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From the earliest financial scams of the 17th century, through the headline-grabbing Wall Street scandals of our times, History of Greed provides a comprehensive history of financial fraud. In it, David E. Y. Sarna exposes the true and often riveting stories of how both naive and sophisticated investors alike were fooled by unscrupulous entrepreneurs, lawyers, hedge-fund managers, CPAs, Texas billionaires, political fundraisers, music managers, financial advisers, and even former Mossad agents.
From the people behind the financial fraud and how they did it to why people continually fall prey to scam artists, Sarna outlines what actions you can take today to protect yourself from becoming the victim of tomorrow's "too good to be true" investment opportunity. History of Greed details how markets are manipulated, books are cooked, Ponzi schemes are hatched, and how the government only closes the barn door once the cows have all escaped.
I wouldn't call this a page-turner. Often it read like a series of newspaper articles. But, I have a fascination for fraud tales, and a legal background, and I really clicked with its thoroughness in describing the schemes, and also the procedural details of the "crime and punishment" side of the stories. I like the combo of enough story and enough technical detail to be satisfying on both fronts. The stories are not an exhaustive review of frauds from tulip days to Madoffs'. The narrative skips across big stretches of history and quickly lands in modern times. But there is no lack of lurid fraud schemes in recent years -- the most famous are here. The Madoff aftermath story was not completed as of this publication -- "The Wizard of Lies" audiobook goes deeper in detail and gives a more updated story of that. All in all, though, I am very satisfied with this book.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
This was a great listen, and you will want to be able to re-listen to parts of this book. Sometimes it is information dense, and I found I needed to re-listen to that part to get all the information. It was very educational on the way greed works on the corporate level.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
This book is by far the most boring and misrepresented book I've ever gotten from Audible. I have enjoyed dense history books about subjects like the 1919 Peace Conference and I also enjoyed a very detailed book about the frauds perpetuated at Enron, so I don't bore easily and I am not lost in complex financial terminology. This book was just awful. I went into it expecting information about historical financial fraud - stories about cons and financial schemes sounds like an interesting book, right?
Wrong. Not only do the historical frauds take up a pitifully small part of the book, they are told like an encyclopedia - no narrative, no effort to make them engaging, just facts. I've never read or listened to a history book this boring, and that's saying something, considering what I read for fun. The worst part is, I know at least some of these stories can be interesting to learn about because a pop history podcast has covered some of them briefly and they were interesting (such as Tulip Mania) - hence why I bought this book looking for more details. This book had good material to work with and it still failed to make things engaging!
More importantly, this is not a book about the "history of greed". I cannot figure out why it was marketed that way. At least three-quarters of the book is about recent financial frauds (a disproportionate percentage of that is just about Bernie Madoff), and, again, they are told like encyclopedia entries (complete with references like websites and case numbers), with no effort to engage the reader at all or create some sort of narrative. I suppose one silver lining is that the book is scrupulously neutral, only stating facts proven in court in most cases, but honestly that made it worse, not better. I only listened to the whole book because I wanted to make sure I didn't skip something redeeming before reviewing it. There was nothing redeeming about any of it. Even the author's opinion about how to handle financial fraud at the end was dry and uninteresting!
Unlike other reviewers, I didn't even find this overly informative about the financial industry. I found it repetitive and, even as a person without a lot of knowledge about the financial industry, I didn't find much of the information about how financial fraud happens surprising or enlightening. Besides, that's not the book's stated purpose, to teach me about the details of the financial industry, and even if that had been its purpose, it didn't do that particularly well either.
The narration was just okay. I don't think even the best narrator could have made this better, but it wasn't fantastic narration even setting aside the book's faults.
I wish this book had been better, because I really wanted to enjoy it after listening to over 30 hours about Enron and enjoying that. Unfortunately, it doesn't do a good job of being a history book and it doesn't do a good job of being a book about financial fraud either. I can't say I would recommend this to anyone.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
The author seems to have been under an irresistible urge to get this published in the midst of Bernard Madoff scandal. The half of the book devoted to that particular exhibition of greed is full of suggestion and innuendo but little substantial fact. It was written before charges were settled or investigative information publically disclosed. Needless to say, years later it reads like a newspaper story of the time, not a considered review of the final outcome. I did not find this major section of the book to be illuminating or even-handed.
The rest of the book, however, was what I was hoping for. While certainly not inclusive of all financial frauds, it was illustrative of the kind of frauds that can be successfully implemented. Anyone who thinks they can spot a "great investment opportunity" ought to read through the sad experiences of the past.
There was a distracting onslaught of case numbers and websites, which can be quickly skimmed in a paper book but grated on my ear in audio form. The author seemed to be under the misapprehension that anonymous bloggers have as much credibility as respected journalists.
The narrator was not a good choice for this book. He mispronounced company and individual names - demonstrating a lack of familiarity with the financial world.
I would love to find a good book that delivers what this volume advertises – a history of fraud and greed throughout history.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This is great for finance fans, but may be dry to the casual listener. Around half the book was about the Madoff story and those related to it. So you may be a little disappointed if you expected a wide historical summary.
