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House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and…

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

by William D. Cohan

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Heard an interview with the author. Interesting detail: Compensation at Bear Stearns was based on a ratio of how much money they made using the least amount of capital. So even when things started to go bad, they were reluctant to take offers of capital from outside. Hence they refusal of the offer from the Saudis to provide them with $10 billion. In hindsight, that certainly looks short-sighted.
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
It took me forever to read this book. It was extremely boring because the men who filled the pages of the book were boring. I wanted a book that would help explain to me the reasons for the huge financial mess that the country and Wall street is in and what I got was a book about a bunch of arrogant fools suffering from testosterone overload. Who do these arrogant idiots think that they are? They deserved what happened to them and it would suit me just fine if they not only lost their jobs, but that they could never get a job in the financial sector again.

Now that I have vented my spleen about what I read in this book I will say that the author wrote a poor book. It is much too long and that is because he had to fill the pages with copious quotes and then copious indexing and notes at the end of the book. I am guessing he had to do so because he wanted to cover his backside in case of lawsuits from the stuffed suits about whom he wrote. In the end the most interesting part of the book is the first section about the ten days leading up to the fall of Bear Stearns and the last chapter of the book. In fact that the most important part of the book is the last paragraph in which the former CEO of Bear Stearns says that all parties involved in the financial sector were responsible for the resulting crises. I disagree with him, but his analysis is the most succinct and pointed in the whole book. After reading this book I think that the crises was caused by a bunch of arrogant men who thought that what goes up keeps going up and will never crash. There if proof throughout the book that the head of Bear Stearns didn't know or understand what the financial derivatives were or how they worked. He was more interested in playing bridge and getting a huge salary and bonuses for doing nothing.

This book is an indictment of Wall Street in the years running up to the 2008-09 crises, and probably of the behavior of Wall Street even today. It is not scintillating reading as the author has a hard time breathing much life into the subject of arrogant windbag men. For that reason it is more likely to make you angry and feel impotent than enlightened. ( )
  benitastrnad | Jan 8, 2012 |
I didn't expect much from this book, and was pleasantly surprised. Well written and surprisingly compelling, Cohan focuses us on personality and people, but manages to sneak in lots of technical discussions of trades and banking relationships that are critical to the story. I'd actually recommend this book to most people in finance or banking, and anyone who wants to know more even after watching, say, Frontline's specials on the credit crisis (see "Inside the Meltdown, 10 trillion and counting, or Breaking the Bank" here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/). Or you've read some articles in the New Yorker (Gladwell's July 27, 2009 article quotes extensively from Cohan) -- or similar magazines (none come to mind) that seem to attract writers who combine newspaper/essay/memoir genres in a calm, non-sensationalist and un-frenetic writing style. Anyways.More about this book -- it has three main parts: 1. Final 10 days (150 pages), 2. First ~80 years (110 pages), 3. Last ~5 years brief epilogue re: Lehman (175 pages). I started off normally enough, reading the first chapter -- GREAT. For some reason I then skipped to the third chapter before reading the second. Whatever. The writing is dense, but I still managed to find that the story moved with good pacing and insight. I would give it 3.5 stars, but I feel like there is grade inflation (or selection bias) at work here on goodreads. So only 3 stars -- but don't think I feel good about that. It looks a bit low. Alas. ( )
  tintinintibet | Apr 18, 2011 |
Mostly about the fall of Bear Stearns. ( )
  JanetRodgers | Jan 2, 2011 |
Fantastic and horrifying. Such hubris, testesterone, arrogance and ignorance !!! ( )
  Annereads | Jun 7, 2010 |
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The first murmurings of impending doom for the financial world originated 2,500 miles from Wall Street in an unassuming office suite just north of Orlando, Florida.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385528264, Hardcover)

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 nation’s fifth-largest investment bank: “In my book, they are insolvent.”

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 – and why – is the subject of William D. Cohan’s 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.

Cohan’s 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 demonstrates why the 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 company’s fortunes, the brutal internecine battles for power, and the deadly combination of greed and inattention that helps to explain why the company’s leaders ignored the danger lurking in Bear’s huge positions in mortgage-backed securities.

The author deftly portrays larger-than-life personalities like Ace Greenberg, Bear Stearns’ 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 firm’s 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).

Cohan’s 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 LIAR’S 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:37 -0400)

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William D. Cohan's superb and shocking narrative chronicles the fall of Bear Stearns and the end of the Second Gilded Age on Wall Street, explaining how a combination of risky bets, corporate political infighting, lax government regulations and truly bad decision-making wrought havoc on the world financial system.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400111684, 1400120241

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