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Riches Among the Ruins: Adventures in the Dark Corners of the Global Economy Hardcover – March 18, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Smith's memoir of a career spent brokering sales of sovereign debts (also known as government debts) makes for a gripping read. With a raconteur's gusto, the author describes his flight from a solidly conservative New England Jewish upbringing into a world of high-stakes wheeling and dealing. He plied his trade in developing markets, where shortages of hard currency force governments to offer promises of payment for imported goods or services. The author bought and sold these debts, thriving on the risk (he lost $15 million in one day in "the ruins of the Russian economy" in 1988) and the rewards (in three years he had more than made up his losses). He details his travels to five continents seeking creditors looking to cut their losses and investors willing to take on the tremendous risk, hoping for a windfall should an ailing government ever fulfill its obligation. Smith clearly explains the mechanics of international debt trading—now a $1.7 trillion industry—and his yarns of successes, failures and dangerous near-misses are thrilling. (Mar.)
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“A gripping read….his yarns of successes, failures, and dangerous near-misses are thrilling.” Publishers Weekly
"This crackling good yarn about a high roller in the age of globalism will appeal to financial specialists and to general readers."
“… a rambunctious rollercoaster that dodges bullets and missiles, maneuvers around shady characters, and speeds through all sorts of danger…shines an unnerving light on the state of today’s economy.”
Conference Board Review
“…one of the best books I have read about what it has been like to do business in the crazy…international debt markets of the past 30 years. It's an immensely engaging and often exciting memoir... lessons are particularly germane to today's financial crisis…”
“Usually, the world of finance doesn’t yield memoirs that keep you turning the pages… Riches Among the Ruins is the true exception to the rule…great reading and insight to the way the real world operates.”
“Smith offers lessons relevant for U.S. investors seeking opportunity overseas…also shares his take on the importance of narrowing the gap between rich and poor; the U.S. role in the global economy; and an increasingly integrated world trade system.” -- Associated Press
"With his ear and eye for the telling detail, his vignettes have the stamp of authenticity and are often screamingly funny."-- Financial Post
“Wow! This is one fascinating book; it reads like an adventure story...Not only is it a terrific book, but Smith and Zheutlin are great teachers….Enjoy!” -- Life Insurance Selling
“… it’s great to read a book like this and live vicariously through some of these incredible stories.” -- 800 CEO-Read
“…a treasure trove of stories of profit and loss and of warnings of the on the ground reality of economic crisis.” -- Blog Business World
Top customer reviews
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Tasting life abroad first as a U.S. government official, the author soon creates a business of his own. He trades in souverign debt of third-world (developing) countries, in essence taking advantage of nonexisting markets for souverign debt instruments (at the dawn of globalization). I found the author's style of writing outstanding, definitely matching my taste; and I learnt a lot on the journey he took me on.
In the last chapter called "American Twilight" one will learn about characteristics the author associates with economies of the developing-world countries (such as a staggering amount of debt, dependence on bigger powers, ever widening gap between rich and poor, dilapidated infrastructure, devotion of precious resources to wars, etc.) as well as those peculiar of first-world nations (such as a strong manufacturing base, existence of middle class, modern infrastructure, safe water and food supply, etc.). The author reasons why the U.S., despite showing symptoms of the developing-world countries, will never become one. One may or may not agree with everything (for instance, I have seen some studies that cast a doubt with respect to his claming the U.S. ranks first in technological innovations), and one may or may not feel the lack of sources for some of the claims he makes (I did), but it is certainly a very interesting and well-written analysis.
What appealed to me about the author is the sheer fact of his drive to relinquish his virtually secure, albeit boring (for him), life of a small collections lawyer in Boston and travel and experience the world - the real world. Having spent almost a decade of my life in the U.S., I've gained an impression that for many Americans (discounting countless U.S. troops fighting wars in different places) there is "nothing" outside the U.S. (I do not necessarily hint the actual traveling or even living abroad, not at all; what I mean is that I found them lacking a genuine desire to learn about (the rest of) the world in pursuit of its understanding or simply getting to know other cultures and traditions).
On the contrary, what I found quite disappointing - all the more because the author regards himself as a global citizen - is that, having made fortune on the emerging markets countries, he would support (via financing various projects) solely the local (U.S.) economy. At least he did not mention anything that would suggest otherwise (pages 4 and 216).
All in all, I enjoyed the book a lot! In fact, I read it twice: first as a "novel," then as a "textbook."
The author of this book is about as far from that stereotype as you can imagine, although he does spend his fair share of time arguing on the phone. In his case, those, it's with characters such as Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin, double-dealing Turkish grifters and black-market money changers in war-torn El Salvador. This is the dark, seamy, and thrilling side of international finance.
The book moves along at a fair clip and only lags in a few places. The economics are clearly and concisely explained; I wouldn't call it a manual for trading, by any means, but it's definitely a good way to get a handle on some of the confusing aspects of the global economy. Rather than learn about spreads, basis points, coupons and interest rates in a dull textbook or an MBA class, pick this book up and get your information with a nice fix of adventure.
There's more than just money here; there's also the story of a guy who seems a bit crazy, a bit genius, and completely and totally driven. Ever lost $15 million in a day? Smith has, and he made it all back with sheer nerve. The story jumps nimbly from Brookline to Istanbul to Lagos, and only towards the end does it settle down and slow a little. But that's inevitable, given the fabulous adventures in the first 100 pages. My favorite incident involves a scheme with Lloyds of London in Guatemala that required, if I may say, 'cojones latóns.'
Do yourself a favor. Pick this book up.
Most recent customer reviews
The guy who sold me the book left a killed bug on one of the pages. Never think of buying used book from some garbage people.
What a marvelous book! Bob Smith leads us through the creation of a new market: for sovereign debt.Read more