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The World's Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations
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The World's Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  186 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Never has the World Bank's relief work been more important than in the last nine years, when crises as huge as AIDS and the emergence of terrorist sanctuaries have threatened the prosperity of billions. This journalistic masterpiece by Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby charts those controversial years at the Bank under the leadership of James Wolfensohn—the unsto ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published April 25th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published April 1st 2004)
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Alexander Poulsen
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
The World Bank is the largest institution on the planet whose sole purpose is to rid the world of poverty. It is a multilateral institution, filled with red tape, and must try to meet the demands of it's rich-country shareholders (the US, UK, France, ect.), international NGOs (the "berkeley mafia" as Mallaby calls them), and then of course, there are their client countries--- the poorest countries in the world, for whom the World Bank is one of the few ways that these governments can finance dev ...more
Rajiv Sondhi
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very engaging read! The author has crafted a great story-line, weaving James W’s character into the Bank’s history especially during his tenure as president. It brought the institution to life in this book. The huge challenges of multiple accountabilities- to shareholders, client governments, civil society beneficiaries- come out vividly. Is the Bank ungovernable in its current form? No easy answers there. But the heroes to my mind are many of the dedicated and committed development staff at t ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely great book. As someone who has worked for the World Bank, I thought this book brought out a lot of the characteristics of the organization, as well as providing insight on some of the most influential of its leaders. A must-read for anyone interested in global development or poverty.
Abhilasha Purwar
Apr 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Highly suggested read for development professionals and world bank aspirants
Friederike Knabe
Apr 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Timing is an important element in the publication success of a book. Here, the intention is twofold. On the one hand Mallaby reviews the ten-year trials and tribulations of the World Bank's outgoing president, Jim Wolfensohn. On the other, he aims to provide a critical overview of the broader world and historical context in which the World Bank has been operating since its beginnings 60 years ago. While the period prior to Wolfensohn is not accorded the same detail, it is nevertheless treated as ...more
Jan 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone, it seems, loves to hate the World Bank... I mean, who hasn't piled on at some point? The left hates its neoliberal structural reforms. The right hates its interference in capital markets. Congress hates its repeated appeals for grants funding. NGOs hate its environmental track record. Europeans hate its America-centric leadership. Bono hates the debt burdens it holds over poor African countries. Its own staff complains of the excessive red tape with which it is entangled. The list goes ...more
Stephanie Sun
Nov 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dead-tree
This is a strangely ridiculous book, which can only partially be blamed on the apparently ridiculous personality of its subject. Although ostensibly a biography of former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, the author Sebastian Mallaby attempts to synthesize the (not very substantial or substantive) biographical matter with "behind-the-scenes" recaps of representative World Bank projects, Wolfensohn's frequent bureaucratic tusslings with the Bank's international Board, and a lot of Mallaby wr ...more
Dec 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An enlightening history of the World Bank under Jim Wolfensohn

Former Iraq War architect and neocon superhawk Paul Wolfowitz was president of the World Bank from 2005 to 2007. Before his forced resignation, he used his office unfairly to promote bank employee Shaha Ali Riza, his girlfriend. If Wolfowitz had not stepped down voluntarily, the bank’s board surely would have sacked him. He might be the most notorious former World Bank president, but Jim Wolfensohn is the most intriguing. Former Olym
Frank Stein
Nov 05, 2010 rated it really liked it

