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The Devil's Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers Paperback – April 5, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

They were the Rat Pack of Wall Street. Four close friends: one a decorated war hero, one an emotional hippie, and two regular guys with big hearts, big dreams, and noble aims. They were going to get rich on Wall Street. They were going to prove that men like them ? with zero financial training - could more than equal the Ivy-League-educated white shoe bankers who were the competition. They were going to create an institution for men like them -- men who were hungry and untrained ? and they were going to win, but not at the cost of their souls.

In short, they were going to be the good guys of finance.

Under their watch, Lehman Brothers started to grow and became independent again in 1994. But something had gone wrong on the journey. The men slowly, perhaps inevitably, changed. As Lehman Brothers grew, so too did the cracks in and among the men who had rebuilt it.

Ward takes you inside Lehman's highly charged offices. You'll meet beloved leaders who were erased from the corporate history books, but who could have taken the firm in a very different direction had they not fallen victim to infighting and their own weaknesses. You will encounter an unlikely and almost unknown Marcus Brutus, who may have had more to do with Lehman?s failings than anyone?including Dick Fuld, who has widely been considered the poster-child for the mistakes and greed of all bankers.

What Ward uncovers is that Lehman may have lost at the risky games of collateralized debt obligations, swaps, and leverage but that was just the end of a bigger story. "Little Lehman" was the Wall Street shop known to be forever fighting for its life and somehow succeeding. On Wall Street it was cheekily known as "the cat with nine lives." But this cat pushed its luck too far -- and died, the victim of men and women blinded by arrogance. Come inside The Devil's Casino and see how good men lose their way, and see how a firm that rose with the glory and bravado of Icarus fell burning in flames not so much from a sun, but from a match lit from within.

Amazon Exclusive: Q&A with Author Vicky Ward

The Devil’s Casino traces the history of the players and the company in a way that makes the fall of Lehman seem inevitable. Would you agree with that statement and why or why not?
Yes I would. I don’t think that the way Lehman was run was sustainable in the long-term. You cannot run a major securities firm without tolerating dissent or change at the top. Lehman’s “one firm” culture that made it so great when it was a tiny sub-division of a much larger entity became its nemesis when it was a stand-alone investment bank. Anyone who disagreed with Dick Fuld, or more importantly, the firm’s day-to-day manager Joe Gregory was either fired or quit. That is not the way Goldman Sachs is run, nor JP Morgan Chase. In those houses the CEOs seek out all sorts of different views in their senior executives. At Lehman anyone who argued about risk management was shoved aside. Eventually that position is not tenable.

Discuss some of the people you were able to talk to throughout the writing process. Do you have a favorite interview or experience during the process?
Well, I loved talking to Peter A. Cohen because he’s famous (to readers of Barbarians at the Gate) as being one of the most terrifying cigar-chomping bankers on The Street but I found him rather charming. He still carries his cigar. He just doesn’t smoke it anymore!

I also really enjoyed meeting Bob Steel, the former Treasury Undersecretary. I found him to be a very thoughtful judge of character who had a very large perspective not just on Wall Street but on the world. Hank Paulson too was really terrific. Very blunt, and actually very, very funny! When he told me that he used to tell Goldman Sachs bankers “listen, everyone hates you except your mother – and if you are lucky – your wife” it was hilarious! He was making the point that bankers become their own worst enemies if they are ostentatious – which he most certainly is not.

Some of the best interviews were off the record so I cannot say who they were with but I talked to some people so often that I felt my life would be dramatically different once the book was over: it would be very odd not to talk to them all the time.

I also did love Karin and Bradley Jack. Karin Jack has got to have the funniest sense of humor in a Wall Street wife I’ve ever heard – and I loved the fact that her ex-husband actually backed up everything she said (which was essentially how grim it was to be a Lehman wife!). They were a terrific pair.

And then there were just some fabulous people who really saw things straight and put me straight. John Cecil, Lehman’s former CFO, was painstakingly patient with me. I really owe him. And Tom Hill, the vice-chairman of Blackstone was a man I came to greatly admire. Even though Dick Fuld had shafted him back in 1993, he had a lot of sympathy for the Lehman people and I think really felt the tragedy of the firm’s collapse.

