The book is a tale of the infamous collapse of Lehman Brothers. The author Lawrence McDonald is former vice president of distress debt and convertible securities at Lehman Brothers. He was at the firm for the boom and bust years from 2004-2008. When I received the book I was very excited to start reading the book, curious about an insider view on the mistakes that caused the collapse of the huge investment bank.
I normally am not a very picky person, especially when it comes to books. I like most books if they are informative and decently written. However, the book overall was a big disappointment in my eyes. I was looking forward to a book that would describe in depth the role Lehman brothers played in the sub prime meltdown and the actions of management that led to the biggest bankruptcy in history. The big is more a biography of the author who only spent four years at the firm, rather than a tale of the inner workings of Lehman Brothers. The first quarter of the book had nothing to do with the firm, instead it was a detailed account of the author’s personal life. This included tales of the author’s career as a successful pork chop salesperson( I kid you not).
Once the book got into details of McDonald’s career at Lehman Brothers it was still a disappointment to me. The author tried to make himself to be the hero who attempted to save Lehman Brothers. He claims that he knew for many years that the mortgage department was taking huge risks and he tried to balance that out by shorting stock in lenders, and shipbuilders. He glorifies his department in the distress debt and convertible bond and coverable bonds department for attempting to rescue Lehman Brothers from its mess. Richard Fuld and Joseph Gregory(the president and COO) were made out to be darth vader like figures aloof from the rest of the firm, and completely naive to the huge risks the firm was undertaking. He claims that Fuld did not have the firms best interests in mind, and actions taken by Fuld such as overpaying to buy leveraged hedge funds were done out of jealousy to the success of Blackstone and Goldman Sachs. I do not know if the way he presented the picture is close to reality or not. However, it smacked of self righteousness, arrogance and an attempt to make himself and his department heroes while making Fuld and Gregory into the bad guys.
The biggest disappointment was the end of the book. I hoped that the end of the book filled with exciting details of the final days before the collapse of Lehman Brothers would redeem the rest of the book. However, the author was laid off by the firm in March 2008 several months before Lehman declared bankruptcy. His details of the final hours of Lehman Brothers were based on his former colleges who were still working at the firm. Although, he was able to provide some good detail into what went on behind the scenes I felt it was inadequate. Being at the firm during those days as opposed to hearing second hand is like the difference between storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and being in your unit based in the safety of the US, hearing accounts on the phone from fellow soldiers.
There is a great book to be written on the subject. A tale that focused on Credit Default Swaps, Collateralized Debt Obligations and Lehman’s overall role in subprime lending and securitizartion market would be an interesting and informative book for both regular Americans and investors alike. I look forward to that book coming out in the future.
The book can be purchased on amazon.com by clicking here A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers