not a prolon ...more
Will Byrnes
Oct 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
I found it boring. It might be of considerable interest to those who are adept at macroeconomics, but while I found some interest in his descriptions of the several international monetary crises with which he has been involved, there was little here that held my interest. He does laud Clinton for his intelligence, quick grasp of facts and his willingness to spend personal political capital to take risks and to do the right thing.
evan pon
Oct 26, 2006 rated it liked it
a rambling description of rubin's time in business and government. most of his annecdotes aren't fully developed - just a few lines, that often don't seem to have a point. however, the overall subject matter is interesting, as he provides an inside view on what he was thinking/doing when handling things like the asian crisis. ...more
Dec 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A must read if you want to understand the current position of "too big to fail". Rubin was at the place where this trend started and now, knowing how things turned out, this is the place to go for insight into our times and the history of how we got here. ...more
Feb 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Changed how I look at econ and also at the Clinton presidency. One of the first books on politics I read. Awesome first experience!!!
Sy. C
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
There is a NY Times article that discusses Rubin's probabilistic approach to thinking - if pressed for time, the article is a good summary of this book. ...more
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I liked his insight into events I knew about and others that I didn't know about, especially the private sides of public figures. ...more
Oct 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Hmm, not entirely sure what to make of this.

Rubin is clearly a competent and clever guy, integral to two of the biggest challenges the Clinton administration engaged in, the currency and debt crises in Mexico 1994 and Thailand/ROK/Indonesia 1997.

And while this book has some moments when the drama of those days are well captured (chapters 8 & 9 are particularly good) this is about the driest read since my last college textbook:

"I met the head of the IMF, we discussed the crisis, then I spoke to
Dec 27, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is a bit of a curiosity: released between the dot com bust and the housing crisis, some of the centrist policies advocated here sound positively antiquated, judging by the current dialogue playing out in the editorial pages and network news chairs.

Rubin is incredibly smart and accomplished, but so much of the book comes across as reactive to whatever the crisis of the day was. He has so many friends among the global elite that he doesn't want to offend, so most issues are reduced to th
Jacob Goldberg
Aug 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Wanted to like this book more and enjoyed some stories, but several chapters were repetitive and bland. Three chapters covered foreign markets in danger of collapsing and causing a cascading effect around the world all amounted to essentially the same story and led to a sense of deja vu because of how similar the explanations were. Also too much name dropping/listing which ivy league schools various people attended.
Narasi Sridhar
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well written with humility and deep understanding

I fundamentally agree that probabilistic thinking is key, but difficult to do. Bob Rubin has written a highly readable book that provides insights into forces that shape our country’s approach to international relations. It is valid especially today, considering the continued myopia of Republicans and the Trump administration.
Camilo Angel
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Could be interesting if you’re into state economics or the Clinton administration. Besides that, it had a couple of good anecdotes about the nineties emerging market busts, and some good insight into what could constitute eficiente macroeconomic policy for developing nations. Not very interesting and not worth the read from my point of view.
Joel Gray
Mar 10, 2020 rated it did not like it

Financial models are useful tools. But they can be dangerous because reality is always more complex than models.
Ethan Lambert
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
Fun read. Covers his life from GS to White House and then later in Citigroup. Has interesting anecdotes about Financial Crisis that plagued world economy one event after another and how they fought it off.
Max Lapin
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Insightful book on the Treasury work.
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographyhistory
It's a little bit dry at times, but I enjoyed getting to know the very down to earth thinking of this very reserved public figure. Rubin's approach of thinking "probabilistically" is very valuable for anyone.

It's also interesting reading his thoughts on the Asian financial crises of the late 90s which were in many ways very similar to the global financial crisis which occurred in the late 2000s.

What have we really learned that will prevent another crisis?
Leo Jacobowitz
No Stars, but not a bad read. Robert Rubin is clearly focused and brilliant. His writing on the interdependence of national economies is exceptional...however, the book has a tendency to be repetitive. It also lacks soul and passion...then again he was the Treasury Secretary....I usually like biographical tomes about seemingly dry subjects....but this one is not quite exceptional.
Jun 22, 2008 rated it did not like it
Updated rating to reflect my disbelief that I could stomach this at one time. My friend recently expressed a wish to go back to the simpler time when you could just be a Democrat and leave it at that. Nice job making the country and the world a lot worse. 20 year old me still regrets not voting my conscience for Nader. Ok?
Gordon Kwok
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Overall, I enjoyed this book although some parts were a little dry. This book is basically a biography of the former Treasury Secretary and as the first head of the National Economic Council during the Clinton Administration. I often judge books by whether I felt enriched or at the very least learned something new or useful and by that standard this was a great book.
Jeff Bell
This book isn’t just about Robert Rubins career and time in the White House: it’s about being decisive with impartial information and a changing set of circumstances. There is a certain amount of risk that is inherent in the situation.
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