Share with us one of your key takeaways from your experience writing The Devil’s Casino.
Weirdly, that not all bankers are bad and that there are many shades of grey on Wall Street; it isn’t black and white. I think there was a lot of good and bravery in some of the protagonists of the book, and not all of them chose to take the Machiavellian path to ultimate power and riches, no matter what the risk or cost. Tom Tucker is an unsung hero: the former head of sales, who grew horrified at what they’d all turned into and gave back his bonus and set up a non-profit foundation for underprivileged children. Dick Fuld, too, actually was a very moral man, whose mistakes, I think were more unintentional, than intentional for the most part. This doesn’t excuse him. It just makes the story more interesting.

What are the implications for the future, post-Lehman and post-crash?
Well, to be honest, not good. I think the book is really a kind of morality-tale. It shows us how the best intentions go astray and how the will to acquire, to succeed, is in the end a force of human nature and is rarely tempered and overcome. I think the book shows that no matter what the “rules” or “regulations” are on the Street, clever or hungry bankers have always historically found a way around them. So I think that we will see history repeated – probably not tomorrow. But eventually – yes. Doesn’t history always get repeated? Isn’t that the irony of humanity?

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"Contains some fascinating pen-portraits of Lehman's characters—Mr Fuld and his sycophantic court . . . ." (The Economist Online)

"Ward sheds light on the four childhood friends who planned to take the financial world by storm while keeping their heads on their shoulders, and how quickly the second part of the play fell by the wayside amidst a brutal corporate coup and bumbling mismanagement that brought the firm down. The Devil's Casino serves as both an impressive work of investigative journalism and a cautionary tale of the culture surrounding American finance." (The Daily Beast)

"Ward's book is rich on details . . . when Ward connects the dots, the rough conclusion she comes up with is that fatal flaws of Fuld's culture brought Lehman down." (Reuters)

"A fascinating, deftly paced tale." (Metro.co.uk)

"Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Vicky Ward serves up a book about an investment bank that is a spicy, dishy dish . . . Ward builds a convincing case that duplicity and betrayal in the mid-'90s eventually led to the demise of Lehman Brothers." (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

"…The Devil's Casino has everything readers might want to know about the personal foibles and shopping habits of key Lehman leaders and their wives…a fascinating read." (Financial Times)

"What's remarkable about this narrative is that Ward...manages to humanize many of the central figures involved in the rise and fall of one of Wall Street’s largest firms, offering profound insight into the titans of finance whose recklessness, greed, and competitiveness brought the US economy to the brink of collapse. The story plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy (Ward even includes a "Cast of Characters") in which the very principles upon which the firm was built prove to be its undoing. . . The Devil's Casino. offers a fascinating glimpse into the culture of one of the most powerful firms on Wall Street. One hopes that the history it chronicles will also serve as a cautionary tale for the financial industry's still-uncertain future." (The Boston Globe)

"In a terrific book Vicky Ward takes us into the heart of the denial machine. Hers is the story of Lehman Brothers, then Wall Street's fourth largest investment bank, soon to be its biggest casualty. . . Ward takes us into the world of these bankers, and shows us the lives they were leading in the years before the crash. At first, they saw themselves as "good guys" – bankers who would not become blinded by greed. But then they began to see how much money could be made and their lifestyles changed. They did not seem to be their old selves any more. This is what Ward does so well: she shows us the world of private jets and helicopters, the women with personal shoppers and shelves full of unworn shoes. She shows us how it is that people, even though they are multi-millionaires, can still have an addict's desperation for money." (The Guardian)

In the fall of 2008, the 150-year-old financial institution Lehman Brothers spectacularly melted down. The liquefied remains then ignited, joining the worldwide conflagration that became the great recession that is now either over or not, depending on whom you talk to. In short order, a host of formerly rock-solid institutions showed cracks that ran all the way from their foundations to the aeries occupied by their greedy, ineffective senior management. Firms that once represented all that was trustworthy in our financial system teetered, then fell. Even insurance companies that were responsible for the welfare of others were revealed to be the oldest permanent floating craps game in New York.