I would dispute the title as a "History of Greed" as it seems to have a bit of history and a lot of focus on mostly recent events. I also challenge the authors call for better enforcement of current laws as needing a lot more behind it. It always seems a cop out to give advice for better enforcement alone. He does offer some advice about staffing, pay, and education of the regulatory agencies, and I'm very glad to hear him speak in favor of transparency in markets, and for the necessity of regulators to insure the accuracy of the information. Overall, lots of interesting stories and details. Done from an insiders perspective, in many ways, which added to the interest and enjoyment. Glad I've read this one.
Is there anything you would change about this book?
The title is inapt. Greed in earlier times is touched on briefly in the beginning of the book but not in any detail. The book is primarily focused on financial scams and schemes of the last few decades. A better title might have been "Era of Greed" or a "Recent History of Greed."
If you’ve listened to books by David E. Y. Sarna before, how does this one compare?
This was the first David E. Y. Sarna book I have read. While I'm glad that I did read this book, it will almost certainly be my last Sarna book as well.
Would you be willing to try another one of Paul Boehmer’s performances?
Yes, but I wouldn't be happy about it. His style is very dry and deliberate. Far from adding anything to the experience, he's actually an irritant. It made it more difficult to get into the book. Boehmer's staggered, choppy style is annoying, and the writing style of the author probably made it even worse. There are also times when you can hear sounds coming from Boehmer's mouth (like the sound of his tongue moving or his mouth opening) and this is very annoying. I eventually put it on 2x speed and this allowed me to continue listening without going crazy.
Was History of Greed worth the listening time?
Yes. There's some good information and some very interesting parts.
Any additional comments?
The main problem with the book is that it just isn't written very well. By that I mean that the author's style was boring and dry. At times it reads like an extended AP article. With the exception of the chapters explaining the different types of frauds, the book is basically constructed like newspaper articles placed back to back. There's a lot of unnecessary titling, summarizing, and repetition. The author's style just made the book less enjoyable than it would have been if written by a more creative author. <br/><br/>This author's quotation style was one of the biggest problems. In a non-fiction book, there's really no need to continuously include phrases like "the S.E.C. said" or "said the D.A." And he never mixed it up by starting the sentence with "according to people familiar with the situation;" it was always an extended run on sentence finished by "according to people familiar with the situation." Again, this was exasperated by the stop-go style of the narrator. When the writer and narrator are both top notch you usually know at the start of a sentence that it's going to be a quote. That wasn't the case here. <br/><br/>In addition, the author simply went overboard on details much of the time, especially when discussing the outcomes of different court cases. Obviously listing sources was important to this author, and I suppose those types of things are always a bit difficult in an audio version, but hearing the narrator read out case numbers and websites got a bit tiresome (again, the narrator doubtless made it much worse). <br/><br/>I would also add that many of the author's anecdotes and finishing points seemed a bit amateurish. In my opinion, the author's thoughts on the nature of man and on morality--while certainly nothing special--were ultimately harmless. The author also included some of his personal beliefs about regulation and government towards the end of the book. I have to admit that I was a bit caught off guard by those comments, but it doesn't bother me that he expressed his views. For most of the book the author doesn't show signs of leaning one way or the other politically, but towards the end it gets more and more apparent that he's a "hands off" kind of conservative, at least as far as economics go, and eventually he comes right out and says this. <br/><br/>Finally, the weirdest part of the book comes towards the end of one of the many case examples of fraud retold throughout the book. Suddenly, and with very little explanation afterwards, the author discloses that he was an executive in the company being discussed and was actually mentioned in the suit. I still don't know what to make of that but I found it very strange and felt it certainly warranted a few paragraphs of explanation, preferably before telling that particular story.
There is a lot of useful, insightful, and informative info in this a-book. I particularly enjoyed the story of Marc Dreier, Lou Pearlman, and the PIPEs manipulations. If this were a book about the law it's equivalent would be the 20th century history of some of the most notorious mass murderers. And if one were writing about these villains it would be beside-the-point to take up a highhanded, moralistic stance pedantically going on and on about how awful the things they did were. I think most people get that and don't need the sermons. I think we just like the salacious details of their doing, delving into their sociopathic personalities, and the frisson of horror they inspire. This enlightening and thoroughgoing history could perhaps have been presented with a better overarching theme with: How to Avoid Being a Victim of Financial Frauds, or How to Deceive and Cheat People: Mastering the Dark Arts of Financial Fraud, or just an objective, non-moralizing The Greatest American Financial Schemes and Scandals of the 20th Century.
I also think that there was maybe a bit too much comparatively on the Bernie Madoff affair.
Ignore the ratings on performance and story. Also, I wasn't able to complete the title.
Would you try another book from David E. Y. Sarna and/or Paul Boehmer?
The facts are put forward well but the story would run smother without all the case numbers and bits of trivia that only becomes useful as a written reference, not when heard.
Could you see History of Greed being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
If the narrator was less boring.
Would you ever listen to anything by David E. Y. Sarna again?
I felt this book was not sold to me correctly. It focuses on the recent crisis, which is not surprise, but it does not really tell me the historical gems that I would like to know from a story that purports to tell stories of greed across human history.
Would you be willing to try another one of Paul Boehmer’s performances?
Yes. I would have a better feel for who is at fault, the author or the reader.
I was actually really interested in this book as an interesting insight into the vice of the financial world. Instead it's a bland, poorly written, factually inaccurate polemic against people who work in finance.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful