A GLOBAL LIFE by James D. Wolfensohn


My Journey Among Rich and Poor, from Sydney to Wall Street to the World Bank
Email this review


The story of the author’s unlikely ascent from middle-class Australian Jewish upbringing to Wall Street wealth, president of the World Bank and Middle East peace negotiator.

Born in 1933, Wolfensohn rose above his modest upbringing to earn a law degree at the University of Sydney and MBA at Harvard University. Always curious and talented, he learned fencing well enough to compete in the 1956 Olympic Games, served in the Royal Australian Air Force and became a talented cello player. He found world finance fascinating, especially as he tried to figure out the global wealth-poverty gap. The first half of the book frequently reads like a family album, as the author and his wife Elaine and their three children move among the cities of London, New York and Washington, D.C., because of his job shifts. The author’s candor about people he respects and dislikes is refreshing, as is his frank assessment of his own strengths and shortcomings. The memoir picks up noticeably in 1995, when Wolfensohn won the approval of President Clinton and other leaders to become president of the influential and controversial World Bank. Since the end of World War II, the World Bank had tried to help impoverished nations with infrastructure such as roads and dams, and had also played a role, along with its related agency, the International Monetary Fund, in curing the economies of debtor nations. Wolfensohn tells of resistance he faced inside and outside the World Bank as he tried to emphasize the elimination of poverty, improved treatment of subjugated women and environmental degradation in dozens of nations on multiple continents. The author served his second five-year term as bank president during the George W. Bush administration, and in general contrasts that administration unfavorably compared to Clinton's. After leaving the bank presidency, Wolfensohn served as an envoy trying to broker Israeli disengagement from Gaza, an effort that went poorly by his own admission, in part due to the doctrinaire positions of almost everybody involved.

An often engaging memoir that is especially strong in its insights into global poverty.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-58648-255-8
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2010