"Vicky Ward's "The Devil's Casino" is an able new entrant into this crowded genre, and people who hate losers who are not their friends should enjoy it very much. It chronicles the sad and messy end of the House of Lehman in a relatively terse and fast-moving 270 pages, making it a mere social X-ray of a book by today's standards of nonfiction heft, which often rivals the unsecured debt load of a failed bank. Ward carefully and skillfully tracks the last 25 or so years of the great, doomed enterprise, and her portrait of a business entity is often engaging, spicy and amusing. I particularly enjoyed the horror stories about those few, strategically challenged souls who had the temerity not to learn golf. Theirs was a demise that only outsiders to our fascist corporate golfing culture can appreciate. And the tick-tock of deals, fads, decisions and transactions that took place over a very long time can be exciting. The book also does a fine job of sketching several outlandishly banal individuals who rose to prominence in the firm and ultimately were responsible, each in a different way, for its demise." (The Washington Post)

"Vicky Ward is a British export to New York, with a degree in English Literature – and it shows. She writes stylishly and she understands, unlike other authors who have rushed into print with accounts of the financial crisis, that enduring literature is not created by unravelling transactions but by illuminating complex personalities." (Mail on Sunday)

“Vicky Ward's The Devil's Casino is an able. entrant into this crowded genre, and people who hate losers who are not their friends should enjoy it very much. It chronicles the sad and messy end of the House of Lehman in a relatively terse and fast-moving 270 pages. Ward carefully and skillfully tracks the last 25 or so years of the great, doomed enterprise, and her portrait of a business entity is often engaging, spicy and amusing. The book also does a fine job sketching several outlandishly banal individuals who rose to prominence in the firm and ultimately were responsible, each in a different way, for its demise.” (Stanley Bing, The Free Press)

“A terrific tale of the weird and not‑so‑wonderful world of Lehman Brothers: the personalities, the bonuses, and best of all the backstabbing politics of the Louboutin-shod bankers' Wags. The now-vilified former CEO, Richard Fuld , is portrayed not just as the aggressive "Gorilla" of Wall Street lore but as a human sponge who absorbed the attributes of smarter colleagues to the point of stealing their entire personality.” (The Guardian)

“The Devil’s Casino, well researched, chatty, lively, sets itself up as a successor to Greed and Glory on Wall Street, Ken Auletta’s 1986 book about Lehman. But the clichés of business articles are too frequent here: standing ovations on the trading floor, the rich wife’s shoe collection and so on. . . as she charts the rivalries of life on Wall Street, Ward entertains with rich detail: the rough-edged Fuld taking elocution lessons and copying the nail-clipping habits of a smoother senior whose job he desires; Henry Kissinger at a board meeting, stirring his iced tea with a pencil. Ward shows that more than two dec­ades ago, Lehman was developing dodgy habits that would cause trouble later. For example, it used a secret cash cushion known as “Dick’s reserve” to polish its results at the end of each quarter. The book skillfully depicts the lives lived in the background of great clashing events. And it also hints at what Wall Street has become since the crisis, at the apparent dominance of two survivors, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.” (The New York Times)

