House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street

Front Cover
Doubleday, 2009 - Business & Economics - 468 pages
28 Reviews

On March 5, 2008, at 10:15 A.M., a hedge fund manager in Florida wrote a post on his investing advice Web site that included a startling statement about Bear Stearns & Co., the nationís fifth-largest investment bank: ďIn my book, they are insolvent.Ē

This seemed a bold and risky statement. Bear Stearns was about to announce profits of $115 million for the first quarter of 2008, had $17.3 billion in cash on hand, and, as the company incessantly boasted, had been a colossally profitable enterprise in the eighty-five years since its founding.

Ten days later, Bear Stearns no longer existed, and the calamitous financial meltdown of 2008 had begun.

How this happened Ė and why Ė is the subject of William D. Cohanís superb and shocking narrative that chronicles the fall of Bear Stearns and the end of the Second Gilded Age on Wall Street. Bear Stearns serves as the Rosetta Stone to explain how a combination of risky bets, corporate political infighting, lax government regulations and truly bad decision-making wrought havoc on the world financial system.

Cohanís minute-by-minute account of those ten days in March makes for breathless reading, as the bankers at Bear Stearns struggled to contain the cascading series of events that would doom the firm, and as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, New York Federal Reserve Bank President Tim Geithner, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke began to realize the dire consequences for the world economy should the company go bankrupt.

But HOUSE OF CARDS does more than recount the incredible panic of the first stages of the financial meltdown. William D. Cohan beautifully demonstrateswhythe seemingly invincible Wall Street money machine came crashing down. He chronicles the swashbuckling corporate culture of Bear Stearns, the strangely crucial role competitive bridge played in the companyís fortunes, the brutal internecine battles for power, and the deadly combination of greed and inattention that helps to explain why the companyís leaders ignored the danger lurking in Bearís huge positions in mortgage-backed securities.

The author deftly portrays larger-than-life personalities like Ace Greenberg, Bear Stearnsí miserly, take-no-prisoners chairman whose memos about re-using paper clips were legendary throughout Wall Street; his profane, colorful rival and eventual heir Jimmy Cayne, whose world-champion-level bridge skills were a lever in his corporate rise and became a symbol of the reasons for the firmís demise; and Jamie Dimon, the blunt-talking CEO of JPMorgan Chase, who won the astonishing endgame of the saga (the Bear Stearns headquarters alone were worth more than JP Morgan paid for the whole company).

Cohanís explanation of seemingly arcane subjects like credit default swaps and fixed- income securities is masterful and crystal clear, but it is the high-end dish and powerful narrative drive that makes HOUSE OF CARDS an irresistible read on a par with classics such as LIARíS POKER and BARBARIANS AT THE GATE.

Written with the novelistic verve and insider knowledge that made THE LAST TYCOONS a bestseller and a prize-winner, HOUSE OF CARDS is a chilling cautionary tale about greed, arrogance, and stupidity in the financial world, and the consequences for all of us.

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Review: House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street

User Review  - Jerry Lay ii - Goodreads

William Cohan's epic account of the 2008 collapse of Bear Stearns is a fantastic, illuminating read. With an insider's perspective ( Cohan spent years working on Wall Street ) we are taken step-by ... Read full review

Review: House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street

User Review  - Johnsergeant - Goodreads

Narrated by: Alan Sklar Length: 25 hrs and 16 mins Publisher's Summary In March 2008, Bear Stearns, a swashbuckling 84-year-old financial institution, was forced to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase for ... Read full review

About the author (2009)

WILLIAM D. COHAN, a former senior Wall Street investment banker, is the bestselling author ofThe Last Tycoonsand the winner of the 2007 FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. He writes forThe Financial Times, Fortune,theNew York Times,theWashington Post,theDaily Beast,and appears frequently on CNBC.

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