A first-rate account of the rise, fall, and rescue of American Savings, which conveys in more telling detail than wider-ranging surveys the reasons for the crisis now rocking the domestic S&L industry. Robinson, former bureau chief for American Banker in San Francisco, adroitly traces the quick-step transformation of a reliably lucrative, albeit conservatively run, southern California thrift into a marketplace juggernaut whose assets exceeded $30 billion, With the benefit of hindsight, however, the author shows how 1980's-style deregulation allowed the institution's ambitious and improvident stewards to play dangerous games with federally insured deposits. In pursuit of growth at any cost, they booked a wealth of risky loans, invested in junk bonds, and, when all else failed, issued deceptive financial statements. Always more apparent than real, the gains logged by American Savings (once number one in its field) came to an abrupt halt when the parent organization, Financial Corp. of America, filed for bankruptcy. Regulatory authorities, hamstrung to some extent by the Reagan Administration's commitment to laissez-faire capitalism, helped oust those primarily responsible for the shambles at American Savings. As Robinson makes clear, though, the new management crew never quite succeeded in figuring out how much bad debt was on the corporate books; it also yielded to the temptation to speculate on the course of interest rates and endured an epic run of withdrawals. With the designated saviors unable to salvage the situation, government overseers cobbled together a deal that, at no small cost to taxpayers, delivered American Savings into the hands of Bob Bass, a Texas billionaire with the savvy and subsidies to make it a profitable enterprise once again. A cautionary tale, well told, which brings home the causes for genuine concern about the nation's depository institutions.