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Street Fighters (Kate Kelly)

Street Fighters tells an engaging tale focused upon how a mighty firm was reduced to rubble in three days. You know the ending before you start reading, but it is no less engaging. The author has a nice sense of the characters and has done extensive research into backgrounds. We not only learn about the major players, we learn what everyone else thought about them.

Street Fighters aims to tell the story in 72 hours, not examine structural problems in finance, and succeeds.

In "Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street," Kelly has elected to undertake an hour-by-hour reconstruction of the three days in March of 2008 when Bear Stearns first realized it was collapsing, fought to save itself and, ultimately, agreed to a humiliating sale to JPMorgan. It overstates nothing to call Kelly's book brilliantly reported, and her narrative is grippingly propulsive and peopled with fascinatingly drawn characters. Notable among them are Bear's Hamlet-like CEO, Alan Schwartz, who wept in line at the nearby Starbucks on the morning he had to announce the sale, and Jimmy Cayne, the erratic and wildly eccentric cigar-smoking chairman, whose real passions appear to have been bridge and golf. There are terrific walk-on appearances by Warren Buffett; Bear's legendary ex-chairman, Ace Greenberg; Lloyd Blankfein (the Goldman Sachs honcho); and Chris Flowers, the engaging private equity investor who made a spirited run at Bear.

Kelly's meticulous reporting amply demonstrates that the locus of Bear Stearns' fundamental problems derived from the unique interplay of its distinctive internal culture with the deeply flawed and, often, unfortunately idiosyncratic men who ran the place in those last years. The result seemed to be an institution that -- at all levels -- was quick to display bare knuckles to the outside world, while behind its own closed doors a lot of sharp elbows were swinging. Perhaps the most telling of the interlocking portraits Kelly sketches so well is that of Bear's upper echelons, where executives were fiercely territorial and oddly inattentive to even critical operational questions. Bear Stearns was, in the end, an institution where denial was the executive suites' emotion of first resort.

-- Timothy Rutten, LA Times

See also RGE review.


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