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Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street's Wildest Con Paperback – July 9, 2013

3.8 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Lawson [has] found gold…This is a fantastic story, in both senses of the word, with a freshness that recalls Liars Poker.”
Bryan Burrough, New York Times

“Read this book to understand Wall Street…Someone is going to Octopus into a movie. By this time next year, Lawson will have a fat deal…The reason for that is that Octopus is an incredible dark comedy with one of the craziest true-life ironic twists you can possibly imagine."
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

"Lively...turns a lens on the fast and loose ways of Wall Street...would make an excellent gift for a regulatory complicance officer...or a shrink."
Bloomberg Businessweek

"Lawson's spellbinding account of Sam Israel's rise and fall is a phantasmagoric trip through the larcenous outer reaches (as well as the dark heart) of the world of finance.  Octopus made me worry that I was being followed or swindled."
Nick Paumgarten, New Yorker

“A cautionary tale of the highly sophisticated, often endemic fraud that still lurks on Wall Street…I was riveted by Mr. Lawson’s telling…the story is mind-boggling.”
Andrew Sorkin, New York Times (Dealbook)

“Entertaining…a colorful contemporary story about greed and ambition warping judgment, about con men duping other con men…replete with secret markets, shady intelligence operatives, and even a space alien that overdosed on ice cream.”
Reuters

“Full on Twilight Zone…features not just rampant fraud but guns, supposed CIA double agents, drugs, JFK’s assassination, and oh yes, world domination. Did I mention that this is a nonfiction book?...An outrageous but definitely movie-worthy tale. Lawson’s reporting is prodigious.”
Fortune

“Like The Sting…An astounding story that forces you to remind yourself that this actually happened not ten years ago, to real people with real money.”
Maclean’s

“[Features] a series of spy-thriller escapades that could have been plucked from a Jason Bourne movie…More fun and thrilling than any work of journalism about hedge funds has the right to be.”
Canadian Business

“An inside look at a savage tribal society [of Wall Street traders] that also reminds one of that rollicking farce concocted by Mel Brooks, ‘The Producers’… Brings to life one of the most colorful, and often engaging, con men of this or any other century…an entertaining, well-told tale.”
Washington Times

“If you dig movies about cons, like Catch Me If You Can, The Sting, and The Spanish Prisoner, you will blow through Octopus, Guy Lawson’s deftly and enthusiastically told tale of Same Israel and the Bayou hedge fund.”
The Daily Beast

“Penetratingly comprehensive…Lawson nimbly traverses the labyrinthine depths of a worldwide banking con that managed to involve looted Federal Reserve notes and the JFK assassination…An eye-opening window onto Wall Street’s destructive culture of unchecked hubris and a harrowing thrill ride into the unraveling mind of a desperate operator.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Lawson has mined the darkest, most seductive world I can imagine and delivered up a story that almost defies comprehension. Octopus is written with a force and clarity that I found absolutely irresistible…It’s a hell of a book.”
Sebastian Junger, New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Storm
 
"Liars and fraudsters and con men, oh my. Beyond the Bayou hedge fund implosion and faked suicide, Guy Lawson wonderfully winds the bizarre tale of Sam Israel's demise into a swirl of global conspiracy and ultimate delusion."
Andy Kessler, New York Times bestselling author of Running Money and How We Got Here
 
"A  scintillating real-life thriller about one of the most peculiar frauds in history…Part true-crime thriller, part Wall Street investigation, Octopus is filled with startling revelations.”
Gary Weiss, former investigative reporter for Business Week and author of Born to Steal, Wall Street Versus America and Ayn Rand Nation
 
"An absorbing, splendidly detailed and darkly illuminating tale of our times.”
David Whitford, Editor-at-Large, Fortune magazine

"A rollicking, roller-coaster ride of a book that is utterly impossible to put down.  Crackling with energy, Guy Lawson's account of Sam Israel -- rogue Wall Street trader and grifter par excellence - and the con within a con within a con that led to his ruin is a story that no novelist could possibly make up.  Forget the sniveling Bernie Madoff and his garden-variety Ponzi Scheme; for anyone wanting to understand just how truly crazy Wall Street became and why, this is the book to read."
Scott Anderson, Vanity Fair contributor and author of Triage

"[Israel's Ponzi scheme] speaks to the banality of evil.  But there is nothing banal about Guy Lawson's telling of the most incredible story I've ever heard in or out of Wall Street."
Jared Dillian, author of Street Freak: Money and Madness at Lehman Brothers

"Thrilling, outrageous and true, Octopus is a riveting ride through the shadow world of global high finance. A desperate man with a touch of insanity, Sam Israel is a character straight out of what we could only wish this story were: fantastic fiction."
Martin Kihn, author of House of Lies and Bad Dog (A Love Story)

