Book Review: In An Uncertain World

Robert Rubin’s In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington is a fantastic book and memoir by the former Clinton treasury secretary.

The theme which runs through the book and Rubin’s extremely successful career is a honed worldview: the world is messy and complicated, the future may not resemble the past, and, accordingly, we must make tough decisions based on probabilities. Whether at Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, or at the White House, Rubin consistently applied a dispassionate intellectual analysis to big decisions and tried best he could to evaluate the prudence of a decision not simply on the outcome but on whether he reasonably estimated the potential upside, downside, and associated probabilities.

The clarity and consistency of Rubin’s intellectual philosophy is striking. In an uncertain world, it’s hard to develop too many hard-and-fast rules about living in this world that’s changing so fast. It’s hard to develop an overarching philosophy that can stay true through your whole career. An answer that’s right today may not be relevant tomorrow. A developing country may not have meant anything to the United States 20 years ago, but now can have an enormous economic impact. So, Rubin’s philosophy is convincing: if you want to simplify life down to something bite size, if you want to hold a truism in your back pocket, consider a worldview that merely acknowledges the uncertainly and complexity of a globalized world.

Otherwise, the memoir covers its fair ground of inside dirt on White House life, provides engaging detail on how Washington had to help rescue various failing economies in the 90’s (Asia Crisis, Mexico, Russia, etc), and illuminates Rubin as a person (though I could have used some more personal detail).

All in all, a highly recommended memoir.

(Thanks to my friends Jeff Maurone for the recommendation and Matt Huebert for the loan)

2 comments on “Book Review: In An Uncertain World
  • Excellent, Ben. Glad you enjoyed! Your summary is much more valuable than mine. I remember haphazardly writing that post and realizing that I failed to expose enough of the valuable philosophy communicated by Rubin. Luckily, you took care of that.

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