Tuesday, April 04, 2006

BOOK REVIEW - Ugly Americans

Ugly Americans
Ben Mezrich
271 pages
HarperCollins, 2004

Five-hundred million. That’s a five with eight zeroes after it. Here, like this: 500,000,000. Five-hundred million. Contemplate that number for a moment. Okay, now just keep it in mind as it will be important later.

Ben Mezrich follows up his entertaining account of the Ivy League card-counting team which took Vegas for a ton of cash with an account of the Ivy League twentysomethings that took the Nikkei and other commodities exchanges in the East for quite a load of cash. Specifically “Ugly Americans” is the slightly fictionalized account of John Malcolm, a Princeton football player who ended up going to work as a commodities trader in Osaka and a few years later left Japan after having made his company $500 million in one day, netting himself a cool $21 million as his commission on the deal. In his short career in Japan Malcolm rubbed elbows with the likes of Nick Leeson, whose actions in the very same markets Malcolm was working earned him a stay in the pokey and destroyed Barings Bank, a 223 year-old British institution.

Like in "Bringing Down the House," Mezrich has infused his story with an energy that turned this book into a compulsive page-turner. I literally could not put it down and ended up reading it in the span of a Sunday afternoon. There are aspects of the financial transactions that drive the book that will escape the casual reader (I say this because I am still not clear on what derivative trading is exactly, and I have worked with commodity traders in the past) but it doesn’t matter as Mezrich breathes life into Malcolm’s Japan, a world which very few of us will ever be privileged enough to see. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone.

Next Up: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris.

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