Join getAbstract to access the summary!

The World's Banker

Join getAbstract to access the summary!

The World's Banker

A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

You can’t please everyone all the time. But as president Jim Wolfensohn found, that’s your goal if you’re the World Bank.

auto-generated audio
auto-generated audio

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Former Iraq War architect and neocon superhawk Paul Wolfowitz was president of the World Bank from 2005 to 2007. Before his forced resignation, he used his office unfairly to promote bank employee Shaha Ali Riza, his girlfriend. If Wolfowitz had not stepped down voluntarily, the bank’s board surely would have sacked him. He might be the most notorious former World Bank president, but Jim Wolfensohn is the most intriguing. Former Olympian, Australian turned American, Harvard Business school graduate, corporate dealmaker, Carnegie Hall cellist, Renaissance man and a bona fide larger-than-life character, Wolfensohn was the World Bank’s president from 1995 to 2005. During this period, the restless, energetic Wolfensohn was like a raging tornado, ripping through the bank’s stately Washington, D.C., offices, upsetting long-held traditions, tangling daily with the bank’s entrenched bureaucrats, determined to make a difference for the three billion people who live in abject poverty. Journalist Sebastian Mallaby explores Wolfensohn’s dramatic decade, along with the bank’s changing practices and policies. getAbstract recommends Mallaby’s fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at how Wolfensohn and the bank struggled mightily against world poverty for 10 eventful years.


The World’s Toughest Job

The professionals at the World Bank tackle hard jobs every day. Consider the bank’s Qinghai project in China, the country that borrowed more funds from the bank during the 1990s than any other nation. The Chinese proved remarkably efficient at using World Bank funds to pull millions of people out of poverty. Therefore, the bank was always eager to make more loans to China.

In 1999, China asked for money to relocate nearly 60,000 poor farmers from a severely drought-stricken area of Qinghai, a western Chinese province near Tibet. The Chinese planned to move the farmers to an area of Qinghai with good irrigation, and then construct a dam to provide more water from melting snow. The relocations would be strictly voluntary. Past Chinese relocation efforts had lifted many of people out of poverty, so the World Bank had no reason to think this project would be any different.

One problem: Tibet did not like it. The Tibetans said moving 60,000 Chinese people would “dramatically affect the demography of Qinghai,” which was, they claimed, Tibetan in culture. This charge quickly caused a major global uproar. China already had a huge black eye because...

About the Author

Sebastian Mallaby is a Washington Post columnist and author. He was a 2003 Council on Foreign Relations fellow and from 1986 to 1999, worked as a staff writer for The Economist, based in Zimbabwe, England and Japan.

Comment on this summary