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The Predators' Ball -- Connie Bruck


KJP
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Published in 1988, The Predators’ Ball by Connie Bruck chronicles the rise and fall of Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert.  Bruck is a financial journalist, and the book reads like long-form journalism.  Bruck had limited access to Milken himself, so the bulk of the material appears to come from 250-300 interviews of other financial and legal players from that era.

 

The strength of the book is its description of how Milken built and maintained his junk bond empire and its downstream effects.  In particular, how Milken’s ability to raise hundreds of millions (and eventually billions) of dollars on very short notice from non-commercial bank sources broke up what, Bruck suggests at least, was an overly conservative and mediocre business and banking elite.  The central thesis of the book is that it was Milken’s network of buyers who would commit to huge purchases largely on his say-so that gave him an insurmountable advantage when competing for LBO and other junk financings.  Bruck also details the various ways in which Milken built and maintained his buyer network.  In the background are the underlying social tensions arising from the largely Jewish newcomers (e.g., Milken, Icahn, Perelman) taking on and, for a period, getting the better of the old WASP elite that had historically excluded them.

 

To describe the creation and maintenance of the Milken machine, the book has to cover about a decade from the late 70’s to late 80’s.  As a result, we get 10-15 page vignettes of famous episodes, such as Peltz-National Can, Icahn-TWA, and Perelman-Revlon.  But those descriptions are far too short to get any real sense of the nitty-gritty of how these transactions actually happened and the personalities involved.  To get that feel, you need to turn to something like Barbarians at the Gate (or, for a more recent era, Too Big To Fail).

 

The sweep of the book – and perhaps Bruck’s limited knowledge as an outsider – also result in a bit too much of her telling rather than showing the reader.  For example, Ron Perelman is repeatedly described as overwhelmingly vulgar, but there’s precious little detail from which readers could glean that for themselves.  Likewise, the book lacks the anecdotes about what life was actually like on the inside that one gets from reading something like Liar’s Poker. 

Edited by KJP
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  • 3 weeks later...

I read this coming out of B-School as a "must read" at the time (along with Liar's Poker).  Not only is it simply a great read, whether you're into finance or not, but it's also a good primer on the use of of leverage in business.  The most important takeaway for me, however, was to see just how much of the activity was driven by ego and FOMO.  Some of the smartest, most experienced investors out there, doing things rational people wouldn't do in order to be deemed a "player" or the king of the hill.  It's like Robinhood meme stocks but with LBO's.

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22 minutes ago, dwy000 said:

I read this coming out of B-School as a "must read" at the time (along with Liar's Poker).  Not only is it simply a great read, whether you're into finance or not, but it's also a good primer on the use of of leverage in business.  The most important takeaway for me, however, was to see just how much of the activity was driven by ego and FOMO.  Some of the smartest, most experienced investors out there, doing things rational people wouldn't do in order to be deemed a "player" or the king of the hill.  It's like Robinhood meme stocks but with LBO's.

 

I really liked Den of Thieves too.

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