Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Book Review - The Sellout by Charlie Gasparino

I’ve probably read several dozen books about the Great Financial Crisis, and just now got around to reading ‘The Sellout’ by Charlie Gasparino and really enjoyed the approach he took in telling the story.

If you were glued to CNBC for much of 2008-09 like I was (it was on all day in the lobby of my office so I could often hear it all day long whether I wanted to or not), you may recognize Charlie Gasparino. He is a reporter on CNBC often known for being the first to break major news, and was on TV a lot as the crisis unfolded given his deep connections throughout the finance industry.

A lot of other financial crisis books focus on the authors play-by-play point of view (like Hank Paulsen’s ‘On the Brink’), or that of a single company (check out ‘A Colossal Failure of Common Sense’ focusing on Lehman Brothers or 'House of Cards' for Bear Stearns). The Sellout takes a slightly different approach from any book I’ve read on the topic.

Given the authors' long tenure covering Wall Street, he already had relationships with a lot of the key players and knows them well. The CEO of Bear Stearns even reached out to him in the midst of the crisis. This unique perspective allowed the narrative in the book to start long before the crisis started and to tell the stories that lead to the CEO’s of the various firms rising to the helm of the different companies.

Personally, I think that some of the most interesting stories were those of Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch and it was interesting to learn how interrelated they were. Since the story goes back so far, you get a good sense of how the decisions made as their last CEO's rose to the top contributed to their ultimate downfall. A key takeaway for me was that leverage is a two-edged sword, and company leaders ignore or underestimate that risk to their own peril.

If you really want to dive deep into the demise of a single company there are better books out there. This one is just right if you want to know just enough detail to know what happened leading up to and in the financial crisis and why it happened, in a style that is engaging and doesn't drag on.

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