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House of Cards

A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street
Narrated by: Alan Sklar
Length: 25 hrs and 16 mins
4 out of 5 stars (478 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In March 2008, Bear Stearns, a swashbuckling 84-year-old financial institution, was forced to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase for an outrageously low price in a deal brokered by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who was desperately trying to prevent an impending catastrophic market crash. But mere months before, an industry-wide boom had "the Bear" clocking a record high stock price. How did a giant investment bank with $18 billion in cash on hand disappear in a mere 10 days?

In this tour de force, Cohan provides a minute-by-minute account of the events that brought America's second Gilded Age to an end. Filled with intimate portraits of the major players, high-end gossip, and smart financial analysis, House of Cards recounts in delicious narrative form the dramatic events behind the fall of Bear Stearns and what it revealed about the financial world's progression from irrational boom to cataclysmic bust. House of Cards is the Rosetta Stone for understanding the dramatic and the unprecedented events that have reshaped Wall Street and global finance in the past two years.

©2009 William D. Cohen (P)2009 Tantor

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Not "Hubris and Wretched Excess"

If you're looking for tales million-dollar coat racks, this isn't the book for you. Cohan has a produced a well-written examination of the managers and management which preceded the Bear Sterns crash. He expected to to find the cause of the 2008 meltdown there. Cohan tries that idea on, but it doesn't really fit; and he's too good a reporter to stick to a script that doesn't begin to explain the facts.

On the other hand, twenty years ago, I had a front-row seat to a similar financial implosion. The cast of characters was very familiar. The elemental forces of contracting credit seem to force people into certain roles.

But the reader will have to decide. This is not a book which pretends to have all the explanations. It does have an important story to tell, and tells it well.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Riveting, interesting, learned alot

This is the story of Bear Stearns. The narrator has a "fly on the wall" approach. I felt like I was in the room and getting to know all the players. I know very little about Wall Street but in this economy my interest in how the economy works (or doesn't work) has become very interesting to me and this book is very timely. After listening to this book, almost non-stop, I am starting to understand what is going on. I am sure I have enough knowledge to "predict" as well as the "CNBC" talking heads what is going on.

Anyway I highly recommend. I love books that read like novels---this one.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Thomas
  • Bethesda, MD, United States
  • 04-25-09

Riveting "Read" About Credit Crisis

Cohan has written a riveting "read" about the fall of an American financial powerhouse. Using almost no jargon, he tells the story of how 84 year old Bear Stearns fell virtually overnight. He does so in small easily accessable increments which, eventually, provides the reader with a cogent whole picture. Highly recommended for anybody with even a marginal interest in how the credit crisis came to be.

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Well read, but overproduced

The story of the rise and fall of Bear Sterns, the investment banking group as told through its three day free fall and collapse and then in flash back to its beginnings, rise, nadir then end, finally moving forward to related matters: the collapse of Lehman Bros, and the sale of Merrill Lynch. Regarding content, the book is interesting but as others have noted here, poorly edited. Regarding the audiobook, the reader is excellent, but the audiobook seems to have been assembled rather than simply read. You can hear edit after edit as if alternate takes of paragraphs, sentences, even words were dropped in. This may not be audible if listening in a living room, but it certainly is audible with ear devices.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • M. L White
  • Tannersville, PA United States
  • 10-30-09

Tedious, Repetitive. . . and essential reading

The book is filled with excruciatingly unnecessary detail and endless repetition. How many times do we need to hear the address of Bear Stearns? Conversations are recounted from multiple perspectives, even where they agree, We are told what someone is going to say, then told what they said.

However, if you can get through all that, the story is compelling and will infuriate you. It is astounding to hear of the pettiness, narcissism, arrogance, and ruthlessness which engulfs the executives at Bear Stearns, and other investment banks. These people didn't care about anything except enormous bonuses, and would do anything to get them. When others lost their money, these people didn't give a hoot. But then to hear them whining and carrying on like two-year olds when their firm collapsed as a direct result of their incompetence is unbelievable.

After the collapse, several of them gave interviews, in which they whined and complained about how they were treated, and tried to blame the failure on others.

In spite of the author's bizarre belief that the failures were a result of government interference in the free markets, this book will convince any thinking person that our government needs to take a major role in regulating the financial industry - if for no other reason than to protect bankers from themselves. It is abundantly clear that they are too stupid to protect themselves.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Mona
  • Burbank, CA, USA
  • 06-11-09

Great play-by-play of a historic moment

The play-by-play of Bear Stearns last few years and final demise was quite enthralling for anyone in the business. The middle of the book gets a bit slow as the author gives a pretty detailed history of the making of Bear Stearns. But worth the listen overall.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Mesmerizing Story, But Sad Human behavior

House of Cards was a thoroughly engaging read(listen). Found the narration to be superb especially the tonality used for CEO Jimmy Cayne's Voice. At some points it felt like I was actually there listening to these guys in their office. The story of hubris and greed is a sad commentary. Such is the case that "bankers/brokers" making ten's of millions of dollar a year were able to destroy a company with 13,000 employees and an 80 years history. Little or no technical jargon. No need to be in finance to enjoy this book. Like to walk when listening to books and was able to walk farther and longer than usual because I found the story so interesting.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Joe
  • Kansas City, MO, United States
  • 01-23-13

A serious achievment

Just wow! That's all there is to say. Through painstaking interviews and research, the author constructs the history of this bizarre firm, Bear Sterns, how the personalities of its CEOs determined its future from the twenties on and then how within a week it all fell apart, wiping out billions in wealth almost overnight. Though it is a book about the history of a banking firm, it has an urgency and pacing more reminiscent of a thriller. The people come alive on the pages and the incredible hubris and greed that overwhelms them will shock you, the infighting will excite you and the collapse will astonish you.

The writing is neat and evocative, the reader is amazing and the story itself is almost too eccentric to be real. But it is, and it will help you understand the financial crisis in America and how it came about.

Definitely get this book, it's so much all at once.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Mike
  • Indian Wells, CA
  • 05-20-09

I Must Have Listened To A Different Book . . .

If ever a book begged for an abridged version this is the one. The time period just prior and up to the fall of Bear was, I will admit, a very good read. I am in the financial world and the author did a good job providing commentary and color to the actions and events that lead up to the takeover.

And then, it just goes downhill for me from that point after.

Observations :

1. The writer feels it necessary to explain and re-explain 2 and sometimes 3 times some not very important or necessary points. Several of these points are barely worth 1 mention much less 2-3 times;

2. The mechanism of continually comparing certain Bear execs bridge playing addictions, especially using such as a metaphor for explaining (away) aggressive and potentially risky Wall Street behavior, just plain wore out after awhile. Enough was definitely enough. I got the point. Never let a bridge player invest your money.

3. The narrator would, with great frequency, simply "disappear" and go unexplainably silent at the most odd times. You would expect this between chapters - not at the end of paragraphs - and in the middle of trying to communicate a complete thought. Very, very annoying.

4. The end - whoo boy ! I'm still hanging up in the air waiting for the writer to finish off some of the incomplete thoughts he introduces in the Epilogue.

And yes, I did listen to the whole book. Shame on me. If you are attracted to this book - it is interesting subject matter - find the abridged version.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Tedius at times but overall pretty interesting

There are times during this book that you just want the author to get on with it. He goes over certain events, giving the perspective of so many involved, that you just want to move along to the next section. But after an initial rough patch it does pick up, for me, at least, when he gets into the history of Bear, Sterns and some of the central players.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful