- Paperback: 592 pages
- Publisher: HarperBus; Reprint edition (December 13, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780060536350
- ISBN-13: 978-0060536350
- ASIN: 0060536357
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 309 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,663,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco Paperback – December 13, 2005
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“It’s hard to imagine a better story...and it’s hard to imagine a better account” (Chicago Tribune)
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“The fascinating inside story of the largest corporate takeover in American history… It reads like a novel.” (Today Show)
“The most piercing and compelling narrative of a deal to date.” (Boston Globe)
“Impressive qualities... delicious scenes... a cinematic yet extraordinarily careful book.” (Ken Auletta, New York Daily News)
From the Back Cover
Barbarians at the Gate has been called one of the most influential business books of all time -- the definitive account of the largest takeover in Wall Street history. Bryan Burrough and John Helyar's gripping account of the frenzy that overtook Wall Street in October and November of 1988 is the story of deal makers and publicity flaks, of strategy meetings and society dinners, of boardrooms and bedrooms -- giving us not only a detailed look at how financial operations at the highest levels are conducted but also a richly textured social history of wealth at the twilight of the Reagan era.
Barbarians at the Gate -- a business narrative classic -- is must reading for everyone interested in the way today's world really works.
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This is a really good book. My only issue with it (and it's really my own mental limitations as opposed to any flaw in the book) is that the cast of characters and companies is so large that I had to re-read sections and take time to digest it all. I got overwhelmed at times and wanted to break out a white board to sketch out an overview. It's a great read though and really hard to put down.
That phrase dots Burrough and Helyar's work - mentioned several times throughout the course of the book- and encapsulates the kind of colorful nonfictional story-telling that's at it's best here. The authors do a masterful job of telling a story about what was the biggest business deal in history and the complexity of the big personalities, big egos, big fees and big everything that encompassed it. From Forstman Little's Crusade Against Junk Bonds (caps intended), to First Boston's out-of-nowhere bid that inevitably set up the KKR win, this book is filled with an abyss of unputdownable plots and subplots that leaves one edu-tained from start to finish.
One of the best things about this book is how effectually the authors try to get inside the heads of the players and mini-players in a manner that adds both color to the story telling and insight into the deal. Like this passage:
"Around eleven o'clock they were joined by Matthew Rosen, the team's thirty-six-year-old tax counsel. Rosen was a lawyer from the 'Thirtysome-thing' crowd: Italian suits, tassled loafers, an office crammed with modern-art [Kandisky likenesses I hear my mind wondering as a reader?], the kind of early 1970s rabble-rouser embarrassed to tell his Swarthmore class reunion he now made millions sniffing out tax loopholes for corporate takeovers".
Some educational takeaways include the role of junk bonds, the intricacies as well as benefits/costs of LBOs with the help of management (i.e. friendly) vs. hostile takeovers, moral hazard/conflicts of interest issues involving banks and financial advisors, the crucial role of good valuation work and thorough due diligence, managing public relations, deal confidentiality, managing Board of Directors relations, information security and bid strategy. Will one be ready to enact one's first billion dollar LBO after completing this book? Not yet. I would Rick Rikerten's Book "Buyout: The Insider's Guide to Buying Your Own Company" if you are looking to gain practical insight on more compact deals for that.
A book I came across entitled, "The New Financial Capitalists: Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and the Creation of Corporate Value" by George Baker and George Davis Smith would also complement the reading of Burrough's and Helyar's book quite well. The latter is a bit more academic than Barbarians At The Gate but it's often both fun and educational to look at some of the same topic matter from different angles.
As far as the history making story emboldened on every page of this book, as the authors say "You couldn't make this stuff up."
Vel primus vel cum primis
The easy larger than life characters are Ross Johnson, Henry Kravis, George Roberts, Peter Cohen, and maybe even Ted Forstmann, but there are so many more. There were so many times a deal could have been put together and most likely should have been, but in each instance it slipped away because one ego or another wanted to carve its initials in the bark of what was then the largest deal in history.
For those of us who are interested in how business really works, this is one of the epics in business history. It begins with the founding of the companies involved and the rather amazing story of how Ross Johnson ended up at the helm of RJR Nabisco. The book also gives plenty of evidence of Wall Streeters seeking out their own interest over their clients' needs and desires and contrary to their own promises and assurances. You will become convinced of the aptness of Ross Johnson's adage about the rules of behavior on Wall Street: "Never play by the rules, never tell the truth, and never pay in cash".
Another of the many things I enjoyed about this book is that the personalities of the major and secondary characters are given enough room to become more than just stick figures. There are times you will want to support them, when you will root for them, when you will be appalled by their behavior and ego, and other times you will laugh until your sides hurt. This isn't a simple story drawn with stick figures. If you want to understand American business, this is one of the stories you simply have to know.
While the movie made from this book is quite good and very funny, it doesn't offer you the full range of characters involved nor the detail of the actual negotiations and how the deal finally came to its strange end. The movie captures the mood and the essentials of the story and that might be enough for most. I recommend the movie for those who want the story in broad strokes. However, if you want to really gain an understanding of how this deal in particular and how business deals in general really come together and fall apart, the book is the way to go. The people involved become more three dimensional in the book and where some events and characters are left out or compressed in the movie the book has the room to let the story be told more fully. It isn't that the book is the ultimate truth (I am sure every person involved could point to things they find inadequate in the book), it is that the authors dug hard, got as much of the truth as they could get to and shared it with us in an intelligent, enlightening and often humorous way.
This is a great book I would recommend to anyone, but it is a must read for students of business.