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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.
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on May 18, 2004
I was a fan of BDTH, but there are several significant problems with this book. I work at a hedge fund that invests in Asian markets and the discussion of "hedge funds" and Asian markets is superficial, at best. Please don't read this book and think that you have any relavent knowledge of either of those topics. Secondly, there are little details that the author did not research very well and that just destroy his credibility. For example, Ivy League schools do not give athletic scholarships. It is one of the conditions of being in the Ivy League athletic conference, a conference that prides itself on "scholar athletes." For this reason it would be difficult to get a "full ride" for football at Princeton. Another example, foreigners are not allowed to rent cars in Bermuda. That is why everyone rides those vespas around everywhere. I know these are minor details, but they destory the credibility of the author. When you change the details of someone's story you have to do the research to make sure the new persona makes sense. Lucky Mezrich isn't creating cover stories for a CIA spy, or they would surely be dead. Finally, I think the discussion of the sex trade is relevant to the story, but somewhat gratuitous and cliche.
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on August 5, 2005
I work in FX trading and I loved this book, unlike the previous reviewer. I also though Mezrich did a good job at giving a cursory explaination of the hedge fund industry and trading. Is it perfect? No, but hey, there are many books written on the industry, this is a story about a person within the industry. Also, they don't give Athletic scholarships to people at Ivies, but they do give academic scholarships to grossly underqualified individuals. It happens, maybe not that often, but it does. Also, Michael Lerch (Malcom) lives in Hawaii. So Bermuda obviously being a cover for the real location...

Overall, great book, fun read, but not overly technical.
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on June 1, 2004
Its billed as a non-fiction book of finance in the "wild east" but its really a nice work of fiction that's really about the personal story of an American living in Japan and his life in bars and strip clubs. If you know anything about trading or hedge funds, there isn't enought to satisfy you, but its a nice backdrop to the one-dimentinal character's story. Definately a quick fast fun read...sure to be a movie. But don't read it as a work of non-fiction finance or insights into investing. I reccomend it just as a fun fast summer book.
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on February 27, 2005
I was excited to read this book: 1) the same author as the compelling Bringing Down the House, and 2) a plot about hedge funds -- a topic of personal and professional interest to me. The excitement dwindled fast.

Ben Mezrich is a very average writer. He tries too hard at times to describe a different world, only to lose all crediblity in the eyes of those actually familiar with that world. He doesn't trust the imagination (or intelligence) of his reader, whom he constantly talks down -- perhaps a Harvard-learned trait.

Mezrich needs to get over his lovefest for Ivy league schools and their students. People who attend the Ivies are smart, but so too are the students of another 50 or so US institutions. It gets sickening after a while to read his constant, self-congratulatory fawning over the Ivies. (For the record, I have met far fewer people in the hedge fund world from the Ivies than I have from schools like UVA, Michigan, and Chicago.)

The plot of Ugly Americans seems very forced. If someone had told me this story over dinner, I certainly wouldn't have felt compelled to turn it into a book or a movie. The details don't hold together at all, and even if they did, they wouldn't be fascinating either to those versed or unversed with hedge fund strategies.

Overall, this book didn't disappoint me strictly because of Mezrich's superficial understanding or explanation of hedge fund strategies. It disappointed me because it is poorly written and weakly characterized. It disappointed me because it wasted my scarcest resource, free time. It disappointed me because I really did enjoy BDTH, but now my view of that compelling read is tarnished too.
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on June 1, 2004
One reviewer stated: "I look forward to the movie starring Matt Damon."
The same thought ran through my head as read the book, right down to Matt Damon as the protagonist. He'd be perfect for the role.
I bought the book to read on the plane ride home and I finished it the next day. IMO it's a quick, exciting read because the storyline and characters are intriguing.
Some reviewers here have given the book a lackluster review because, while categorized as a non-fiction piece, is lacking accurate details in regards to hedge funds. While I do not deal with hedge funds and have little to base the story's facts against, the author did state that he had to hide identities and details in order protect the real life people that the story is based on. Therefore readers who are educated with hedge funds or Ivy League particulars will likely pickup on inconsistencies.
I bought the book because I wanted to read a story that grabbed my attention and never let go. IMO the author fulfilled my purpose for this book.
For those of you looking to start a career in hedge funds, apply to an Ivy League university, or move to Tokyo, you may want to do further research beyond just reading this book. For the rest of you looking for a non-stop ride of a young American thrown into the Japanese business culture, you will get your money's worth with this quick read.
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on July 1, 2004
Not sure how much of the book is fiction and how much real, but it does make a fun and exciting reading. I counldnt put it down and was behind on rest of my assignments becuase I had to finish this book. Reads like a very exciting and fun fiction . If you like life in investment banking and finance and are not too stuck on every technical detail then you will be entertained by this story.
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on November 8, 2006
I caught an interview w/ Mezrich on the radio in which he was discussing his two MIT/Vegas related books. He made it sound like those books went into a decent amount of detail as to the mechanics of what those people were doing to make their money. When looking up those books, I came across Ugly Americans. Based on the subtitle, and the author's summation of his other books, I expected a decent amount of insight into the financial instruments and the methods these "cowboys" were employing to make their money.

I was wrong. The book reads like a work of fiction, and it seemed any info related to how the trading practices worked was out of obligation only, which left me feeling a bit let down. The focus of the book is clearly on the ex-pat lifestyle and Asian water trade culture. This made for an entertaining, easy read that would translate well to a movie, but it's not the behind-the-scenes look at how the Americans took advantage of the system that it promises to be.
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on November 19, 2015
I am biased because I really like this author's other works The reason why I enjoy his other works is that they bring you into a world that you may not necessarily see in your everyday happenings. The book brings you into a world where high earning individuals ade both young and reckless. It captures a snapshot in time where eastern markets were exploited for the benefits of the few and it really highlights how fast money influences activities in a world where Westerners are far away from home.
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on May 30, 2005
This book is a very entertaining fictionalized account of "John Malcolm" (apparently based on 1993 Princeton graduate Michael Lerch), a Princeton football player who moved to Japan to take a job as a derivatives trader under "Dean Carney" at Kidder Peabody in Osaka, but leaving after the scandal involving Joseph Jett. He then goes to work for Barings Securities of Singapore, only to see it collapse after the illicit trading of Nick Leeson, and goes to work at "Carney"'s own firm, called ASC. At ASC, he has run-ins with the Yakuza, falls in love with the daughter of the owner of a hostess bar in Tokyo, and ultimately makes the deal-of-all-deals to get out of the business.

It is clear that there has been massive fictionalization in the book, apparently based on the author's visit(s) to Japan. One example of fiction is an anachronism on p. 21, which supposedly takes place in September 1992. Mezrich writes that Malcolm visits a Rappongi district bar in Tokyo "called Gas Panic and, like a lot of things in Japan, the name didn't make any sense unless you were there." Mezrich misses the fact that this bar (a popular place for foreigners in Tokyo, there are actually several of them) is named after the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995.

Mezrich was quoted in a Boston Globe profile (August 8, 2004) as saying that he is creating a new genre of "young people making tons of money at the edge of ethics and morality." That profile described his works in this genre as "imaginatively enhanced nonfiction," and quoted him as saying that he'd like to live like characters in his books (the seven-figure advance for this one, along with the movie options on this and Bringing Down the House couldn't hurt), and that he has trouble with/lacks interest in the fact-checking part of his work. The book includes a fair amount of description of the Japanese "Water Trade" (sex-related businesses), including hostess bars and "image clubs."

Regardless of the degree of accuracy, this is a fast-paced and entertaining book that reads like a novel.
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