on 23 February 2006
This classic account of insider trading during the greed decade remains as riveting today as the day it was published. Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart manages to turn an account of the arcane market manipulation that led to the 1987 crash into a page-turner with all the suspense of a detective novel. And while the main villains here - Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky - have faded off the public radar, their philosophical descendants at Enron, Tyco and Adelphia remind investors that greed and market manipulation will never go out of style. Stewart’s richly detailed book is must reading for those who trust their careers or their savings to the markets. We recommend this withering account of over-the-top greed to anyone who works or invests on Wall Street.
on 23 August 2002
Have you never heard of the arbitragist Ivan Boesky, the king of Junk Bonds Michael Milken, the goldenboy Martin Siegel, and other characters of Wall Street in '80? If not, think to buy this book seriously... a wonderful parodia of the world of investment banking written by a master of financial journalism, James Stewart (Wall Street Journal and Smartmoney.com).
One of the most readable books I've ever had the pleasure of owning.
Whilst the subject matter is an expose of a bunch of cheating, fraudulent, selfish, and voracious mercenaries operating under, what was in the 1980's the ostensibly respectable guise of investment bankers and arbitragers, it is, nevertheless, a fascinating insight into and exposition of, the world of Corporate Mergers, Take-overs and Financing in the free-wheeling, under-regulated 80's.
Insider trading was the business of the four main racketeers, Dennis Levine, Martin Siegel, Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, with dollops of tax fraud and money laundering thrown in to demonstrate their criminal versatility. Dennis Levine is shown as a fantasist who rated his own meagre ability as being that of a financial genius but in reality was far from it. Martin Siegel was suave, personable and a very able and respected Investment Banker whose involvement in these crimes was difficult to understand. Whereas Ivan Boesky whose mantra was "greed is all right" outwardly showed all the signs of being morally malleable in pursuit of wealth. Michael Milken, in terms of illicit financial gains was by far and away 'daddy' of them all when it came to sheer greed, and the most complex to understand.
That these guys since their convictions,large fines and prison sentences, are professing to have seen the light, and are now busting a gut to appear to be paragons of virtue intent on helping humanity, does not in any way camouflage the extent of their criminality which resulted in millions of people directly and indirectly being swindled. Yes and that could include you and me!
James B Stewart has written a masterfully gripping book, which reads like a detective story and which guides the reader through the maze of arcane Wall Street dealings in a most interesting and easily understandable manner.
I read this book not long after it was published in 1991. James B. Stewart, a Wall Street Journal editor, with the insights that such a position can yield, and a rarer moral outlook, produced this excellent account of some of the principle characters of what was once known as "the decade of greed," as in, "greed is good," the 1980's. Four of those individuals were once (almost) household names, at least in the households of those with a member in the corporate boardroom. They are: Martin Siegel, Ivan F. Boesky, Michael R. Milken and Dennis B. Levine. By any reasonable definition of the word, including legal definitions, they are all thieves, hence the title to the book. Stewart says: "The magnitude of the illegal gains was so large as to be incomprehensible to most laymen." What Stewart did not know at the time, nor did any of the rest of us: "We ain't seen nothing yet."
The first portion of the book, entitled "Above the Law" is an incisive look into the business and social culture of a sliver of American society: the high-rollers on Wall Street. To convey that one is "successful" is paramount; the gullible will want to ease-drop on your every whisper, as a famous ad on the now defunct E. F. Hutton proclaimed. Michael Milken saw "opportunity" in a dark corner of Wall Street, which traded in "junk bonds." Let's come up with a better, more attractive name, like "high-yield bonds" and do an "academic study" which "proved" that the risk of these bonds was overstated. Add in an all-important "government guarantee" of the "investment" by taking over the Savings and Loan Industry, while at the same time arguing against government regulation of the S&L's, in the familiar refrain of: "Keep government out of the "free market," and voila, a few years later, it is the taxpayer who loses big time, and a few others are immensely richer. Not much ink is spilt over the demise of the S&L's, but I still fondly remember my old "passbook savings account," and the principle of, neatly expressed "5-9-2." The S&L would pay 5% interest to the saver; charge the mortgage holder 9% for a home that was in the community, and it was all so simple the banker's chief "fringe benefit" was to be on the golf course by 2 pm. Society also enjoyed a much more stable and rational housing market.
The second part of the book is entitled "The Chase." It is how these individuals were - "sorta"- brought to justice. The main problem, as Stewart says: "Wall Street closed ranks around its own." Or in further elaboration: "Like organized crime, the Wall Street suspects prized silence and loyalty over any duty to tell the truth and root out corruption. He assumed that a Goldman, Sachs partner, for example, would go to jail rather than implicate another partner at the firm." Stewart praises Judge Kimball Woods for sentencing Milken to 10 years in prison, a sentence which was later reduced drastically, and Milken spent less time in a country club prison than those who were drafted into the Army for two years.
Most fittingly, Stewart commences his epilogue with the question: "Could it happen again?" Rhetorical at the time, now we all know the affirmative answer, which occurred in 2008. The sums of money in the latter were magnitudes larger, in the trillions, and the losses were all handled quietly when the Federal Reserve "expanded its balance sheet" in bond purchases whose value was once known as "junk." And the guilty? None, absolutely none were brought to justice. As for Milken today? Wikipedia quotes Forbes as saying that he is the 485th richest person in the world. Not bad for trading in "junk," and passing the bill on to the taxpayer. So crime does pay. But is he happy?
Stewart's account is even more valid today, of how the real world works. 5-stars.
on 29 March 2016
A most interesting book, detailing a demoralising period in USA history. Of course a different financial disaster, but with worse consequences has happened again in 2007/8). So what is new?
Well what is new is it is now possible to accurately determine the parameters of the next financial disaster in c. 2022/24 and where to place your money to profit. As Maynard Kyenes said, in every financial upset, money does not disappear, it is merely redistributed. A. Bovill
Gordon Gekko didnt say so alone. Almost everyone on Wall Street in the boom of the 80s capital and money markets swore by this dictum. Veritable luminaries like Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken and Dennis Levine showed everyone how money begets power and how power corrupts even the most sensible. James Stewart has put together a very impressive narrartive though at times you can easily spot his bias (reason for my 4 stars). I am from the world of finance myself and love books on the same. However, its better when such "reality books" have the narrative style of an action packed thriller. Den of Thieves promises this and does deliver. An excellent addition to anyone's library.
on 26 October 1998
Though the book really is about the crimes commited by Milken and others in conspiting to enrich themselves through market manipulation and insider info. what i really gained from the book is the insight into how the financial nerve centres (in this case wall street) really works. It reveals the arbs, Investment bankers, brokers, financiers, predators, white knights etc. I think any one interested in learning about finance should read this book. It is however very one sided... It takes the side of the law
on 9 December 2010
Great book on the insider trading scandal and its leading characters. The parallels to the current insider trading scandals are clear, as is the corruption sneaking in on otherwise decent and intelligent people ("relax, everybody does it"). Very interesting description of the political process leading to Milken's deal with the state prosecutors office. Very well written.