A semi-daily chronicle of my life as a musician, a family man, and a citizen of Oregon.

Jun 29, 2008

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Think the television show "Thirty-Something". Think Ronald Reagan, greed is good, the movie "Wall Street" or "Glenngarry Glen Ross". Think about the 1980s when the kimono of Wall Street was being opened and the 80% of people in America who see money as a necessary evil became aware of why companies do the seemingly senseless things that they do.

"Barbarians at the Gate" is what the movie Roger & Me should have been. A turn by turn, holistic account of the players involved in what was the largest leveraged buyout in Wall Street history. The book is meticulously researched and is just as effective at conveying the motivations, back-stories, and insinuations of the story as the facts themselves.

Burrough and Helyar have done an excellent job in portraying the full, three dimensional personalities of the characters involved, and it is probably this fact that makes the book so immensely readable. While the financial terms and short-hands could be potentially confusing they aptly dumb down the terminology without losing the meaning necessary to understand the events. It is probably these two characteristics that I love most about this book.

Make no mistake, this is a book about the drama of white men in suits. There is no diversity in this book - the women involved are wives of the men "on stage". The closest the story gets to diversity is the handful of jews featured, which itself is an unfortunate stereotype.

I found this book to be fascinating, and a great example of how the motivations and incentives of those who make profound decisions about the US' largest companies may not align with the best interest of those who depend on them for goods, services, jobs, and investments.

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3 comments:

Aaron said...

I've been curious to read this for some time now. Have you read "Conspiracy of Fools" about the Enron collapse? I'm assuming you probably have, as Enron is your former boss (mine too, actually, in a convoluted sort of way). If so, how does "Barbarians" compare to "Conspiracy" in your estimation?

./dave said...

Actually, I haven't read "Conspiracy of Fools" yet. Would you recommend it?

Aaron said...

For someone like yourself who went through the Enron ringer, yes, I'd suggest you read it. It's a big book, but it's written in a fairly breezy style, which makes for quick reading. It's not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it's adequate for a layman's understanding of the debacle.

Have you seen "The Smartest Guys in the Room" - the documentary about Enron? "Conspiracy" reads a bit like that film plays.