Wall Street exile fails to dish the dirt

Book review: Why I left Goldman Sachs'Why I left Goldman Sachs', the much anticipated exposé of the Wall Street bank, fails to live up to the hype, says Matthew Partridge.


By Greg SmithPublished by Grand Central Publishing

Rightly or wrongly, Goldman Sachs is the most well known Wall Street institution. For some, it represents the cream of the financial world. However, others, like Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi, see it as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money". Because of this, Greg Smith's decision to leave Goldman in March, with a parting shot in The New York Times's op-ed pages, resulted in global headlines.

It also ensured that Smith, a former vice-president at Goldman, got a seven-figure advance for Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story, his memoir of his 12 years there. Now that it has arrived, the reaction has been one of almost uniform disappointment that the book fails to back up the claims he made.

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In the Financial Times, Tracy Alloway complains of Smith's tendency to get sidetracked. "Instead of an explosive account of the inner workings of Goldman, Smith's work reads like a teenage diary filled with odd tales of his prowess at ping pong, occasional DJ-ing and gastronomical preferences."

Matt Levine, in The Wall Street Journal, admits the details of life at Goldman in Smith's account are generally correct. However, what "presents itself as an expos... is really a typical Wall Street memoir, in which the author wistfully recounts his youthful exploits and trading-floor antics before haranguing others not to follow in his footsteps".

When it comes to allegations of unethical behaviour, Smith's case "involves rehearsing scandals already litigated in court and the public square without the benefit of new insights or inside knowledge".

In The New York Times, James Stewart argues that Smith's book "fails to deliver concrete examples to back up his sweeping conclusions". He also notes that Smith admits the names and details have been changed, and his account "comes from memory". This "makes it nearly impossible to verify much of what he says". Indeed, the lack of any major substance means that Why I Left "might even bolster Goldman's reputation".

However, executives should not breathe a sigh of relief, warns Stewart. "Virtuous or not, Why I Left will surely not be the last word good or bad on Goldman." There are other disgruntled ex-employees with axes to grind, including Fabrice Tourre, who is being sued for a subprime-related fraud. "Mr Tourre hasn't signed a seven-figure book deal, but he could surely get one and if he does, it could be a tell-all worth reading," observes Stewart.

Overall, the general verdict is, as Forbes' Halah Touryalai puts it, "Goldman Sachs is not perfect. The industry is not perfect. But Greg Smith is an opportunist, and I wouldn't waste a penny on his book."

Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story, by Greg Smith (Grand Central Publishing, 277pp, £17.49).

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri