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American Sucker Hardcover – January, 2004

3.2 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"I wanted to be wealthy," Denby bluntly admits near the end of this absorbing memoir of the dot-com boom and bust. "I didn't make it." Like millions of other amateur investors in 2000 and 2001, Denby (Great Books) was swept along by greed, by the nearly messianic belief that the stock market offered easy opportunities for unlimited prosperity. Denby sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Nasdaq, digested unhealthy amounts of CNBC and the Wall Street Journal and forged friendships with some of the era's brightest stars (and, later, its most public criminals). He lost his balance in the excess of the time-stock tickers in strip clubs; parties at executives' lofts-and then lost his money when the market crashed. ("The ax had swung," Denby writes, "and heads lay all over the ground.") Though exceedingly well written, Denby's portrait of the great "Dot Con" generally echoes the sentiments of other, similarly themed books about the period. The work is more appealing when Denby focuses on himself: he had nearly suffered a nervous breakdown when his wife of 18 years left him, and making enough money to buy out her share of their apartment was his initial motivation for investing in the market. Denby brutally details his decline, from a night of impotence to an affair with a married woman, then a six-month obsession with Internet porn-harrowing stuff for a New Yorker staff writer. His dissection of his own Upper West Side narcissism offers some of the most candid critiques of the Manhattan bourgeoisie ever found outside of a Woody Allen film. More of Denby, and less of the Nasdaq, would have made this good book even better.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

"[N]obody really wants to read about his own foolishness," notes the Wall Street Journal. "Or write about it." Except Denby. How did this smart man (and author of Great Books) become a half-witted speculator? Denby, simultaneously whiny, pedantic, and giddy as befits the boom and bust cycle he recounts, charts his personal transformation. At best, American Sucker is an honest, well-written memoir about marriage, professional responsibility, and love and loss--even if his attempt to grapple with philosophers and put his journey into a larger framework fails. At worst, it's a meandering, journalistic piece that reveals Denby's everlasting belief in the American dream--a dream readers will be smart to question.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (January 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316192945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316192941
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,746,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Having read a good but cautionary review when the book came out and having an interest in the topic, I waited for a copy at the local library. Good idea. Buying this book to learn something about investing would be like buying the stocks Denby chose to make money. At least the reader's intentions or motives would be a bit more rational. Denby apparently has watched too many movies and read too many great books. What he really needed was some good common sense.

The title is misleading. Denby's entire downfall is not based on his being "American" or a "sucker". Yes, he was greedy and willing to be gullible. He waxes eloquent on greed and envy. But these are besides the point. Yes, he listened to precisely the wrong people. But his initial, critical, deadly mistake was to assume that he could make a million dollars in one year by not doing anything other than "invest". He was greedy, envious, naive, uninformed and lazy. He wanted so much to make that million that he ignored red flags, warning bells, and first-year business student advice on investing.

He has a cynical view of investing, based on Keynes' observations as to the risks involved. That pretty much explains how he thinks he can make a million in one year just by buying technology stocks in 2000. Denby also decides that taking risks means being irrational, that progress requires irrational behavior. What he fails to do is to listen even to the people who he indirectly accuses of having duped him; even Henry Blodgett told Denby to be more careful. Denby seems convinced that Alan Greenspan's effort to raise interest rates was the market's true undoing, This is a bad case of denial from the recent dot.com bust debacle.
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Format: Hardcover
It is depressing to read Denby's account of the bursting of the bubble. It is even more so when it is framed against the disintegration of his family after his wife leaves him and he tries to take care of their two boys and maintain a home for them. The experience tears him up.
The American Sucker is also about the people (Henry Blodgett, Sam Waiskal, etc) that he met during the boom and how they let him down, as well as his obsession with the rising market in spite of all that he knew and all that he had studied. There are passages of insight but there is nothing funny about any of them.
It became a "necessity " of sorts for him to profit from the boom, as he wanted to collect a goodly sum to buy his wife's share of their West Side apartment. Greed and desire got the better of him and so he hung on when the world around him was collapsing.
He was aware of all that too. He knew what was happening. He knew how to extricate himself. Still he kept making mistakes, kept up the hope for the turnaround that never came.
Denby is well read, of course. He reflects on Aristotle, Veblen, the Greenspan logic, and economic theory, He asks good questions, fundamental ones. He learned from the experience. We all did.
He is cognizant of the danger of dismissing bad news, how easy it is to become blind to evidence contrary to your own views, or ignore the tell-tale signs of corporate malfeasance.
And so the bubble burst. It was amusing to recall those days, those heady days that come, if you are lucky, once in your lifetime.
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Format: Hardcover
This is not just a book about finance, though at first glance it would be easy enough to mistake it for one. The clever cover design resembles a stock ticker, and if you dip into the opening pages, you will learn that this story begins with author and critic David Denby's goal of making a million dollars. Denby wasn't seeking wealth merely for the sake of wealth; at the beginning of 2000, his wife had told him their marriage was at an end. Denby became obsessed with the idea of holding onto the seven-bedroom Manhattan apartment he had shared with her and their two sons. If only he could ride the seemingly steadily rising tide of the stock market and make that million, he could buy out her share and preserve their home.
Denby is a long-time film critic (New York magazine, The New Yorker) and author of "Great Books," a passionate account of his return to college in middle age to rediscover the seminal works of western civilization. Although ostensibly about his financial quest, the reader slowly discovers this book is really about his quest to rebuild and maintain a meaningful life. He comes under the spell of New Economy stars who would fall mightily within a couple of years, including ImClone founder Sam Waksal and Merrill Lynch Internet analyst Henry Blodget. Denby adopted a course he knew was risky (though how risky, he didn't realize) by focusing on new technologies such as ImClone's cancer drugs and the firms producing the tools that would usher in the true Information Superhighway, with the entire contents of the Library of Congress transmitted to the other side of the globe at light speed.
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