September 14, 2009

Book Review: Barbarians at the Gate

Continuing a streak of Helyar reviews, I read Barbarians at the Gate last May. I'd heard good things about it, and I certainly enjoyed Helyar's book on baseball, if you read my last review. I know very little about corporate America, so it was in interesting look at high-stakes finance and the LBO-mania of the 1980s. From an informative point of view, I actually enjoyed it more than Michael Lewis's (of Moneyball fame) Liar's Poker.

The book centers around Ross Johnson and the feeding frenzy that ensued when he tried to ram a 'little' deal for himself and his company that was essentially the largest deal in Wall Street history under the radar. Johnson and his cabal would get a huge sum of money as a part of the buyout, and the whole saga was used as a symbol of corporate greed in the 1980s. I'm not sure what was more hilarious, that the guy's name was Ross Freaking Johnson or the fact that he looked like every caricature of a 80s busniessman that Kids in the Hall ever did: .

Because it was the biggest buyout in Wall Street history at the time, if drew out all the major companies and flared up all their petty rivalries as they tried to either defend their place at the top or make a name for themselves. I found the book surprisingly easy to read and all the characters fascinating. It's apparently been reprinted 20 times and has been hailed as the greatest business 'history' book ever, and I can certainly see why. I never though a Leveraged Buyout could be so interesting!