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THE NEW BARBARIANS: The Wall Street crisis makes for good copy, both in newspapers and relatively soon, it appears, in hardback. The New York Observer reported a handful of books about the economic crisis were sold under the Penguin imprint last week: New York Times columnist Joe Nocera and Vanity Fair’s Bethany McLean sold an unnamed tome to Penguin’s business imprint, and The New York Times Magazine contributor Roger Lowenstein got a deal for “Six Days That Shook the World” on Wednesday with Penguin. Meanwhile, Andrew Ross Sorkin, The Times’ lead business reporter on the crisis, nailed a deal on Thursday with Viking for a book about Wall Street’s implosion.
Now comes the hard part: how, exactly, does one write a book about a crisis that continues to unfold and appears to have no end? It seems Lowenstein may focus on a weeklong snapshot of the drama, given his book’s working title — although exactly which six days of the ongoing crisis remains to be seen. (Lowenstein declined to comment on the details of his book). McLean said her book with Nocera will cover a longer time period, including missteps in Washington preceding the meltdown (for example, the failure to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).
In Sorkin’s case, he admits “the hardest part about this book is to figure out where the story begins and where it ends. It’s still a moving target and we’re still seeing how it plays out,” he told WWD in a 10 p.m. interview Thursday, just after he filed the breaking news of J.P. Morgan Chase buying the assets of Washington Mutual, a firm now considered to be the largest bank failure in U.S. history.
At the least, Sorkin knew two weeks ago there was enough drama in the news for a longer form treatment. “There was a moment…where I remember going home at about 2 a.m. and Lehman had gone bankrupt, Merrill Lynch had just been sold to Bank of America and AIG was on the precipice of bankruptcy. And I remember thinking, Holy s--t this is a book, or a movie or something.” It wasn’t until last Monday that he “got remotely serious” about putting pen to paper, though. His proposal, Sorkin described, “was pages, it wasn’t really much of a proposal. A couple of scenes, a sense of character…[enough to] give a sense that there are rich characters and plot points that can be [flushed out].” Sorkin said he’d be writing the book himself, but didn’t say if he’d be taking time off from daily reporting to complete it. — Stephanie D. Smith