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4.4 out of 5 stars
Den of Thieves
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2006
So what if this book is 14 years old? If you are looking for a good business book that reads like an exciting novel, this still does the trick. A great insight into Wall Street and the insider trading scandals of the 1980s. Sure it goes into loads of detail and is perhaps a bit too long, but there is no denying that Stewart is an exceptional writer. If you liked The Smartest Guys in the Room, you will love this, too.
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on January 28, 2004
Having re-read this book last week, it took me back to a time and a place I really didn't want to visit but found I should. Having been lured to Drexel, Burnham as a senior executive (from Morgan, Stanley in 1986) only weeks before the scandals hit -- and having witnessed the lava-roast at that firm -- it amazes me how Mr. Stewart was able to re-create events. Along with Predators' Ball, this book serves as an example of the power of quality investigative journalism. Filled with my own stories of similar dealings, I understand fully that his observations hit dead-center at the bullseye of the truth of that decade.
One comment in the Epilogue struck me as almost sad. Mr. Stewart says, in the wake of these scandals: "Wall Street has given every sign of being severely chastened." Too bad that wasn't the case.
Now myself a writer with somewhat less courage, perhaps, than Mr. Stewart (I've written about abuses/dangers on Wall Street, but write them as financial thrillers and opinion pieces -- it's safer, I think), I can only hope that with each scandal we get a little more honest, a little more chastened. Too bad I don't see that happening. Not yet, at least.
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on May 11, 2003
I would like to begin by saying that it is amazing what kind of copious and exhaustive research has gone into the writing of this book. James Stewart weaves a story of greed, lies, betrayals, and human frailty. The books accounts for the most significant events on Wall Street thoughout the 19080s, detailing various schemes of insider trading and more devious manipulations of the market that can be hardly understood by people not in the invenstment field. Even today the ramifications of the acts of then household names such as Boesky, Siegel, and Milken cannot be fully realized. It is a book that would make people weep who lost everything in the wake of of "high yield" bond depreciation, and to caution others to take most things told to them by investment bankers, arbs, and other financial figures with a grain of salt. Many who read this book feel that Milken was unfairly treated and got the short end of the stick at sentencing time. However, I would argue that no one in the schemes outlined got anywhere near the punishment that they deserved. All of the criminals in this book, and criminals they were of greatest magnitude who stole from investors, their employees, and the American people untold sums, came out wealthy and little shaken by the experience. It is interesting to note that the book treats everyone kindly on some level other than Dennis Levine who is nothing but villiefied throughout the book as stupid, ineffectual, overweight and crass. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially those who are thinking about going into the field of investment, businessmen, and people who want to know more about Wall Street in the 1980's, ...
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on May 16, 2002
In Den of Thieves, James Stewart gives us a gripping account of the insider trading ring that almost brought down Wall Street.
As a student studying finance, I was told to read this book by my cousin who worked in the financial world. After I finished, I had a more realistic view of the intensity of Wall Street. This intense competition and desire for money drove some people over the edge. Such was the case for Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, Terry Mulheren, and their cohorts. To a certain extent, these men were driven to cheat and steal by insatiable greed.
You do not have to know much about the financial world to enjoy this fast paced thriller. The joy in this book is in the hunt. Once the SEC became aware of Milken's activities, they had to find a way to prove it and then had to take Milken down. Once Milken was taken out of his office in handcuffs and Rudy Guliani began to build his case, Milken's "associates" began to sing like canaries in the hope of cutting a deal with the government.
I love reading books about criminals who get what is coming to them. Michael Milken and friends deserved every bit of jail time they got. This definitely a book about criminals getting what they deserved. James Stewart draws you in within the first 20 pages, from there I hope you have some spare time because you will not be able to put it down.
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on February 11, 2001
James Stewart resounts the intricately tangled web of insider trading on Wall Street in the 1980s with vivid detail. Infamous personalities include M. Milken, M. Siegel, I. Bowsky, and D. Levine. Each character of the vast cast is introduced and interweaved with the rest of the plot seamlessly, making the pages turn by themselves once started.
The game begins with a young investment banker at CSFB. Levine's inexorable desire to achieve extraordinary wealth soon drove him beyond the legal limits of ibanking, rounding up insiders at various other banks, law firm, and even one graduating HBS student. Through the ring of informants, the insiders exploited their access to proprietory information to great length, engaging in numerous insider trading transactions, which eventually yielded in the millions across a span of just a few years. Yet, compared to the big boys, Levine's ring can only be considered toying. Legendary financier Boskey, junk bond king Milken and others take insider trading to a whole new level, arranging numerous "parking" transactions, inflated invoiced, tax evation schemes, feeding each others accounts while manipulating the stock prices of various publicly traded companies.
