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House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street Paperback – February 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


“Engrossing . . . a parable about how the second Gilded Age came slamming to a fast and furious end. . . . Riveting, edge-of-the-seat reading.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Cohan's epic account chronicles a watershed moment in Wall Street history.” —The Boston Globe
"Masterfully reported. . . . [Cohan] does a brilliant job of sketching in the eccentric, vulgar, greedy, profane and coarse individuals who ignored all these warnings to their own profit and the ruin of so many others."--Los Angeles Times
"A masterly reconstruction of Bear Stearns’ implosion—a tumultuous episode in Wall Street history that still reverberates throughout our economy today. . . . First drafts of history don't get much better than this." —Bloomberg News
“This book is so rich, so flavorful, so instructive, and so fully and compelling cast that a reviewer hardly knows where to begin.” —The New York Observer
"Cohan vividly documents the mix of arrogance, greed, recklessness, and pettiness that took down the 86-year-old brokerage house and then the entire economy. It's a page-turner . . . offering both a seemingly comprehensive understanding of the business and wide access to insiders. . . . Hard to put down." —BusinessWeek
"[A]n authoritative, blow-by-blow account of the collapse of Bear Stearns." —The Washington Post
“Cohen’s autopsy uncovers all the symptoms of a walking disaster.” —Newsweek  
"A riveting blow-by-blow account." —The Economist

About the Author

WILLIAM D. COHAN, a former senior Wall Street investment banker, is the bestselling author of The Last Tycoons and the winner of the 2007 FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. He is an online columnist for The New York Times, and writes frequently for Vanity Fair, Fortune, ArtNews, The Financial Times, the Washington Post and the Daily Beast.  He also appears frequently on CNN, Bloomberg TV and CNBC, and also on numerous NPR shows.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1 Reprint edition (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767930894
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767930895
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

WILLIAM D. COHAN, a former senior Wall Street M&A investment banker for 17 years at Lazard Frères & Co., Merrill Lynch and JPMorganChase, is the New York Times bestselling author of three non-fiction narratives about Wall Street: Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World; House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street; and, The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co., the winner of the 2007 FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. His new book, The Price of Silence about the Duke lacrosse scandal will be published on April 8, 2014. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and writes a bi-weekly opinion column for BloombergView. He also writes for The Financial Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Atlantic, ArtNews, the Irish Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the New York Times Magazine. He previously wrote a bi-weekly opinion column for The New York Times and features for Fortune. He also appears regularly on MSNBC, on Bloomberg TV, where he is a contributing editor, and on CNN and the BBC-TV. He has also appeared as a guest on the Daily Show, with Jon Stewart, The NewsHour, The Charlie Rose Show, The Tavis Smiley Show, and CBS This Morning as well as on numerous NPR, BBC and Bloomberg radio programs. He is a graduate of Duke University, Columbia University School of Journalism and the Columbia University Graduate School of Business

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

442 of 466 people found the following review helpful By T. Tepe on March 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been a banker for 20 years and have specific experience with asset backed securities so I think I am better prepared to read this book than most, but certainly not all, people.

Cohan writes with great flair and a style best compared to celebrity profiles in Vanity Fair. He clearly had extraordinary access to former BSC execs, especially Paul Friedman and Jimmy Cayne. It seems like one of these two is speaking in verbatim quote most of the time. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. That said, I'm not comfortable with the book. It's half the story selected because the bits make for a dishy, dirt rich read. To me, Cohan was more concerned about writing a best-seller than he was about telling the whole story in some sort of reasonable context.

I agree with the reviewer that said the book was rushed into print. The editing, especially in the second half is pretty bad. There are repeated references to antecedent events that must have ended up edited out, e.g. a reference to "the Tuesday 'Times' article" when there was no prior mention of any such article- stuff like that. There are many occasions where the events are conformed to the narrative and Cohan bounces around in time and sequence and new players come into the story seemingly out of nowhere.

I also got the feeling Cohan wasn't a master of his subject matter at times and "blew through" an event or key concept. If I were in the audience and Cohan was presenting his book, my hand would have gone up and I would have said, "Wait a second, . . ."

The first third of the book covers the last 10 days of the firm and spends a majority of its time talking about the repo market, without any explanation of how the market works or what its abundant jargon translates into English as.
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148 of 163 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on March 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"House of Cards" reports on the collapse of the investment banking house Bear Stearns (America's fifth-largest investment bank), and the beginning of the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression. Cohan's background as an investment banker allows him to cut through the complexity to explain what happened in simple, clear terms.

Bear Stearns had survived every crisis of the 20th century, including the Great Depression - without a single losing quarter - until the end of 2007. In 1997, Bear Stearns had helped pioneer the subprime mortgage-backed security by serving as co-underwriter on a $385 million offering. By the mid-2000s, it was the market leader in this segment.

The focus of the book is the last ten days of Bear Stearns, leading up to its absorption by J.P. Morgan at a fire-sale price ($10/share, down from $167; less than the value of its $1.5 billion office building), greased by $30 billion in Federal Reserve funds. (The Fed was worried that a bankruptcy of Bear Stearns could wreak fiscal havoc around the world.)

Just a year earlier it had been identified as "America's most admired securities firm" by Fortune magazine; in 2006 its Asset Management fees had reached $335 million. Bonuses were in the 8-figure range. Unfortunately, it was also the most heavily invested in mortgage-backed securities. Bear Stearns, like its competitors, financed itself with oversight sources (the cheapest source).

However, when analysts began questioning Bear's viability, given its shaky mix of assets, continued financing for Bear dried up, and it toppled. Amazingly, its chairman was too buy playing bridge and golf to get involved until too late; earlier he had forced out the only many who understood what was going on.
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74 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Amy Y. TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 11, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Cohan details the bursting of the bubble in a book that reads like part gossip columnist, part financial thriller. Talk about making your average Jane feel smart, Cohan makes the big names of Wall Street look like a bunch of rats scurrying about thinking they have won the cheese when really they are about to get the big, gut-popping smack-down.

I enjoyed this read because, aside from being mildly fascinated by economics, it does seem to answer the question that most American are now asking as they look at their 401Ks, retirement plan statements, and now-empty stock portfolios: "What the hell were they thinking?"

Calling it a 'House of Cards' is quite apt as Cohan shows us how multi-million, er, make it billion, dollar empires were built on quicksand: stuff backed by things backed by more stuff, sorta.

This is some seriously fascinating stuff- many of the chapters read like a financial drama cum thriller. Cohan puts the reader in the middle of the action: the "Wehrmacht" SWAT team of Bank of America 'parachuting into the downtown offices of Sullivan & Cromwell' to review Lehman's books, an edge-of-your-seat account of the weekend that the Fed, specifically, Geithner and Paulson- try to anticipate the consequences of the scenarios (which includes some pretty candid quotes right from the source), you can almost hear the jaws drop as Wall Street is informed there will have to be a "private sector solution" i.e. no bailout for Lehman Bros.
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