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An Insider's Account of the Obama Administration's Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry

A-OverhaulSteven Rattner was a New York Times reporter before making his fortune on Wall Street. Overhaul is his account of his role at the head of the federal government's attempt at saving America's automobile industry.

The Topic: During the administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama, the federal government pumped nearly $82 billion into ailing American auto giants General Motors and Chrysler. In 2009, Steven Rattner, a former Wall Street financier tapped by Obama to run the ambitious restructuring plan, recruited a 15-member committee of Treasury and White House staffers--Team Auto, as they came to be known--to oversee what was bound to be a contentious process. Still, it was seen as the only way to avert "a major economic calamity in the industrial Midwest and ... keep the national economy from spiraling from deep recession to outright depression." Has the overhaul really been "an unambiguous success," as Rattner claims? Time--and the vagaries of the market--will tell.
Houghton Mifflin. 320 pages. $27. ISBN: 9780547443218

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Overhaul will certainly be on the bookshelf of every bankruptcy attorney in the country, and become required reading for public policy and law students, even if it fails to capture the public's imagination in the way that other auto industry comeback stories, such as Iacocca: An Autobiography, have done. ... Overhaul, then, must be viewed not only as Mr. Rattner's effort to tell the story of the auto rescue but also as an opportunity to market himself despite his liabilities." Micheline Maynard

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A riveting read, despite flaws common to insider accounts: too much detail in some places and gratuitous name-dropping and score-settling in others. ... Team Auto did a fine job, and Mr. Rattner has written a good book about its efforts." Paul Ingrassia

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"The recent shaming of Rattner strikes a sharp contrast to the triumphal tone adopted throughout his book, an often gripping yet generally mean-spirited narrative presented as a shiny testament to what the author portrays as his own exceptional performance in the crisis. ... Page after page, the more Rattner pats himself on the back, the more readers are left wondering whether they should take his word for [the success of the bailout]." Ken Bensinger

New Yorker 1.5 of 5 Stars
"One would have thought that a man as savvy as Rattner would have made the Detroit visit sound a little less of a burden. ... [Overhaul] is the product of someone so convinced of the value of his contribution, and of the private-equity model, that he feels no need to hide his condescension." Malcolm Gladwell

Critical Summary

Overhaul is, critics point out, Steven Rattner's best chance to frame the debate on whether measures taken on his watch really brought the auto industry back from the brink. It also, incidentally, provides a convenient forum for the author to air a few grievances. For all the history that might be gleaned from such an insider account, though, Rattner's story often struggles under the weight of its own details, slowing when the author focuses on e-mails or lunch menus or names dropped instead of the issues at hand. Despite reveling in the minutiae--perhaps one of the characteristics that President Obama saw as a positive?--Rattner makes his case for the good that could be realized from a pricey roll of the dice. Malcolm Gladwell's review in the New Yorker--in which he credits ousted CEO Rick Wagoner for GM's eventual turnaround--should be considered required companion reading.