The story of a little-known New York City lawyer who investigated Wall Street and the big banks during the Great Depression, resulting in major reform legislation.

Ferdinand Pecora (1882–1971) went to Washington, D.C., at the end of the Herbert Hoover presidency, just before the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although a Democrat politically, the Sicilian-born lawyer answered a plea from a Republican senator who chaired the banking committee and believed that Wall Street fat cats, many of them Republicans, had played nefarious roles in the stock-market crash of 1929. Because of Senate rules, Pecora had only a few weeks to learn the complex inner workings of big savings and investment banks. A quick study with experience as a prosecuting attorney in New York, he turned out to be remarkably effective as a questioner of multimillionaire bank and Wall Street investment-house executives. In normal circumstances, senators themselves questioned the witnesses at investigative hearings. But they found Pecora so effective that they gave him center stage while they acted as a background chorus. Perino (Law/St. John’s University) explains that senators, witnesses and journalists alike tended to underestimate Pecora because of negative stereotypes about southern Italians, because of his short stature and because of his inexperience in the Wall Street realm. The narrative is built around the ten days of Senate hearings starring Pecora, with each day receiving extended treatment based on surviving transcripts and other public records. Although Perino admires Pecora, the author avoids hagiography by mentioning his subject's occasional vanity; obsequiousness to, among others, Roosevelt; extramarital affairs; and other negative traits. Although he lived into the ’70s, Pecora was mostly forgotten after the ten days of hearings, serving well but outside the limelight as a judge. If the legislative and regulatory reforms had been more enthusiastically enforced during the past three decades, the current financial meltdown might have been alleviated. A thorough, well-written history that shows how the past can be prologue.


Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59420-272-8

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.


A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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