cover image Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe

Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe

Gillian Tett, Author Free Press $26 (293p) ISBN 978-1-4165-9857-2

At once a gripping narrative, an education in derivatives, and a most lucid origin-story for the current financial meltdown, it's no surprise the author of this volume is an award-winning Financial Times journalist. Taking readers back to the invention of credit-derivative obligations (CDOs) at J. P. Morgan in 1994, and the subsequent exponential growth of that market, Tett (Saving the Sun) deploys a remarkable sense of pacing, generating real suspense over rapidly inflating debt on bank balance sheets; by the time Lehman Brothers fails, the book has become a bonafide page-turner. Tett explains how credit derivatives seemed a win-win for the financial world, freeing up capital, increasing profits, and diversifying risk, but makes the missteps equally clear as the industry hurtles toward a largely-unforeseen wave of loan defaults (the worst since the Great Depression). Interestingly, J.P. Morgan was one of a handful of banks sufficiently prescient to imagine this ""perfect storm"" of simultaneous defaults, and so never became over-reliant on CDOs. Ignoring the tacked-on, preachy epilogue (in which Tett advocates her specialty, social anthropology, as a way to avert future such crises), Tett's explosive, illuminating narrative is the one to read for anyone confused by the present financial mess.