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The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co. Paperback – April 8, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 756 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767919793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767919791
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 7.9 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

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Customer Reviews

I really got nothing worthwile out of it.
Tom O.
The book reads like a novel with fascinating histories of one of the most secretive and successful of Wall Street's investment firms.
Gordon Bowyer
This book should be a mandatory read in all MBA schools.
Bullelephant

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 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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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Gaucho36 on May 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is a classic "insiders" look at the world of Wall Street and one of its most fabled and tortured partnerships (using the term very loosely given the way they treated each other). If you found the classic late 80s/early 90s books like Barbarians, Liars Poker and others riveting you will be right there again with this extremely well written book.

The level of cooperation the author received is amazing - the partners must all have been quite fearful of their potential portrayal and many of them have eagerly shared their recollections. Woven together these conversations create an incredibly detailed account of what happened and what the various parties were thinking (or scheming) about at various stages. Contrary to some of the other reviews here - I found the book not loaded with rumor but in fact studded with primary accounts.

With the exception of a very detailed review of Lazard's involvment with ITT the book moves at a brisk pace and I "inhaled" it over a couple of days. The ITT section is deeply researched and shows how close Rohaytan came to stepping on the third rail - but it is not the easiest section of the book to read. The final third of the book is absolutely fascinating as Cohan details the imperious Michel being trampled by the despicable Bruce Wasserstein. What goes around comes around.

To fully enjoy this book it helps to have some general awareness of Wall Street - but it is not essential. So much of what transpires is pure human theatre - greed, power,lust - that the setting is less relevant. These characters and their actions could just as easily been depicted by the Bard as by Cohan.

I'm not sure why some of the other reviews so far have been so pointed and critical (not to mention poorly written) - but from this reader with no axe to grind I can highly recommend this book.
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20 of 21 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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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A. Howell on September 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
There is much that is interesting in this detailed story of Lazard, the enigmatic Wall Street M&A advisory firm. However despite the plaudits the book has received (e.g. FT business book of the year for 2007, beating our Alan Greenspan's autobiography), it falls far short of the great Wall Street histories in the tradition of Ron Chernow (on the Morgans) or Niall Ferguson (on the Rothschilds). Cohan is a decent storyteller, but in the end this long narrative fails to do a number of things:

1) Gain more insight into what Lazard bankers actually did. We hear repeatedly about Rohatyn's endless deals but never get a good sense of how he sold the business, what those deals entailed, and what his bankers actually did to earn their enormous fees. In particular I would have liked to learn more about how the nature of M&A advisory work has evolved over the past 50 years (Cohan talks about the 'spreadsheet revolution', but never goes into any detail).

2) Keep the international thread. He starts with a cross-Atlantic perspective with the story of founding of Lazard in France, but following Andre Meyer's move to NY during World War II, he drops the narrative of the British and French firms, only returning to them in passing towards the end of the book. It seems somewhat arbitrary to ignore those Lazards entirely.

3) Talk more about the industry. Cohan is clearly captivated by the big personalities like Meyer and Rohatyn, or scandals like ITT, but he fails to talk much about how the investment banking industry evolves in the post-war period and how other Wall Street firms grew alongside Lazard.

4) The Jewish angle.
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