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Publisher's Summary

The alarming, untold story of Citigroup - one of the largest financial institutions in the world - from its founding in 1812 to its role in the 2008 financial crisis, and the many near-death experiences in between.

During the 2008 financial crisis, we were told that Citi was a victim of events beyond its control - the larger financial panic, unforeseen economic disruptions, and a perfect storm of credit expansion and private greed. To save the economy and keep the bank afloat, the government provided huge infusions of cash through multiple bailouts that frustrated and angered the American public.

But, as Wall Street Journal writer James Freeman and financial expert Vern McKinley reveal, the 2008 crisis was just one of many disasters Citi has experienced since its founding more than 200 years ago. In Borrowed Time they reveal Citi’s disturbing history of instability and government support. It’s a story that neither Citi nor Washington wants told.

Citi has long been tied to the federal government in a relationship that has benefited both. From its earliest years, its well-connected leadership - most of its initial stockholders had owned stock in the Bank of the United States - took massive risks that led to crisis. But thanks to a rescue by private investors, including John Jacob Astor, the bank survived throughout the 19th century.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The scale of the financial panic of 2008 was hardly unprecedented. As Borrowed Time shows, crisis and outright disasters have been surprisingly common during the century of government-protected banking - especially at Citi.

©2018 James Freeman and Vern McKinley (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

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Great research, great writing.

Great and very educational review of Citi. Never read the business's history before. Fascinating. The authors pull no punches in their criticism of the bank and various supporting actors, but the book presents both sides as well, in a balanced fashion.

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  • Philo
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 09-18-18

Far-away best US banks-finance story I've seen

Citi becomes a sort of prism through which to view the whole history of US banks, their fortunes, and their entanglements with the federal government. (It ranges into broader history, but still centers on its story. If you want a still wider, systematic explanation of the banking system, and other topics lateral from that, the clearest explanations I have found are in another recent release here, Crashes and Crises: Lessons from a History of Financial Disasters, by Great Courses/Connell Fullenkamp. This at one point really maps the earlier US banking system brilliantly.) But back to this one: The portraits of bankers and politicians are incredible, for better and worse. We start with Moses Taylor, first City Bank leader and a banker of amazing probity and stature, building City into a private safe haven for savers in times of panic and financial stress (when various governmental props weren't there). His methods provide a perfect textbook case of sound banking business and risk management. There follows the succession of Stillman, Sunshine Charlie Mitchell, and onward through Wriston and so on, a succession of leaders increasingly picked apparently through blue-chip leaders' "man-crushes" on young proteges who lost the art and science of banking in increasing favor of charm and cronyism with government. Along the way, some detail is given to Citi's funding some awful, ill-timed, vainglorious and idiotic deals of one Donald J. Trump. This train of fiascos and blue-chip bungling comes to its final pratfall (to date) in the 2008 crash, with a massive taxpayer bailout to a company in execrably bad condition. The whole story is magnificently told, sharply-etched in well-chosen details. I appreciate the author's having paid closer attention to some critics of the Fed and elite bankers, I had dismissed. My opinion of many major public figures in our recent times was altered by this book, and not for the better. In all, USA's large-scale financial story is told here, often with the best compact descriptions of big events and turning-points I have seen (e.g., the 1907 panic, the Fed's creation, and the Pecora hearings in the Depression in which National City's Charlie Mitchell was the stage villain). If financial history has any interest for you, I cannot highly enough recommend this book.

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frantic

great book, go through the entire banking system! it's worth the listen. shocking actually how the system props to the bank