About the Author

GUY LAWSON has traveled the world reporting on war, crime, politics, and sports. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Harper's, GQ, and Rolling Stone. He and his live in upstate New York.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (July 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307716082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307716088
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you asked 10 different people who Sam Israel is, you would get 10 different responses. All the answers would be more bizarre than the next. Some how Guy Lawson was able to piece all of these things together. It all makes sense now - kind of. This twisted tale kept me turning the page and wondering if this all could be real. It is. I highly recommend this book. The writing is amazing, the story telling is perfect and this is a story you WANT to hear. It's ALL there.
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Format: Hardcover
I found out a little about myself reading this book. I'm a very easy "mark," extremely naieve and I'm not clever enough to be a decent crook. Octopus takes so many twists and turns I almost gave up reading it in the middle. However, I persisted and am glad I did. The story is at once exciting, sad and eye-opening. Lives are ruined by unimaginable stupidity, ruthlessness and greed. I can't even begin to get my mind around the huge sums of money involved here - in the billions. If this were fiction, I'd say the story line was over the top. Governmental regulatory agencies come out looking like apathetic bozos. Since this is non-fiction I am left wondering about the veracity of this "secret shadow market" the FBI, CIA, the SEC and the Federal Reserve. Will what we don't know hurt us? As a movie, I can picture Sam Israel and Bernie Madoff playing bridge in prison at the end, each with so many cards up their sleeves, they don't have enough to play with.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street's Wildest ConThe first half is a sad commentary on the tragic Ponzi scheme that Sam Israel concocts, ensnaring family friends and colleagues. Then, as he casts about for ways to extricate himself, the second half becomes a non-stop train to Crazy Town. Hard to believe, amazing to read. I found myself shaking my head again and again, stunned by the outrageous twists and turns. Years from now this may be looked at as a more cautionary tale than Madoff's- because it's about so much more then just greed. It's about our ability to delude ourselves- at any cost. Shocking, sad, amazing.
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Format: Paperback
Sam Israel is a scumbag. He is a liar and a cheat. He admits so in Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street's Wildest Con by Guy Lawson. Israel was the nefarious trader behind the Bayou Funds, one of biggest hedge fund ponzi schemes, at least until Bernie Madoff finally fell to Earth.

Lawson met with Israel while Israel was in prison. He want to write about Israel's fraud at the Bayou Fund. Lawson found him to be devious, defiant, impossible to not like.

Israel started as a trader, not an investor. He made his money on the short movements of stocks. He made his big money by cheating. He would front run client trades. He would trade on inside information.

Then he decided he want to be his own boss, so he started the Bayou Fund. But he was not successful. Rather than disclose this to investors, he rebated a big chunk of brokerage fees to show a good return. He figured he could make it up in the next trade.

Then he missed again. Again, he didn't want to admit his shortcomings so he chose the path of deceit. But now the amount was too much to fix with creative bookkeeping. He turned to a complete fabrication of financial results. Israel called this "The Problem."

He kept trading to try to fix The Problem. He thought the next trade could make enough to fix The Problem. But it kept getting bigger as his actual results continued to be well below the result he was telling investors.

Then Israel ran into a shadowy figure that told him about a secret market for prime government bonds sold at huge discounts. He could get enormously wealthy by trading in the secret market.
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Format: Hardcover
It only took a few pages to realize that this is a book of fantasized musings by Israel and a total lack of fact checking by Lawson. It is impossible to give any merit to what Sam Israel III says he remembers, or to what Lawson writes. A few cases in point:

Sam III's father, Larry, was A Wahington and Lee grad, not Tulane. Larry's father, Sam, Jr., held a chair at Tulane and was a benefactor and a trustee.

As a teenager, Sam III totaled his father's Mercedes, and was hospitalized for a lenghthy time with serious injuries. This may have been the beginning of his back and drug issues. He was never physically able to contend for a football position at Tulane. I guess if you tell the story often enough it becomes true in your mind.

What Uncle had a party that Sam III bartended and met the financial wizards?. All the Israels that held positions at ACLI were cousins. Sam,Jr., Leon Jr., and Adrian (Ace) were cousins. The next generation, Larry, Tom etc...were also cousins. This party is where Sam III supposedly met Freddy Graber for the first time? Never happened. Vodka, lime???? What happened to Freddy's Old Grand Dad and ginger? After the ACLI/DLJ merger period in 1980/1981, John Castle and the Israels were at odds, so Larry left ACLI and took trading/office space at Fred Graber's operation. Sam III met Freddy in December 1981 because Larry arranged it!

The $100,000 subway story was taken directly from ACLI folklore. Only the story involved a South American dictator, ACLI Coffee, and a black bag with $100,000. No one knew if the story was true, but it made for great theater after a few cocktails. It seems Sam III liked the story too!

In all my years I never heard Graber referred to as "king". Julian Robertson maybe, but never Fred.
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