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Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (A John Hope Franklin Center Book) [Paperback]

Karen Zouwen Ho
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

9 Oct 2009 A John Hope Franklin Center Book
Financial collapses - whether of the junk bond market, the Internet bubble, or the highly leveraged housing market - are often explained as the inevitable results of market cycles: What goes up must come down. In "Liquidated", Karen Ho punctures the aura of the abstract, all-powerful market to show how financial markets, and particularly booms and busts, are constructed. Through an in-depth investigation into the everyday experiences and ideologies of Wall Street investment bankers, Ho describes how a financially dominant but highly unstable market system is understood, justified, and produced through the restructuring of corporations and the larger economy. Ho, who worked at an investment bank herself, argues that bankers' approaches to financial markets and corporate America are inseparable from the structures and strategies of their workplaces. Her ethnographic analysis of those workplaces is filled with the voices of stressed first-year associates, overworked and alienated analysts, undergraduates eager to be hired, and seasoned managing directors. Recruited from elite universities as 'the best and the brightest', investment bankers are socialized into a world of high risk and high reward. They are paid handsomely, with the understanding that they may be let go at any time. Their workplace culture and networks of privilege create the perception that job insecurity builds character and employee liquidity results in smart, efficient business. Based on this culture of liquidity and compensation practices tied to profligate deal-making, Wall Street investment bankers reshape corporate America in their own image. Their mission is the creation of shareholder value, but Ho demonstrates that their practices and assumptions often produce crises instead. By connecting the values and actions of investment bankers to the construction of markets and the restructuring of U.S. corporations, "Liquidated" reveals the particular culture of Wall Street often obscured by triumphalist readings of capitalist globalization.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press (9 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822345994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822345992
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 392,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"We're pretty familiar with the economic rationale for the regime of cost-cutting and downsizing throughout corporate America in recent decades. But Karen Ho's research greatly enriches our understanding of how Wall Street's own peculiar culture of transient relationships and relentless competition has contributed to the shareholder revolution. And, along the way, her interviews and fieldwork offer a very revealing picture of the mind of Wall Street. A fascinating and important book." --Doug Henwood, editor of Left Business Observer

About the Author

Karen Ho is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and unusual angle on Wall Street 9 May 2010
By Paul Bowes TOP 500 REVIEWER
There have been a lot of books recently about the subprime scandal and the investment banking crisis. Many of these books are frankly opportunistic, but some are both readable and well-informed - as, for example, Michael Lewis's The Big Short. What all these books have in common is a certain sameness of approach. Most of them are written by insiders or former insiders, and insofar as they deal with broader questions at all, they tend to take a similar line rooted in common assumptions. Ho's book is a welcome exception.

First, although it contains anecdotal material, it is not an anecdotal or journalistic account of the crisis but a legitimate academic study by an anthropologist of the culture of Wall Street banking. Second, Ho did her original field research in the late nineties, and insofar as the present crisis is referenced it comes as an unexpected bonus - a timely confirmation of the validity of conclusions reached earlier and independently.

Ho's methodology references some familiar names - the influence of Bourdieu is obvious - and she makes no secret of her broadly leftist sympathies. However, she is a cool, objective and on the human level sympathetic observer of the culture she has chosen to dissect, and I found her analysis persuasive. (The 'Publisher's Description' above is a broadly accurate precis of this.)

If there is a criticism to be made, it is that it is not clear who might form the intended audience. The people who most need to read the book - the investment bankers and their political cheerleaders - will not do so, because to them the external world - never mind the academic world - is simply an irrelevance. On the other hand, the book may also be too slow-paced and carefully argued to appeal to a casual reader. This would be a pity. Non-academic readers who have a very low tolerance for academic prose may struggle a little with some of the denser sections, but I would urge them to persist. This is a valuable book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Actually quite good 30 Sep 2011
I don't at all agree with the negative review here. This book is well-written (though I have to admit I skipped the introduction) and enjoyable. It is not about the mechanics of Wall Street trading but about its culture (the negative review did not seem to quite understand this). It gives you an insight into the working routines and the values of Wall Street. It's not sensationalist, doesn't romanticise or rubbish Wall Street, but gives you an anthropological interpretation of it. It is for those who want to understand what it is like to work on Wall Street and, I think, does a pretty good job at it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful Book 18 Nov 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Please take no notice of the negative review that is posted here. This is an interesting, thoughtful, well-researched work that does not aim to compete with the often lurid but ultimately shallow autobiographies of ex-Wall Street employees. What Ho is interested in is the effect of the financial sector on the non-financial sector and how the values, midsets and working practices of Wall Street have permeated the entire corporate sector, to the detriment of society at large. She investigates in some depth conceptions of shareholder value - the theory that underpins the whole shaky edifice and concludes that it is hoplessly contradictory and value destroying.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read 30 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Haven't finished reading this yet but the section i read is an interesting read! Good insight into life & bias in the city.
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5 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Buy This Book 23 Jan 2010
On Wall Street, investment bankers often describe some of their colleagues rather disparagingly as "boom time hires", meaning that they were of such low calibre that they would never have got hired in a normal market. Well, on similar veins, "Liquidated" can be described as a "boom time book", published only in the wake of the public's morbid fascination with the financial services industry after it almost blew itself up and took the rest of the world with it. For this book simply does not deserve to be published in any other environment.

The author is a relatively young academic whose experience in writing is somewhat limited. Similarly, while being billed as someone who "worked at an investment bank herself", she was in reality only an internal business analyst far removed from the main investment banking activities, and the irrelevance of her work is evident in that her entire group was disbanded 6 months after she joined.

These twin weaknesses - both in writing skills and in knowledge - unfortunately were obvious throughout the book. While there is nothing wrong with relying on insider interviews rather than personal experience - Andrew Ross Sorkin is a prime example of how this can be brilliant if done well - Karen Ho's lack of understanding meant there she was often unable to help readers under the context of whatever information she did gather. A real Wall Street insider would laugh at her many mistakes (such as how Michael Milken "invented junk bonds"); while a non-banker would get confused by her over-simplications and confusion. Neither is likely to learn much from reading this book.
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