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Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions Hardcover – May 4, 2004

3.5 out of 5 stars 134 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ugly Americans documents the "Wild East" of the mid-1990s, where young, brilliant, and hypercompetitive traders became "hedge fund cowboys," manipulating loopholes in an outdated and inefficient Asian financial system to rake in millions. Using a concept called arbitrage, they made their fortunes mainly on minute shifts in stocks being sold on the Nikkei, the Japanese stock market, collapsing banks and nearly bankrupting the Japanese economy in the process. Other schemes were also concocted, most of which were technically legal, though certainly unethical. This true story revolves around "John Malcolm," who, in exchange for anonymity, agreed to give Ben Mezrich all the access and information he needed to write this book. As a recent Princeton graduate in the mid-1990s, Malcolm accepted an undefined job offer from an American expatriate in Japan to work in the investments field. Though he had no prior experience, he facilitated 25 million dollars worth of trades on his first day on the job, and it just got more exciting from there. He soon joined a small group of expatriates, all in their twenties and mostly Ivy League graduates, who lived like rock stars, thriving on the stress and excitement of their jobs to create their own steroid versions of the American Dream half a world away. Mezrich tells this riveting story well, incorporating elements of the culture into his narrative, including the infamous and pervasive Japanese "Water Trade," or sex business, romantic intrigue, and even run-ins with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. 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. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

Though the names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, this is a true story, containing all the ingredients of a great narrative—a main character the reader can relate to, an appealing love interest, money, danger, the need for acceptance, suspense and even the realization (in some form) of the American dream. Mezrich (Bringing Down the House) presents wanna-be financial star "John Malcolm," who accepts a nebulous job offer in Japan in the mid-1990s and leaves his middle-class New Jersey postcollege aimless existence for an adventure he might have dreamed of had he any idea of what the big boys' world of finance was really like. After hitting the ground at top speed from day one, John and his cohorts—all male, mostly Ivy League graduates—learn their way around the lucrative, fast-paced and legal-but-barely-palatable world of cowboy-style Asian market finance. In the process, they make millions (sometimes per trade) and pride themselves on knowing when to get in and how to spot their exit point. Their bottom line is all that matters; everything else—from emotion to opinion—is secondary. In a truly engaging look at how an innocent who thinks he knows the world does actually end up understanding a small but significant piece of it, Mezrich manages to incorporate solid journalism into a narrative that just plain works.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (May 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006057500X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060575007
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #535,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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By A Customer on June 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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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