Keith Gessen turned interviews with a hedge fund manager into one of the best books written about the Wall Street calamity.
The Book:Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager by n+1, Keith Gessen & Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager, Harper Perennial, $14.99, June 2010.
Keith Gessen is the founder of n+1, a mostly literary magazine out of New York City, and the author of All the Sad Young Literary Men, which, as you can probably gather from the title, is also thoroughly literary. So, how is it that he has now penned one of the most fascinating books to date on the recent calamity on Wall Street?
It began as concern for a friend who had borrowed against his home in a time of financial trouble. To figure out how deflating home prices were going to affect this friend, he did an interview for n+1 with an anonymous hedge fund manager he calls HFM. That interview turned into a series of interviews spanning two years, "from the first rumblings of the crisis in the fall of 2007 to the late summer of 2009...." The timing was serendipitous.
As the subprime crisis quickly spirals into a wide array of other crises, you're given an intimate account of it all through the lens of someone watching from the twentieth floor. It is by turns tragic, introspective and wildly funny. It is always very intelligent and, above all, touchingly human. At the end of Chapter 2, "The Death of Bear," we find HFM reacting to the quickly worsening situation with a bit of gallows humor.
n+1: So you look out here onto midtown on the twentieth floor. This is all going to be okay?
HFM: That guy there will lose his job. White shirt, futzing about—he'll lose his job. He's putting. There's going to be no room for people like that, the bar is higher. You can't play golf in your office during a crisis.
That guy's done! Everyone else is okay.
There are books on the crisis whose breadth is seemingly larger—Too Big To Fail, The Big Short, The End of Wall Street. The story lines in those books are sweeping, the personalities larger than life. This book's wealth is in its details, the book's character anonymous but close and personable. When reading Diary of a Very Bad Year, the details gather into a more intimate experience of that wider picture and its sobering implications.
Reviewer Jack Covert is the founder of 800-CEO-READ, a leading bookseller to corporations and large organizations, based in Milwaukee.