House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street, by William D. Cohan, is the story of how Bear Stearns collapsed last year. It’s kind of similar to A Colossal Failure of Common Sense, which I reviewed last month, and which tells about the collapse of Lehman Brothers around the same time.
The author is a Fortune magazine editor, among other things, and I think that shows in the writing. There is a lot of quoting of people, verbatim, which is actually great. He speeds past some of the financial topics, and I had to look a couple of them up, but that’s OK. Overall the writing is more like a novel than a documentary, which I consider a compliment / good thing. I wasn’t looking for a dry description of banking transactions, but someone to tell the inside story, and this was pretty cool.
I don’t know if the author is objective or not. I don’t know if the story is complete or not. The reviews on Amazon seem very split. But I don’t really care. This was an entertaining book to read with a lot of primary source evidence, and that’s what I was looking for.
It’s pretty shocking how quickly the bank collapsed. The first part of the book covers just the last 10 days, with all the frantic deal-making and discussions. Seems like people worked day and night, some to save the bank as-is, and others to creatively find another solution. But it didn’t work.
The dealings with the government, and the egos involved, were very interesting. It was a tough time, with some people looking for scapegoats, and others looking for one organization to fail as an example to others.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It’s not exactly light beach reading, but as far as these pseudo-documentary books go, it’s pretty good.