"Assessing President Obama's presidency, New Republic senior editor Scheiber focuses on a single issue: the handling of the economic crisis. This is just in, so I can't tell you more, but it's crucial to take a look." ---Library Journal
About the Author
Noam Scheiber is a senior writer at the New Republic who has also written for publications including the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Audiobook veteran Michael Kramer has recorded more than two hundred audiobooks for trade publishers and many more for the Library of Congress Talking Books program. An AudioFile Earphones Award winner and an Audie Award nominee, he earned a Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Award for his reading of Savages by Don Winslow.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Detailed Reporting, Clear Analysis and Forceful ArgumentMarch 5 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
A superb treatment of President Obama's first years in office, Noam Scheiber's "The Escape Artists" is an extraordinary blend of reportage, analysis and opinion.
Although Scheiber covers the same territory as a number of other recent books, there is a great deal of new information here that makes the book valuable as a first draft of history. Scheiber's punctilious coverage of the internecine battles among Obama's economic advisers alone sets his book apart. In particular, Scheiber lays bare for the first time National Economic Chair Lawrence Summers' thoroughgoing efforts to bury CEA Chairwoman Christina Romer's recommendation for a much larger, $1.8-trillion stimulus package in the first months of the administration. The exceptional detail of this episode is quite helpful in furthering the picture of Summers as hectoring bully that has emerged in more breathless, but less satisfying, books, such as Ron Suskind's "Confidence Men."
And while the reportage in "The Escape Artists" is terrific, Scheiber's lucid analysis of the 2009-2010 economic terrain gives the book an added dimension. Indeed, Scheiber's explication of the path not taken with respect to additional stimulus, derivative regulation, and "too big to fail" financial institutions is as helpful as anyone will find anywhere. This book deserves a widespread audience and here's to hoping that it finds one.
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Missed OpportunitiesMarch 6 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Scheiber has done a masterful job of putting a human face on the policies that have been argued back and forth about the Obama administration and its handling (or non-handling) of the economy. For those of us not privy to the inside scoop, Scheiber has managed to give us a detailed picture of who said what to whom, and when, and why, and how that catapulted into what someone else said to whom, and when, and why. Though we peruse the newspapers and blogs scrupulously, listen to the cable talkers, and debate with our friends, most of what we hear and know has an ephemeral quality to it. Scheiber provides the down-to-earth human element--the missed opportunities, the flawed judgement, the personal history of the actors-- and we learn, once again, why the person, not just "the idea," matters.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
AmbivalentApril 29 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
The other reviews are largely devoted to how this book squares with the reviewers' own political leanings. That isn't too useful (except for one point noted below).
Some general interest issues:
A. Noam Scheiber is obviously a strong, if occasionally hyperbolic, writer who writes with a novelist's panache. The editor, however, could been tougher and reined him more. There are a number of places in which they could have demanded more coherence. The most obvious example of this is the title, which doesn't make much sense on a number of levels. The phrase `the escape artists' doesn't clearly point to any central theme, and the word `fumbled' isn't an accurate description of what Scheiber describes (except for a homeowner relief package mentioned toward the end of the book). A more accurate subtitle for this work would have been `How Republicans tripped up the economic recovery'.
Scheiber himself, however, seems to reluctant to reach this conclusion, in part I suspect because he doesn't want to appear partisan and in part because if that really was the story, that would mean a different book with a whole set of more interviews. I'm not saying this to blame Republicans but to say that Scheiber doesn't want to go where his evidence is leading him. And if he followed the trail, he would have had to interview a lot more Hill Republicans, which might have complicated the story he got from talking to White House insiders. Or it might have made him squarely face his own evidence that Wall Street effectively captured a White House promising change.
B. Toward the beginning of the book especially, Scheiber fetishizes intelligence, talking about how brilliant or analytical this or that person is. As someone who believes in the existence of idiots but not geniuses, I found this tiresome, especially when the people keep making mistakes.
