Nicholas Lemann – Transaction Man

2019 Best Books of the Year

This program includes a prologue and epilogue read by the author.

Over the last generation, the United States has undergone seismic changes. Stable institutions have given way to frictionless transactions, which are celebrated no matter what collateral damage they generate. The concentration of great wealth has coincided with the fraying of social ties and the rise of inequality. How did all this come about?

In Transaction Man, Nicholas Lemann explains the United States – and the worlds – great transformation by examining three remarkable individuals who epitomized and helped create their eras. Adolf Berle, Franklin Delano Roosevelts chief theorist of the economy, imagined a society dominated by large corporations, which a newly powerful federal government had forced to become benign and stable institutions, contributing to the public good by offering stable employment and generous pensions. By the 1970s, the corporations large stockholders grew restive under this regime, and their chief theoretician, Harvard Business Schools Michael Jensen, insisted that firms should maximize shareholder value, whatever the consequences. Today, Silicon Valley titans such as the LinkedIn cofounder and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman hope networks can reknit our social fabric.

Lemann interweaves these fresh and vivid profiles with a history of the Morgan Stanley investment bank from the 1930s through the financial crisis of 2008, while also tracking the rise and fall of a working-class Chicago neighborhood and the family-run car dealerships at its heart. Incisive and sweeping, Transaction Man is the definitive account of the reengineering of America – with enormous consequences for all of us.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

Author: Nicholas Lemann
Narrator: Chris Ciulla, Nicholas Lemann
Duration: 11 hours 54 minutes
Released: 19 Oct 2009
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Language: English

User Review:

delegation endangered

First, this book is well written (Mr. Lemann’s a longtime writer for The New Yorker and dean of an ivy league english program and he’s expert at constructing beautiful sentences which are a joy to read). And, as always, Mr. Lemann is trying to say something interesting here. The detail and specificity of the case histories he uses help to illuminate the bigger theme of the book. But it sometimes feels slightly unfocussed and unfinished, like a late draft, a stack of an excellent pages that’s getting close to great in its journey from writer to editor and back again, rather than the finished book. The final chapter feels overly ambitious and, admirably, seems to try to pull together more than what may actually be in the body of the book.

Second, Mr. Ciulla’s narration–always a tough thing on which to comment because of its subjectivity–sometimes feels smarmy and overly ‘knowing'(?), overly… familiar (is that too old fashioned a characterization?). And, in his reading, he doesn’t always seem to distinguish a comma from a period (or maybe it’s just a simple lack of familiarity with the material he’s narrating and he’s winging it a bit too much?) and this is occasionally confusing (like this review?) and may, in some small way, hurt the credibility of the book. But narration is probably the most subjective part of any audiobook, so go figure. I much prefer the author’s narration at the start and finish of the book.

But finally this is a serious book meant to be read, as a book, not to be listened to in this, admittedly, half-assed way and my impression of the book probably has more to do with that (being too lazy to sit down and actually read it properly like a book–a behavior and habit symptomatic of one of the larger themes generally cited as contributing to cultural decline in this book) than any faults of the book.

This book is about interesting and vital things. I’d recommend it!