The World's Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations

In This Review

The World's Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations

By Sebastian Mallaby
Penguin Press, 2004
400 pp. $29.95
Purchase

The Washington-based World Bank is the pre-eminent global institution for promoting economic development, disbursing billions of dollars a year in loans, concessional aid, and technical assistance, often in the form of grants. Australian-turned-American James Wolfensohn, a successful investment banker, has headed the World Bank since 1995-a turbulent time both within and outside of the bank, especially with the financial crises of the late 1990s. Mallaby, a Washington Post editorial writer, provides a sympathetic yet critical assessment of the World Bank under Wolfensohn's leadership, crediting him for bringing the bank much closer to its developing-country clients but faulting him for trying to take on too wide a scope of activity without a clear and manageable set of priorities. This lively book is based on, among other sources, hundreds of interviews, including with Wolfensohn, present and past bank officials, national officials, and residents of loan-receiving countries, who sometimes take a much more favorable view of the bank's activities than one would guess from the pronouncements of U.S.-and European-based nongovernmental organizations that purport to represent their interests.