The Weekend That Changed Wall Street: An Eyewitness Account by Maria Bartiromo with Catherine Whitney (Portfolio; $26.95; 232 pages)
There are a number of very good books dealing with the financial crisis that struck Wall Street and this country beginning in September of 2008. This is not one of them. In fact, like the title of the song by Herman’s Hermits, this one’s A Must to Avoid.
Firstly, it’s not really an eyewitness account. Unlike the accounts in which the writer was an earlier participant in the events, Bartiromo does not claim to have been present in the financial firm board rooms as things melted down. Instead, she appears to rely on the other accounts previously written adding only a few quotes from on-air interviews she conducted between 2008 and 2010.
Secondly, there are only 208 actual pages of content here, which is awfully skimpy for a $27.00 hardbound release. Although Bartiromo was not present at the center of the financial action, she was apparently present at a number of grand parties involving Wall Street wizards who could spend money like there was no tomorrow (but tomorrow wound up coming early). Which brings us to the key problem with this flimsy account… When it comes to choosing between the folks on Main Street – good, hardworking Americans and small businessmen and women – and the princes on Wall Street, Bartiromo makes clear that she’s on the side of the multi-millionaires and billionaires.
Early on, Bartiromo explains to the reader that she married into a very wealthy New York City family, with an apartment on Park Avenue, and this sets the stage for her very biased view in this tale. She claims that the U. S. media developed a “simplistic narrative of working class heroes versus fat-cat villains.” Only this wasn’t a simplistic narrative, it was reality. She herself describes men like Stan O’Neal at Merrill Lynch who got paid $150 million for leaving the firm “even though he ruined the company.” (It turns out that O’Neal was underpaid compared to other Wall Street executives who received far more hundreds of millions once they were sacked.)
Surprisingly and rather shockingly, Bartiromo goes further with this craziness asking us to feel sorry for one Lehman Brothers executive who made $14 million in one year, then was reduced to a measly $1 million in take home pay the next year. This, Miss Maria finds to be horrible and virtually incomprehensible. No matter that the gentleman in question was hardly forced to go on food stamps or eat in food kitchens. No, the rich must live in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed, according to this account.
Just to show that I’m not taking things out of context, here are the actual words she uses to draw our tearful sympathy:
“Many (Wall Street executives) were experiencing tremendous anger and grief. In some cases, it was the wives who were most deeply affected. They went from being at the top of the social register, with galas and benefits filling their calendars, to being on the outside, embarrassed to show their faces. One insider observed to me, ‘When the wealthy falter, there is deep shame on a level that the average person cannot grasp. In that world, you’re either in or you’re not. It’s not the same as losing a job in a middle class neighborhood, where your friends and neighbors are likely to rally around you. When you lose your job at the top, they cut you dead.’ “
Excuse me, but what nonsense. This is offensive to “average” hardworking American citizens, like those that buy and read most of the books in this nation. Who is Maria Bartiromo writing for – Mrs. and Mrs. Donald Trump?
Although Bartiromo’s writing assistant, Catherine Whitney, has her name listed on the book’s cover, this does not mean the book is well-edited. Instead, the book is littered with odd grammar. For example, “Merrill seemed more like a winner than a loser. We had to look at the entities that may still fall in the coming weeks and months…” Perhaps they meant to write that they had to look at the entities that might fall in the coming weeks and months.
Clearly, this one is not recommended but there are other alternatives to consider. For an exciting “fly on the wall” telling, try Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street by Kate Kelly. Then there’s the recommended A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers by Lawrence G. McDonald with Patrick Robinson. And if you don’t mind an overly long, rambling and maddeningly detailed version of these events there’s On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System by Henry W. (Hank) Paulson, Jr. Any one of these accounts is one hundred times better – and far less patronizing – than Bartiromo’s slight “eyewitness account”.
A review copy was received from the publisher.