A really great portrait of James Wolfensohn and his time at the head of the World Bank. Mallaby shows how he both managed to reform the Bank (to decentralize operations and focus on real, concrete initiatives, like dams and local lending), and how me managed to piss off most of his staff and a good chunk of the NGO world while doing it. Mallaby makes some great hay out of the extreme anti-bank rhetoric that was directed against Wolfensohn, from both the left and the right, and demonstrates how d
Nov 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Explores the World Bank through the period of Jim Wolfenson's tenure as President. For people like myself who read about the World Bank frequently but still find themselves wondering from time to time, "what exactly do you people do?" this book is a great read. Mallaby tells the stories of the Bank's successes, failures, and struggles in a way that illustrates its reason for being, funding, enormous struggles with NGOs, donee governments, personality conflicts, and Seattle anti-globalization pro ...more
Dec 04, 2009 rated it liked it
This was somewhat interesting, although I didn't get all the way through it. It was most interesting for the brief history of the World Bank that it gave, discussing how the Bank's mission has changed over time. It also paints a vivid portrait of James Wolfensohn, the head of the Bank during the 90s. Wolfensohn is an interesting figure, but I found that focusing the story on him took away from the book. In fact, for me, this points to a larger flaw in many books written by journalists. Many book ...more
May 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Well worth reading, especially if you're interested in the near-recent intellectual history of the World Bank. I found the chapters on the WB's role in the reconstruction of Bosnia, Uganda as a poster child for development, and the role of NGOs in changing the Bank's environmental assessment standards particularly informative. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Wolfensohn's ridiculous renaissance man hijinks (e.g. taking cello lessons from Jacqueline du Pré). The full satirical article on Wolfen ...more
Sep 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, westend
The facts are interesting. The judgments, as can be expected from a sampling of Mallaby's Washington Post column, are unfounded at best and abysmal at worst.

Mallaby just asserts that things are bad and good and the only time it seems to be justifiable or he seems to have any sense is about the good and bad of Wolfensohn. Many people's weaknesses are their strengths and vice versa and this is a pretty good example.
May 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
My sweet gave me this book, which is a very good survey of the World Bank during James Wolfensohn's time there. I was one of the few liberals who actually liked the idea of Wolfowitz taking over that institution, but this book shows why he failed -- it's a place with an entrenched bureacracy, that needs a leader with big ideas and a big personality to push them through. Unfortunately, Wolfie had the ideas but not the bureacratic skills or personality he needed to survive.
Mar 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in a quasi-unbiased introduction to the World Bank
Recommended to Amy by: IMF employee
The book used a biography of former World Bank president, Jim Wolfenson, to tell the history and workings of the World Bank. I enjoyed it, knowing very little of how the World Bank worked before I read it, and didn't feel a heavy bias for or against it's business. I appreciated the balanced perspective, and enjoyed reading about Wolfenson along the way.
Jan 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
a bad, if not terrible book. Mallaby is overly impressed with his own finesse as a writer and so we hear more about the tale he is going to tell than we hear the tale. Wolfensohn on the page never seduces and beguiles us as he seems to have mallaby and the wretchedness of the world's poor never flourish as a presence beyond the repeated use of words like that.
May 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Mallaby succeeded in holding my attention through his beautifully integrated parallel stories of the enigmatic President of the World Bank and of the way human beings have thought about and acted upon economic development.
Sep 06, 2007 rated it liked it
It must be hard to write a book about a large bureaucracy. I can't imagine many topics that are less compelling subjects for narratives. But Mallaby does a good job with the Wolfensohn story and seems to give the topic of development an even-handed treatment.
K Shah
Jun 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting behind the scenes look at the World Bank and portrait of Jim Wolfensohn. The conclusion on the influence/role of NGOs is probably unpopular but I think it is a necessary perspective in the development world.
Robert JA  Basilio Jr.
This site only allows reviews which are 4000 characters long. Those interested to read my review are encouraged to click on the link below as featured in my former blog.


Aug 15, 2010 rated it liked it
A little self hagiographic but nonetheless a great read.
Sabrina Ryan
Jul 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Examination of how the world bank functions and about their previous leader James Wolfensohn and how he was unable to handle the institution.
Julian Bu
Dec 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
good intro to the history and changing ideas in development in recent decades.
Mar 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Econ nerds
Great, easy read fairly and objectively examining the pros and cons of the debate over globalization and the impact the former president of The World Bank has had on the issue at hand.
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Not the most exciting book ever written... But it told the interesting history of the World Bank and one of the interesting men who lead it.
Sep 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A book that's really worth your time! Enjoyable to the core
Feb 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
Jun 01, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
An interesting book about how the world bank functions, their approach to poverty, and especially about James Wolfensohn, the predecessor to Paul Wolfowitz.
May 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Do I really work here?
rated it liked it
Aug 26, 2007
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A Washington Post columnist since 1999. Worked for The Economist from 1986 - 1999.