The story takes the readers through a who is who on Wall Street and even travels off south to Bermuda and Cayman Islands for a couple of times. Through an occasional suspicious transaction at two of Merill's brokers, New York DA Giuliani and his team were able to slowly sort through a vast web of insider trading activity, and implicate more and more Wall Street types as the investigation went on. After all the twists and turns, the bankers are sent to jail one by one, and finally, Milken was indicted, putting an end to the jonk bond king and the corporate raid bonanza.
Put aside a couple of afternoons and treat yourself to this piece of great storytelling.
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on September 3, 2000
The book was an excellent narrative, first off. Stewart does a fine job with the "action" part of the story. While it might be true that some of his analysis is off (see other reviews), it still gets the point across.
While obviously Stewart has a pro-U.S. Attorney and SEC slant, if the book was entirely truthful (which indications say is so), then readers really have no choice but to come away with the verdict that Michael Milken, albeit a visionary in some sense and a great salesman, was really a crook who cost the taxpayers billions and unfairly ruled the junk-bond market with an iron fist. Especially interesting is Stewart's theory on how junk bonds contributed to the S&L debacle in the late '80's.
All-in-all, the narrative is great, and the analysis seems to be decent. It really makes the blood boil, however, to learn how Milken especially duped the system and then got away with a too light sentence (although it actually could've been shorter had Milken had more common sense)
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James Stewart has a knack for storytelling. Even something that could be potentially dry as all get out he explains clearly and without a lot of hoopla. It is, what it is and that's the truth. Some people think his work is biased but I was knee deep in all of this when it was happening. I saw the after affects of all the mergers and buyouts. I worked in a large financial institution that provided some of the funding for these deals and I was able to see the deals up close and personal. Stewart doesn't exaggerate a thing so all you guys out there crying he's biased you need a reality check. What he documents is how corporate America lost its soul. How the average worker was further displaced, how corporate america quietly lost (and couldn't figure it out later) the loyalty of its work force. The affects of downsizing (reduction in force) are exacting a terrible price today. Ever wonder where customer service went. It went out the window when workers realized that 30 years with a company meant nothing and that a CEO could get paid 5 million for just being there and he didn't have to be competent.
Read it and think about it especially now that some time has passed since it was first written and tell me you don't get a chill down your spine.
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on March 30, 1999
If you like mysteries, cover-ups, intricate plots, good and bad guys and soap opera, this book is for you. What makes it so frightening is that it is real. The question I kept asking myself is how do we know that this won't happen again, or isn't going on right now. And yet, we know that in the investment and banking worlds given the situations in Asia and Latin America, there are more shoes to drop. I believe that this industry has been infiltrated by more bad habits - power, greed and hunger - than most. The culture has encouraged it. A new book I read describes these problems well and then offers a way out. THE 2,000 PERCENT SOLUTION talks about 'stalls' that keep us from changing. In investment banking, The Communications Stall means that some people get messages before others, creating an unfair advantage. The Disbelief Stall makes them think that they aren't doing anything wrong and won't get caught. The Tradition Stall says that business has always been done that way, so it's okay. The Bureaucratic Stall would make them think that if there is enough red tape, no one will figure out what is going on. The Misconception Stall says that they were operating under poor assumptions, because they did get caught. The Unattractiveness Stall means that if something looks unpleasant, just cover it up. What is needed is a new way to do business and a new system of checks and balances, a 2,000 percent solution.
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It was interesting to return to this book over twenty years after first reading it. For some reason I consumed the many tales of greed that were published at the time...Barbarians at the Gate, Mr. Diamond, Liar's Poker. A decade later there was the spate of books on Enron, Tyco, ADM. A few short years after that it would be the financial crisis that produced written works to explain the collapse of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and others. And let's not forget the Madoff saga.

Author Stewart asks in his Epilogue, could something similar to the Boesky, Levine, Seigel, and Milken insider trading ever happen again. The events mentioned above certainly indicate so. History repeats itself because greed always exists. Still, it is amazing at the dollar values that were involved back then along with the hubris and shock when these dealings were exposed. This is a brilliantly researched and written cautionary tale that many refused to heed.
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on October 1, 1999
This book was really well writen and covers the breadth of what goes on in the investment banking world. I like the introductions on how the major investment houses started, and the roles of the Investment bankers, traders, lawyers, arbitragers etc. The central figure is Michael milken, who the book suggests is greedy and foul. The book is obviously on the side of US law enforcement, who some argue were biased and sought to destroy Milken for other motives. On the whole, I think it is a great book and it really helps one understand the whole finance game, and what happens (or used to happen) in wall street. Being from an Engineering and computing background, but with interest in M&A myself, I feel this book was really cool. I however reserve my judgements on Michael Milken till I read another book that is pro Milken. Taking away the crime aspects, I think Michael Milken is a genius.
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