Book Talk: - "Transaction Man: "The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream"
Audience:Open to the Public
Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy & Finance
Economic History Workshop
Center for Collaborative History
Program in Journalism
About the Book: 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 world’s―great transformation by examining three remarkable individuals who epitomized and helped create their eras. Adolf Berle, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 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 School’s 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 and the enormous impact it has had on us all.
Nicholas Lemann was born, raised and educated in New Orleans. He began his journalism career as a 17-year-old writer for an alternative weekly newspaper there, the Vieux Carre Courier. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1976, where he concentrated in American history and literature and was president of the Harvard Crimson. After graduation, he worked at the Washington Monthly, as an associate editor and then managing editor; at Texas Monthly, as an associate editor and then executive editor; at The Washington Post, as a member of the national staff; at The Atlantic Monthly, as national correspondent; and at The New Yorker, as staff writer and then Washington correspondent.
In September 2003, he became dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, at the end of a process of re-examination of the school's mission conducted by a national task force convened by the university's president, Lee C. Bollinger. During Lemann's time as dean, the Journalism School launched and completed its first capital fundraising campaign, added 20 members to its full-time faculty, built a student center, started its first new professional degree program since the 1930s, and launched significant new initiatives in investigative reporting, digital journalism, executive leadership for news organizations, and other areas. He stepped down as dean in 2013, following two five-year terms. Now Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism and Dean Emeritus, he also directs Columbia Global Reports, a book publishing venture, and Columbia World Projects, a new institution that implements academic research outside the university.
Lemann continues to contribute to The New Yorker as a staff writer. He has published five books: Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War (2006); The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy (1999), which helped lead to a major reform of the SAT; and The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (1991), which won several book prizes. He has written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and Slate; worked in documentary television with Blackside, Inc., "FRONTLINE," the Discovery Channel, and the BBC; and lectured at many universities.
Lemann currently serves on the boards of the Authors Guild, the Knight First Amendment Institute, the Thomson Reuters Founders Share Company, and the Russell Sage Foundation. He is a member of the New York Institute for the Humanities, and was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010.
Organized by: Professor Julian Zelizer