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The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co. Hardcover – April 3, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This astute if not entirely cohesive debut account from investigative journalist and former banker Cohan chronicles the long metamorphosis of Lazard Frères. Converted from a private partnership to a diversified, publicly traded company in 2005, it was the last great American investment bank to do so. That story intertwines with the career of Felix Rohatyn, Lazard's most famous and influential banker. Readers expecting a comprehensive financial history in the style of Ron Chernow (The House of Morgan) will find the firm's history from its founding as a New Orleans dry goods retailer in 1848 to the early 1960s covered in only two of the 21 chapters. Cohan discusses the following quarter century in more detail, but concentrates almost exclusively on Rohatyn and draws on the general business press. The chapters on the last 20 years contain fascinating and novel information, and rely extensively on the author's personal recollections (he worked at Lazard for six years) and interviews with associates, many of whom remain undisclosed. The result is three incompletely integrated works: a competent history of Lazard, a well-written biography of Rohatyn and an exciting insider's account of Wall Street infighting. (Apr.)
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Review

“Cohan’s portrayal of the firm's dominant partners—whose gargantuan appetites and mercurial habits provide the unifying force behind the book’s operatic melodramas— makes this an epic . . . In fact, The Last Tycoons bears a striking resemblance to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon.”
—New York Times Book Review


“Breezy and highly readable . . . For those of us who enjoy high-level gossip (most people) and an inside look at the machinations, triumphs, failures, and foibles of some of Wall Street’s and America’s most exalted personages, Cohan’s book is entertaining and seductively engrossing.”
Chicago Tribune

“Cohan's thoroughness—he interviewed over 100 current and former bankers and assorted bigwigs—unearths a trove of colourful titbits, many quite racy . . . Illuminating are Mr. Cohan’s descriptions of the scheming, politicking, and general dysfunction that was Lazard.”
—Economist

“Cohan not only knows where the bodies are buried but got a guided tour of the graveyard.”
—Financial Times

“[The Last Tycoons] has sent a jolt through Lazard and the rest of Wall Street.”
—Wall Street Journal


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (April 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385514514
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385514514
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #650,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By B. Jones on May 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
maybe the first casualty of wealth is self-knowledge. that is the takeaway from William Cohan's fine history of the fabled lazard freres banking house. in these pages we watch titans of finance gloat and preen while their castle crumbles from corruption and mismanagement.

Its a terrific story peopled with fascinating characters. who wouldn't, after reading this book, want to dine with the formidable felix rohatyn. He fled the Nazis as a boy, rescued New York from financial ruin and ditched Lazard at just the right moment to serve the nation as Bill Clinton's Ambassador to France. His intellect and achievement dominate the book, just as Felix dominated wall street for a generation. His departure from the firm caps the end of "the great man" era in investment banking. In Rohatyn's day only a select handful of wise men could be trusted to guide transactions. Nowadays all you need is armani and a spread sheet.

Even as he maps the tectonic movement in investment banking, Cohan keeps it light with plenty of well-researched dish on criminal investigations, love affairs, fabulous art collections, New Yorkana and the occasional drop to earth by some of Lazard's wax-winged partners. I closed the book -- a whopping 750 pp's -- edified and thoroughly entertained.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By CJA VINE VOICE on May 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
Cohan has done an extraodinary amount of research, and this enables him to paint a vivid picture of the leading personalities at Lazard as well as to capture the firm's quirky culture. But, with the exception of its blistering account of the current Lazard leader, Wasserstein, the reader doesn't get a good sense of exactly what these investment bankers do during their day jobs. What is the nature of their advice, do they earn their keep, and with the benefit of history do they give the right advice? Other than Wasserstein, whom Cohan criticizes as dead wrong and completely mercenary throughout his career, we don't get a good sense of how these bankers do their work.

Absent that insight, and this may be difficult insight to deliver given the nature of the advice and surrounding circumstances, the book tends to degenerate into gossip. Anyone who has worked in a professional firm can, of course, relate to Lazard's dysfunctional culture and can appreciate the value of rainmaking over hard work. So this is quite interesting and perhaps useful gossip. But the real question presented by Lazard is just what do these bankers do and are they errant fiduciaries who take advantage of their influence over a deal to drive it at all costs so as to ensure ridiculously high fees?

With respect to Wasserstein, Cohan's contempt shines through. He does seem to represent everything that is wrong with Wall Street, though in fairness to him, his IPO of Lazard has worked out far better than I would have thought.

The author seems more favorably disposed to Rohatyn, Ratner, and Meyer, though there is not enough data about the specific deals they worked on to draw a conclusion.

This is an interesting book that is very well written and that gives some real insight into the workings of a famous Wall Street firm. But it ultimately does not grapple with the larger issues presented by the business or offer any suggestions for change.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Coriolanus on May 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A very thorough, though at times sensationalist and gossipy, tale of Wall Street's most intriguing investment house. However, I was sad to see the early history of the firm get short shrift in favor of an intricate string of anecdotes about the personal lives of various senior bankers. In that respect, historians will be largely disappointed but those who enjoy war stories of the rough and tumble 80's and 90's M&A banking environment ala "Barbarians" should enjoy it. Still, it appears that at times that Cohan is almost too eager to dramatize people and events to weave together a compelling story, and in doing so he migrates to a brand of yellow journalism that can be off-putting at times. Nevertheless, the book is generally well-written and captures both the glory and folly of powerful men in a unique and conspicuous way. To call it a comprehensive history, though, would be misleading as it really weights heavy toward the firm of 20 years ago and appears greatly colored by his own personal experience, for better or worse.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By C. Wu on May 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Cohan has brought to life a vivid and spellbinding tale of the legendary giants in the investment banking field (Meyer, Rohatyn, David-Weill, Rattner, and Wasserstein) at Lazard, offering a compelling and revealing portrait of the relentless personalities that invented, dominated and defined the last few decades of M&A banking. At the same time, The Last Tycoons is, at its core, a saga of ambition, egotism, greed, vanity and pride of Shakespearean proportions played out on the grand stage of corporate takeovers and national politics.

What emerges is not a noble picture of what these ostensibly "Great Men" purported themselves to be. Instead, it is apparent that at Lazard, the black arts of power and greed were the currency used to exhort and extort men of high ambition and intellect to achieve stature and enormous fees. The long shadow of Andre Meyer (unquestionably a Sith Lord) looms over the Lazard partnership and his protégés and successors, Felix Rohatyn and Michel David-Weill. Meyer was a brilliant financier with no peer with the exception of Bruce Wasserstein and it's fitting and deserving that the story of Lazard begins and ends with these two men. In between, Michel and Felix weave a complex and fascinating legacy of fear and loathing in the intervening decades.

For bankers and professionals in the field, Cohan's detail and emotional and psychological nuances will be tantalizing and relevant. For those aspiring to enter the field, it's a cautionary tale - it's very hard to play on the big stage on Wall St without darkening your soul. This story is destined to be a Classic amongst Barbarians and Den of Thieves
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