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 111801149X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118011492
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #620,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vicky Ward (New York, NY) has been a contributing editor to Vanity Fair since 2001, specializing in investigative reporting. She has profiled, among others, Jean-Marie Messier, Carly Fiorina, CIA agent Valerie Plame, businesswoman Louise MacBain, Morgan Stanley, the late Bruce Wasserstein, counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke, François Pinault, the Getty, the Guggenheim, the Fairfield Greenwich Group (the Madoff feeder fund), Brooke Astor, and Kate Moss. Ward is a weekly columnist for the Huffington Post, and a contributor to CNBC. She was previously the executive editor of Talk magazine. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Financial Times, the London Times, and the Daily Telegraph. A native Briton, in 1994, Ward was the runner-up for the Catherine Pakenham Award, Britain's most prestigious award for young women writers. She holds a master's in English literature from Cambridge University and has lived in New York City since 1997.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Jack Newman on April 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I spent 33 years at Lehman. As a VP and only a foot soldier, I witnessed from a distance much of what transpired at Lehman. I saw Dick, Chris, Joe, et al. "grow up" in the business. I saw and heard much of the yelling and screaming and phone tossing and banging on the desks over the years. Until, we became more civilized as we got down to the business of "one firm" and making money. While reading The Devil's Casino I enjoyed being able to match the faces to most if not all of the characters. I am in no position to pass judgment on anyone, nevertheless it does not diminish my disappointment in the actions by many of those I knew so well.
I'd like to share two anecdotes about Chris Pettit. In one of his town hall meetings he said to the sales and trading team, and I'm paraphrasing, Come in each day write a few tickets, make some money and if your not being productive at 4:30 pm go home to your family get a good nights rest and come in the next morning ready to do it again. Don't rush out an by the Ferrari and the home in the Hamptons just yet. Another and more personal anecdote occured during the 1987 stock market crash. As horrible as Oct 19, Black Monday, was for me, Tueday Oct 20, 1987 was horrific. I was responsible for funding the Money Market business. We were short prior to the crash in a rising interest environment. Until the Fed came in and provided liquidity forcing interest rates much lower. We had to scramble to cover our shorts and even got long the market. We needed to finance these positions when many repo customers and banks were running for the hills. Nevertheless we got the job done and successfully funded the firm. At 6 pm that evening as the dust was clearing I felt a hand on my shoulder and as I looked up there was Chris Pettit saying to me "good job". Senior management should never have left the trading floors. The ivory tower did not suit them. I'm sure things would have been different. The book was a quick and fun read. Life goes on.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By RWB on April 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book after watching the author on Imus In the Morning. He had read the book and raved about it several times on shows after the interview.

Not having any direct or indirect knowledge about Lehman Bros, I had no idea how accurate the author portrayed its downfall. I read the book because it promised to be a captivating and entertaining account of high powered people being brought down thanks to greed and hunger for power.

The first three quarters of the book were well written and easily comprehended by anyone, regardless of their familiarity with stocks, bonds, and all the rest. However, the last 50 or so pages were more obscure and far less interesting to the average reader. It almost seemed as if the author just wanted to pad the book's length and/or was anxious to bring it to an end.

What really threw me was the author's Note About the Sources at the end. She used an old tape recorder for her many interviews, and then had to re-interview some of the same people because of its faulty performance. She acknowledged even having "bungled" the operation of her replacement recorder.

This kind of sloppiness for a first time writer might be understandable, but Vicky Ward is not a beginning writer. Her credentials include investigative reporting, so you would think she would have been better prepared before setting off to write a major book on a major event.

She says she "had no idea of what it takes to write a book." After digesting these caveats, I realized that what I had just read may or may not be totally accurate and frankly I felt cheated by all the hype this book received.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Cryhten Langhorn on April 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is long on gossip and short on facts. More important, it offers irrelevant conjecture rather than any kind of insight based on what happened at Lehman Brothers. I've been eagerly reading many of the books on the financial crisis and this is the worst so far. Even Lawrence McDonald's book on Lehman, which was bloated with insignificant details, delivered more. Don't waste your time. There are too many other good books out there ranging from the well-known (Too Big To Fail) to the more obscure (Uncontrolled Risk).
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ixion on April 13, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've always enjoyed reading Vicky's articles and comments when she's on TV. And when she claims to have had access to private notes written by the very Lehman principals at the heart of the fiasco, it looked like a "must read"...

I first read the Vanity Fair excerpt (about the travails of being a Lehman wife). It's interesting and amusing (in a Page 6 kind of way), and I assumed the whole book would be more of the same. It does seem that most of the culprits (and their wives and families) have been permanently disgraced and are no longer welcome as VIP members of exclusive foundations, clubs, and charities. However since they still have the multi-million dollars (in some cases hundreds of millions), it's hard to be very sympathetic.

Unfortunately, most of the book seems to be a rehash of several other books (esp. Charlie Gasparino's) that are already out there. I find the whole Lehman mess hard to understand (though I think I have figured out most of it), and didn't find this book's explanations particularly clear.

To be fair, she does give credits to these books in the appendix and footnotes, and I suppose many readers of this book haven't and won't read any others.

I agree with some other observations that the book seems to have been rushed to print before the whole Lehman fiasco fades from memory. The Valukas Lehman Chapter 11 Examiner's report (released after this book came out) gives many more details on all the Lehman financial shenanigans. And, since most of them though dubious were actually legal, one suspects this won't be the last messy bankruptcy to have a bunch of books written about it....
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The Devil's Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers
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