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Surviving the Greatest Financial Crisis of Our Time

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By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, March 8, 2009

He had me at the title.

Dave Kansas has written "The Wall Street Journal Guide to the End of Wall Street as We Know It: What You Need to Know About the Greatest Financial Crisis of Our Time -- And How to Survive It" (Collins Business).

For the Color of Money Book Club selection for March, I recommend you read Kansas's book, which at $15.99 is a bargain look at how we came to be in what I call the Millennium Meltdown.

Kansas is an experienced financial journalist who has covered the good, bad and ugly of the financial markets. He's editor-at-large for FiLife, an online personal finance Web site. He spent four years as editor of the Wall Street Journal's Money & Investing section and was once editor-in-chief of TheStreet.com.

"We're experiencing a moment when nothing and no one feels safe," Kansas summarizes in the book's introduction. "People are understandably frustrated and angry. . . . It is a time of high anxiety with moments of panic arguably not seen in this nation since the Great Depression, even if the present circumstances don't exactly mirror the calamity of that age."

Part of the reason we're fuming about our financial state is that we were hoodwinked. We were told not to worry because Wall Street wanted us to win. So, in good faith, we invested. We invested our money in retirement plans or college funds hoping not necessarily to become Rockefeller rich but to earn a decent return.

What Wall Street didn't tell us was that some executives were taking unconscionable risks to become Rockefeller rich themselves. Now many people are left weeping on the poorer side of the wall.

The rule that you should invest for the long term is hard to follow when your portfolio has tanked 30 percent (if you're lucky) to more than 50 percent in the short term. For many investors, the Dow Jones industrial average -- known simply as the Dow -- has come to mean "decimation of wealth."

So what now? Should we put our money under the mattress or still take a chance with the market?

Kansas's answer takes you on a historical journey.

"The financial crisis of 2008, like many panics before it, actually started well before it dominated the headlines," he writes. "Seeds sowed more than a decade beforehand and the steady rise of irrational confidence in complex market mechanisms eventually ended in cataclysmic fashion."

The story Kansas tells is familiar, yet it's important to read about it again.


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