This book was great in places and painful in others.
On the one hand, I think he does do some wonderful things in the way of reviewing history and certain distortions that have lead to crisis. Part 2 of the book of is fairly accurate.
On the other hand, in his search to put everything on Alan Greenspans doorstep, he left out some very important details. Further he also just got parts of finance, particularly the parts that are important to this crisis, just plain wrong. I can't get too mad at him, because if I had a nickel for every journalist, let alone finance professional that has gotten it wrong, half right, somewhat confused, or otherwise, I'd have a lot more than 1$.
So let's go through it a bit.
1 - While it's nice to blame Greenspan, you really can't just do so, particularly when you're writing a book about market regulation. I mean, while the FRB did create the laws which cover Home Ownership and Equity protection as well as the Equity Credit Opportunity Act, it's actually the FTC that regulates the Mortgage brokers NOT the Fed. Further the FED does not solely regulate the Banking Trusts (Investment banks), the SEC, does that job. Nor does the Fed regulate the ratings agencies or the the insurance companies (AIG). Hence, to put it all on the fed, kind of misses the other parties that were a bit asleep at the wheel and also obsconds one of the major problems in the dependancies of the argument he sets forth in Chapter 1, i.e. "increasing regulation" or seeing the Greenspan as a period of "laissez faire". This is not to say that Cassidy makes the argument that Greenspan's world was without regulation. However, if you're going to come out strong against the man, you really ought to have your facts straight about ALL the regulators that are to be blamed and allocate the blame pie around accordingly.
2 - While he starts to discuss his argument for why Glas Steagel should not have been repealed, it's just not particularly well articulated. You can't just say, you need to not repeal glas-steagel because then the banks turn into investment banks. Why exactly do you think it's pernicious? Do you also want to address the aspects that are quite positive about re-pealing Glas Steagel? Do you understand why the banks might need a prop trading desk given what they are being asked to do as a function of the 20 years of finance that occurred from 1980's onward post the 2 debt crisis PLUS the Sarbanes Ox?
3- There were a few paragraphs that appeared to confuse CDS with CDO. Let's just clarify... a CDS stands for Credit Default Swaps. They do not require collaterol, because they are a swap. They require margin. They are not really that different from IRS (interest rate swaps) or Repos in that way. The ONLY cavaet that (and this is true of all swaps) is that there are 3 counterparties, BECAUSE these trade OTC and not on exchange. The 2 counterparties in the transaction should be margining and the 3rd counterparty is the bank that holds the two pieces in custody. Now... definately the bank needs to hold collatoral as per guidelines dealing with banking regulation. This is why it's so problematic when a major investment bank goes under, i.e. this evokes a credit event and calls into question the swap despite that both of the other two parties who engaged in the transaction might still be fully capable of carrying out their sides of the trade.
CDO - stands for Collateralized Debt Obligation. Notice that Collatoral is part of the name. Most people did in fact collaterollize these debt obligations, but admittedly under-collatorized. Hence, if you match that section of the book with this instrument and then do NOT try to carry similarities over to CDS (which incidentally is as different as if you were trying to say that a bond future is convertible bond or french is similar to spanish), you should actually be able to keep reading this section with less confusion.
4- Most VaR calculation do not fail because of correlation. They fail because of historical data. You can kind of in a VERY round about way say they fail because of correlation increasing to one, if you use the positive feedback loop argument (and to do so would be VERY generous), but more likely, given the way you wrote the paragraph you are confusing calculating VaR with calculating default risk. It's actually a completely different calculation derived from a fairly different body of math and financial mathematicians.
There are a few other issues in the book, but I'll save that for other Amazon reviewers.
So why even give it 3? Why not give it 2 or 1 star? Well...
1) I have to compare him to his peers and as wrong as he is, he is still relative more right than others that have tried to explain this.
2) He's got some good points, if - and this is not an insignficant "if" if you work in an area of finance that knows this stuff cold - you can just get past parts of the book being wrong
3) I like the graph on page 257. Is the addition of 1 or 2 stars generous because of a good graph, perhaps, but hey... I like a good graph, this is my review and when you write your own review you can use whatever criteria you want to allocate stars :)....
I would however recomomend over this book, The Myth of the Rational Market by Justin Fox. Also a journalist, I wasn't able to find anything that was wrong in his book. It was well written, accurate and fair. That said, he also doesn't try to make as strong a claim as Cassidy does; which is my biased preference for books of this nature.