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Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street Hardcover – May 12, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Wall Street Journal reporter Kelly expands on her 2008 three-part series, written just two and a half months after the collapse of financial giant Bear Stearns, with an hour-by-hour account of the crisis that goes behind the stock prices and into the meeting rooms of top executives as the crisis comes into horrifying focus. A kind of "dysfunctional family, driven by greed and a complex code of internal politics," Kelly expertly breaks down Bear's vulnerability as a leader in mortgage-backed securities, with "one of the heaviest debt loads of any firm on the Street." As word got out that the firm was in trouble, a wave of panic selling sent the stock plummeting to $60 on the second day of the crisis (after securing Federal Reserve funding) only to bottom out at two dollars a share in fire-house-sale offer from J.P. Morgan. Enlivened by graphic descriptions of executive disarray and cameo profiles of scrambling financiers as they come to appreciate the magnitude of the disaster they unleashed (COO Friedman, when asked by NY Fed Geithner how bad it was, answered "Very. End of the world bad."), this riveting account puts the ensuing worldwide financial crises in stark perspective.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover; 1 edition (May 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591842735
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591842736
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Two previous reviewers suggested you read House of Cards instead, and got slammed by negative comments and "unhelpful" ratings. I'll take my chances seconding that recommendation. House of Cards covers the history of Bear Stearns, gets most of the technical details and chronology right and (despite the inflammatory subtitle) is fair and balanced.

I do admit Street Fighters is a faster read. It cuts out all the boring history, and gets right to the three-day collapse. Characters are simple and financial details swept under the rug. Excitement is provided by constant overstatement. No one rests after working hard, they "drop from exhaustion," or, if they take an Ambien first, "lapse into a drug-induced" stupor. No one gets a telephone call at night, they are "jolted awake." Someone is "slammed," "electrified," or "devastated," nearly every page and almost as often we find it is the worst day of someone's life.

Okay, that's just style and if you like your writing lively, that's fine. It also helps if you like to hear about people washing their hair, taking showers, buying iPhones or playing on-line games. You'll find out who's a snappy dresser, who eats greasy food and especially what kind of houses different characters own. I don't care for that stuff, but I suppose it gives some people a feel for the situation.

My biggest gripe about the book is the author's treatment of disputed information. Time and again we get stories from anonymous or indirect sources in full-size print in the text, with an asterisk at the end to a fine-print notice that a named direct witness denies the story.
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Format: Hardcover
As I began to read this account of "the last 72 hours of Bear Stearns, the toughest firm on Wall Street," so powerful are Kate Kelly's narrative and descriptive skills that it soon seemed as if I were seeing a film rather than reading a book. Colorful characters, fast-moving plot, vivid images, lively dialog, riveting conflicts and confrontations, increasing tension, and then....

The book's narrative begins at 5:30 P.M. on Thursday, March 13, 2008, and continues until 8:30 PM on Sunday, March 16, 2008, followed by an Epilogue in which Kelly reviews subsequent developments at other firms (e.g. Lehman, AIG, Merrill) and provides a follow-up on Bear Stearns' key leaders. From Thursday through Sunday, at a pace that astonished everyone involved, the once-proud firm of "street fighters...lean, scrappy, and hungry for profits," a firm that had "an underdog's spirit, and relished the chance to knock more well-heeled firms down a peg or two," saw its stock take a "breathtaking drop." It had sold for $172 in January of 2007, was selling for $57 on March 13, 2008, and continued to plunge so far and so fast ($30.00 on March 14) that when Bear received J.P. Morgan Chase's final offer, the stock was valued at $2.00.

How to explain Bear's decline and fall? Kelly offers several reasons. Here are four:

1. Dysfunctional leadership (e.g. its CFO, Sam Molinaro, was "hopelessly disorganized" amidst toxic infighting between and among the firm's leaders)

2. Decision-making that Jim Collins describes (in How the Mighty Fall) as "grasping for salvation" in Stage 4 of a five-stage process of organizational decline

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Format: Paperback
House of Cards is a much more sophisticated account and is a more signficant piece of literature. Given the Wall Street Journal's terrible failures in reporting the underlying fundamentals of the crisis, as documented in detail by David Einhorn in Fooling Some People All of the Time: A Long Short Story, it is clear that the WSJ business reporters have key agendas in their documentation of these catastrophes. I am particularly hard pressed to find WSJ business reporters who were key at driving true analyses of the underlying CDO markets. Yet.. leave no doubt, they are quick to mud sling and make a few bucks when everything hits the fan.

If you want to learn more about the WSJ's attitude in this period... pick up Mr. Einhorn's book. In fact, I believe Ms. Kelly is mentioned as it pertains to her psuedo journalism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ms. Kelly's book saw me most amusingly through an undisturbed day of jury duty (no, I was not impanelled). The chronicle of Bear Stearns' downfall is melodrama of the highest order and the author details almost to the hour the events of that fateful weekend in the spring of 2008. The cast of characters is colorful, and in the end, however bruised, they all seemed to have remained millionaires (alas, not the underlings). This text is absorbing in detailing the mechanics of how the company crumbled, particularly its final hours. I would have liked, even if as an appendix, deeper and more thorough business analysis of the road to failure, for example, how the two hedge fund bankruptcies in 2007 came about, how the toxic assets were packaged and sold. To make an analogy: we get the riveting story of the Titanic converging with an iceberg on a cold spring night in the north Atlantic and portraits of the colorful characters on board. I would like to know more about how the ship got there, why the ship sank. With this story about Bear Stearns one is left wanting to know more about the business issues and practices involved, not only at Bear Stearns, but elsewhere, e.g. Lehmann. In all fairness, Ms. Kelly has done a fabulous work of reportage in "Street Fighters" and one cannot fault her for not writing a different book from the one she had in mind. What she wrote is splendid. Given all that happened subsequently in the world at large, one cannot help but be "curioser." That book, a sort of Lords of Finance Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World of the current crisis still needs to be written though now it is a bit premature. Then the true relevance of the Bear Stearns debacle and the way it was dealt with by all, including the government, can be adequately assessed. Such work is still a way off, I'm afraid.
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