C. There's little sense of sources. The opening scene discusses Geithner's clothing at a particular meeting, and things like that set off all kinds of alarm bells in my head about authorial license. There's a note on sources, which I'd recommend reading ahead of time, that says that he interviewed six people at that particular meeting. That reassures on that point, but it's generally hard to tell what to make of evidence. [Between the time I wrote this and posted this, I saw a short video clip of Obama. The book says that he has a tendency to fish for credit and that explains the video clip exactly.]
D. There are an awful lot of characters here. The effect is liking starting War and Peace and not knowing anything about Russian naming conventions. If you don't already have some familiarity with people central to the Obama's internal policy debates, like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, this book might be hard to follow.
E. One of the reviews rightly criticizes this book for not being critical about how stimulus funds were actually spent. I suspect that what they should be saying is that the Obama administration itself was really naive about this point. I got to see how some of the stimulus funds were spent. What I saw was money being spent on long-term improvements to quality of life that had minimal short-term economic impacts. Not all economic stimulus is created equal, but that's a discussion neither Democrats nor Republicans have wanted to engage in.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Insight in the President's FailuresJune 18 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
I like this book because Scheiber is a Senior Editor of the The New Republic an editorially liberal magazine and he as a presumptive Obamaphile analyzes Barak Obama's failures in the financial sector. Although subtitled "How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery" it is more a reflection on the Executive decisions of the President. In Chapter One we learn that Obama's decison was to bring together ex-Clintonites as the heart of his financial team upon winning the election. They had dealt with financial crises during the Clinton Presidency and Obama sought that background. The advice that Obama received from Geithner, Rahm Emanuel and others was to put a priority on economic recovery. Scheiber reports that Obama deflected that advice as not transformative enough. Scheiber points out that Obama quickly exhibited what Scheiber calls a "Messianic" self view.
In subsequent chapters Scheiber analyzes the backgrounds the financial team and learn what a "grab-bag character" this team had in terms of their own financial priorities. Through some 200 interviews documented in 30+ pages of notes, Scheiber elaborates on the infighting of the Obama team. While the author's documentation is that of the debates themselves, the picture that emerges is that of a President that was not in control of his own team. Simply stated the tail was wagging the dog.
Scheiber states that this atmosphere was the environment that Obama wanted. The tone is that rather than engaging in the nitty gritty of policy formation, Obama would survey opinions then make a choice.
There are two specific failures that Scheiber assigns to Obama's team. First they failed to request the level of the stimulus that they believed they needed for economic recovery. In effect they bid against themselves by taking the position that they would never get the bigger stimulus package through Congress at a time when the Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House. Then later on, the got "snookered" by the Republicans who managed to change the debate to controlling the deficit. Scheiber ascribes this to Obama's political naivity.
Scheiber through his many interviews has given us the play by play of the economic results from the Obama White House.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Detailed "inside look" at a truly scary economic meltdown...March 21 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Governments are constituted to regulate "illegal" greed, yet here is a detailed, intimate portrait of exactly how difficult it is to do that in the midst of an economic meltdown initiated--is anyone surprised?--by greed. Scheiber has made an Olympian effort to capture the people and their interactions at the White House, Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and the two economic councils, the regulators, and the Congress--and has done quite well. The "too big to fail" institutions, plumped up with bad assets, essentially told the U.S. government how to fix things; and then bellyached when the garnish on their desert wasn't there.
In my view, Scheiber had a difficult time describing the public outrage over the free ride given to highly paid executives who raided the Treasury to support their own prerogatives. During this crisis, these same plutocrats dared to criticize the White House's handling of the crisis they created. Perhaps it is too hard to describe the helplessness and outrage that ordinary people felt. Perhaps it is too difficult to describe the legal and financial fictions that made all this greed impossible to regulate.
In the past twenty years in the U.S., we have had two real estate catastrophes, one dot-com catastrophe, collapses in three major auto makers, the gutting of our manufacturing system, and two huge banking crises. Are we any happier now? Scheiber's book is great at describing the latest banking/government crisis. I am waiting for a good writer such as Scheiber to make sense of the past twenty years, with something deeper than crony capitalism or greed. I am interested in learning how we lost our way--or am I foolish and silly to believe we had a way to start with?