The morally outraged banker could take no more of the bank's "toxic and destructive" environment, he said via the New York Times' editorial page. But it was the muppets that caught everyone's attention.
With the financial crisis still rocking the world and bankers held up as public enemy number one, Smith claimed Goldman bankers branded clients "muppets" – a derogatory term in British English – and secretly despised them as they ripped them off.
But now the early reviews are in and it looks like Smith's turn to be called a muppet. William Cohan, author of the definitive Goldman Sachs history Money and Power, has blasted Smith as a "hypocrite", his facts are being questioned and the bank has cast Smith as a disgruntled one percenter who turned nasty after his bosses turned down his call for a $1m bonus.
A lot of the book is a rehash of Goldman's recent troubled history that could have been done from newspaper reports. There's some stuff about Smith's once promising table tennis career (no joke) and his career struggles. There's a topless woman in a hot tub in Las Vegas (just the one?) but little else in the way of sex – unless you count the revelation that Goldman's boss Lloyd Blankfein likes to "air-dry" by walking around the bank's gym locker room naked. Gordon Gekko's Wall Street it ain't.
Smith doesn't help his cause with a book that is remarkably short on details of wrongdoing – and the few it does contain have been challenged. Problems set in at the beginning with an anecdote about his apprenticeship in Goldman's tough 10-week internship programme. One intern "starts to tear up and runs out of the room" after a grilling about Microsoft stock. Another flounders badly as he is quizzed about "risk arbitrage". Smith then reveals that the intern, "Josh", is the son of a billionaire "and one of the most powerful financiers in the world".
In the New York Times, James Stewart, best-selling author of Den of Thieves and other titles, challenges Smith's account. In a damning review headlined: A tell-all on Goldman has little worth telling, Stewart says the only billionaire's son in Smith's intern programme was Teddy Schwarzman, son of Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and chief executive of the asset management firm Blackstone Group and certainly "one of the most powerful financiers in the world".
"I was never grilled on risk arbitrage, or asked to give a presentation on it," Schwarzman told Stewart. "I realise it was a long time ago, but I would certainly have remembered it if I had floundered." Stewart said no one in the class that he spoke to could recall such an episode.
Later Smith talks of a town hall meeting in London – a meeting that he says was instrumental in his decision to quit his $500,000-$750,000 a year job. "What is the firm doing to address the fact that the culture is dying and our reputation is deteriorating?" asks one woman. "Absolute silence followed," he writes.
In fact the questioner asks about the "perception" that the culture is deteriorating, according to audio heard by the Guardian. There is a short pause before the Goldman execs answer with some banalities but hardly "absolute silence".
According to Goldman, Smith's town hall hero is the same woman that only a few pages earlier Smith describes as a "vicious boss" nicknamed the "Black Widow" for her "penchant for trying to get colleagues fired".
Unsurprisingly Goldman has its own harsh critique of Smith's account. An internal review of Goldman's emails found 99.7% of references to "muppets" were related to 2011's outing for the puppet characters in which Miss Piggy, Kermit and Co reunite to save their old theatre from a greedy oil tycoon.
The bank also said it undertook peer review polls and said Smith's average rating of his colleagues was nine – the highest mark on their nine-point scale.
"We thoroughly reviewed Greg's claims and found no evidence whatsoever to support them," said Jake Siewert, Goldman's corporate communications chief. "We were hampered by the fact that there was little that was specific. We found no evidence that he raised concerns while at the bank but he did express concerns about his career."
For Cohan the problem with Smith's book is that it is a morality tale that doesn't work: "He spent 12 years taking their money and suddenly the scales fall from his eyes?"
According to Cohan Goldman has been rife with conflicts of interest throughout its 143-year history. "This is not a charitable institution," he said. He said it was "hypocritical" of Smith to take Goldman's salary, complain about his bonus and then turn around and kick his former employer. "Wall Street has huge problems and he is exhibit A," said Cohan.
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