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458 William D. Cohan: Power Failure

“Power Failure” explores the rise and fall of a prominent financial institution and the systemic failures that led to its collapse.



In "Power Failure," William D. Cohan provides an in-depth examination of the rise and fall of a major financial institution, uncovering the systemic failures that contributed to its demise. Drawing on extensive research and interviews with key individuals involved, Cohan reveals the inner workings of the organization, the decisions made by its leaders, and the external forces that shaped its trajectory. The book delves into the culture of excessive risk-taking, corporate greed, and regulatory shortcomings that permeated the institution, ultimately leading to its catastrophic failure. Through this gripping narrative, Cohan sheds light on the profound impact of unchecked power, unethical practices, and the interconnectedness of the financial system. "Power Failure" serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the need for stronger governance, accountability, and regulatory oversight in the financial industry.


  1. Title: Power Failure 
  2. Author: William D. Cohan 
  3. Publishing Year: 2021 
  4. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing 
  5. Length: 28 hours and 17 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. The Rise and Hubris: Cohan explores the ascent of the financial institution, analyzing the key factors that propelled its success and the complacency and hubris that developed within its leadership.
  2. Risk-Taking and Derivatives: The book examines the institution's embrace of complex financial instruments and risky trading strategies, highlighting the dangers and unintended consequences of such practices.
  3. Regulatory and Oversight Failures: Cohan exposes the regulatory shortcomings and the lack of effective oversight that allowed the institution's risky behavior to go unchecked, contributing to its downfall.
  4. Ethical Lapses and Corporate Culture: The book delves into the unethical conduct, internal conflicts, and toxic corporate culture that prevailed within the organization, ultimately undermining its stability and reputation.
  5. Systemic Impact: "Power Failure" elucidates the far-reaching consequences of the institution's collapse, including the broader financial crisis, the erosion of public trust, and the subsequent regulatory reforms aimed at preventing future failures.

5 funny quotes

  1. "In the game of finance, sometimes the high-fliers crash and burn, leaving behind a trail of shattered dreams and empty bank accounts."
  2. "When it comes to financial institutions, the saying goes: 'What goes up must come crashing down.'"
  3. "The financial world is like a rollercoaster ride, with ups and downs that can make even the bravest hearts skip a beat."
  4. "Behind the polished exterior of the institution, there were egos, backstabbing, and boardroom dramas that could rival any soap opera."
  5. "In the world of finance, trust is a fragile flower that wilts quickly under the scorching heat of scandal."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "Power unchecked breeds arrogance, and arrogance often leads to catastrophic failures."
  2. "The culture of excessive risk-taking and short-term gains became the poisonous foundation on which the institution's downfall was built."
  3. "The financial system is an intricate web of interdependencies, where the failure of one institution can have far-reaching consequences."
  4. "Behind the glamour and success, there were ethical lapses, hidden conflicts of interest, and a disregard for the long-term health of the institution."
  5. "Power and greed blinded the leaders, leaving them unaware of the systemic risks that were accumulating beneath the surface."

5 dilemmas

  1. Balancing the pursuit of short-term profits and the long-term stability and reputation of the institution.
  2. Weighing the benefits of financial innovation and risk-taking against the potential systemic risks and negative consequences.
  3. Assessing the effectiveness of regulatory frameworks and oversight mechanisms in detecting and preventing excessive risk-taking and unethical conduct.
  4. Navigating the conflicts of interest that arise within financial institutions, where individual incentives may diverge from the best interests of clients and stakeholders.
  5. Evaluating the trade-offs between transparency and the protection of proprietary information, especially in the context of complex financial products and trading strategies.

5 examples

  1. Lehman Brothers - a prominent financial institution whose collapse marked a turning point in the 2008 financial crisis.
  2. Goldman Sachs - a leading investment bank entangled in the financial web surrounding the institution's collapse.
  3. Federal Reserve - the central bank with a crucial role in overseeing and regulating the financial system, including the institution's operations.
  4. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) - the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing securities markets, including the institution's compliance with regulations.
  5. Credit Default Swaps (CDS) - complex financial derivatives that played a significant role in the institution's downfall and the broader financial crisis.

Referenced books

  1. "Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves" by Andrew Ross Sorkin
  2. "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine" by Michael Lewis
  3. "The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History" by Gregory Zuckerman
  4. "All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis" by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera
  5. "The End of Wall Street" by Roger Lowenstein

Share a quote

"In the game of finance, sometimes the high-fliers crash and burn, leaving behind a trail of shattered dreams and empty bank accounts."

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