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The 2008 collapse of leading Wall Street investment house Bear Stearns showed the world just how rickety the global financial system had become. William D. Cohan tracks the firm’s dizzying rise and rapid collapse. His access to Bear Stearns insiders is the book’s strongest point. He offers a trenchant analysis of its decades-long rise and a definitive account of its final days. Cohan paints textured portraits of Bear’s top people, though he isn’t especially interested in translating their Wall Street jargon for lay readers. He lets his sources speak in their own patois. getAbstract recommends this book to business history buffs, investors and managers seeking perspective on a spectacular failure.


Bear Stearns’s Fast Fall

March 2008: The historic housing boom had reversed. The bubble hadn’t burst entirely, but signs of trouble loomed. Thornburg Mortgage was beset by margin calls, while Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, hit a rough spot when its residential mortgage-backed securities proved difficult to value as housing prices fell. Those firms were relatively obscure, but Bear Stearns was not. Bear was Wall Street’s fifth-largest securities firm, with a $400 billion balance sheet and a new $1.5 billion headquarters. Its executives were the best-paid people on Wall Street. A hugely profitable titan, feared by its rivals, it was a household name abruptly facing shocking collapse.

Longtime chairman Ace Greenberg had become a cult figure for, among other things, his quirky insistence that staffers recycle paper clips from incoming mail. Bear’s annual Palm Beach media conference drew the heads of Viacom, Disney and NBC Universal. Its failure was nearly unthinkable. But, given Bear Stearns’s heavy exposure to the suddenly collapsing mortgage market, other traders began to whisper about its liquidity crisis. Despite the rumors, or maybe due to them, Bear presented...

About the Author

William D. Cohan, former senior Wall Street investment banker, is the author of the New York Times bestsellers House of Cards and The Last Tycoons. That book also received the Financial Times Goldman Sachs Award. He writes for the Financial Times, The Atlantic, The New York Times and The Washington Post and is a contributing editor to Fortune magazine.

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