“This book,” Nicholas Lemann concludes, “has examined a succession of grand conceptions of how to organize the economy to produce a good society” (252). That simple sentence best summarizes Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream. The New Yorker staff writer and Columbia University journalism professor promised to take readers from the White House's inner chambers to struggling neighborhoods. Instead, he focused his story on New Dealer Adolf Berle, Harvard Business School professor Michael Jensen, and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman to outline shifting twentieth- and twenty-first-century trust in institutions, transactions, and networks to form a more perfect, and prosperous, union.

Lemann uses Berle, Jensen, and Hoffman to chart the respective rise, fall, and mistrust of the now-infamous Organization Man and his successors, whom Lemann christened Transaction Man and Network Man. Lemann dug deep into Berle's papers in order to explain the Progressive-era...

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