In the book’s final paragraphs Sorkin finally drops the mask of objectivity and offers his own view of the protagonists. He reports that Jamie Dimon sent a note of encouragement to Hank Paulson, in which the JPMorgan Chase ceo quoted Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “man in the arena” passage (“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . .”). Sorkin writes:

It was a remarkable quote for Dimon to have chosen. While Roosevelt’s words describe a hero, they were deeply ambiguous about whether that hero succeeded or failed. And so it is with Paulson, Geithner, Bernanke and the dozens of public and private-sector figures who populate this drama. It will be left to history to judge how they fared during their own time “in the arena.”

This is, in a sense, Wall Street’s view of itself: well-intentioned men who dare to take risks while timid souls (the press, politicians, investors, borrowers, taxpayers) carp and complain. It doesn’t take much critical distance to realize that this is not the whole story, not by a long shot.

For all its flaws, TBTF remains a work of extraordinary reportage that gives readers access to some of the nation’s most powerful financial figures. It’s also a reminder, however, that on Wall Street, nothing is ever free.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.