Top critical review
34 people found this helpful
Good, but not great
on July 6, 2004
I have mixed feelings about this book but the overwhelming one is disappointment. Underneath, there is a tremendous story that begs, and needs, to be told, but unfortunately Mr Mezrich, for whatever reason, does not tell it. Im a pop-history junkie and I work in the financial industry so I was doubly excited about this book. I was expecting a detailed, inside account of a little known slice of recent financial history, something akin to Liar's Poker. But what this book provides is far short of that expectation. For one, the names of all the main players and pertinent details of their lives, except for the big dogs who could not be disguised like Joe Jett or Nick Leeson, are altered so you never really grow an attachment or a bond to any of the characters. "John Malcolm", the main character, is a made up name. My first thought was that these guys were in to something so juicy that in order to protect their lives their true identities couldnt be revealed. Mezrich even says this. So Im waiting all book to find out what it was. At the end of it, I was still waiting. Sure the book gives you a peep into the wild, rock-star lives of these "hedge fund cowboys", but thats all you get, a peep. As far as I can tell, the main characters ran a hedge fund in Japan that may or may not have been funded by the Yakuza (the Japanese mob) and because the main guy who ran the fund was so feared in Japan and southeast Asia, they were able to acquire favors and inside info which allowed them to make a killing. But you never find out why a skinny pasty white ivy-league American guy is so feared in Japan. So the book in essence is a work of fiction based on factual data and thus in no way at all has any historical worth. It's like a movie thats "based" on actual events - its flashy and entertaining, but it has to be in order to sell. The true events are similar and there is some overlap, but thats it. So where as in Liar's Poker, you learn about the actual guys on Wall Street in their actual firms doing the deeds that altered history, in Ugly Americans, you get small pieces that pique your attention and get you hungry but never really satisfy your appetite.
Plus its such a fast and easy read, that I finished it in 2 days.
Shawn Carkonen's review for Amazon says it best "Though there is little real analysis of their financial dealings and how they ultimately changed the rules of finance in Asia, this entertaining page turner does offer a glimpse into a world little explored in print until now." I was expecting the analysis of their dealings and its effect on the Asian financial markets, as well as the lifestyle portion. It was entertaining, and it is something that has never been in print before, but there is a lot that still could be put to print.