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Barbarians At The Gate

4.19  ·  Rating Details  ·  17,720 Ratings  ·  475 Reviews
Written in a can't-put-down, novelistic style and filled with portraits of money men and their beautiful wives, this riveting account of the $25 billion battle for RJR Nabisco recounts the two-month story of how an old-line powerhouse became the victim of 1980's ruthless financial scheme. Illustrated.
Published January 3rd 1991 by Arrow (first published January 1st 1990)
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May 18, 2008 Suzanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Read this in 1991 just after it first came out. I couldn't put it down. If you don't understand the financial pages of newspapers and the terms they use, this is an easy way to learn about acquisitions, hostile takeovers, liquidity, assets, etc. Perhaps a bit dated now, but the author (a financial journalist) describes what happened here in the States in the 80's, a time when small businesses (and huge ones like RJR Reynolds) were bought out, sometimes just for the land they were built upon. The ...more
Jul 30, 2015 Arminius rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
Barbarians at the Gates is a fascinating tale about the rise and fall of food giant Nabisco. Ross Johnson was head of Nabisco’s rival Standard Brands. They show how he used his affable personality and his ability to befriend coworkers, bosses and over-seeing boards to propel himself to Standard’s CEO while winning a battle against his superior and getting his superior ousted. Nabisco had gained competition from Frito Lay and Proctor Gamble so it looked to expand, buy merging with Standard Brands ...more
Oct 15, 2011 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I try to rate books based on how well they achieve their own objectives, and I think this one nails its goals perfectly. Corporate finance is labyrinthian by nature--to understand what actually happened in any given deal requires being able to track the money, the legal manuverings, and the easily ignored but incredibly critical personal relationships. (When I was a child, I thought that business deals were made based off of what was most profitable for the company. It turns out in real life, fa ...more
Nick Black
went up to the parents' house over christmas, and found this in the garage, and was like "what? the parents don't read books" and, worried it might be mistaken for a delicious meal, grabbed it. there's some purple fucking prose in this book! Here's how not to write compelling narrative, kids:

The atmosphere at Tuesday morning's breakfast between Cohen and Kravis was no worse than that inside any commercial meat locker.

It's about as bad as All the President's Men, but the material kinda saves the
Sean Sullivan
Jul 19, 2007 Sean Sullivan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you haven’t noticed, I am a connoisseur of the business bestseller. I read ‘em all, and this one is among the best. This, Den of Thieves and the Informant are as good as these books get. Here we got conniving and scheming on a massive scale. Extremely unlikable rich assholes brought low by equally unsavory, but way smarter rich people.

It’s the story of an attempt to take RJR Nabisco private, and then a series of take over attempts that were instigated by the original privatization plan. Johns
Nov 25, 2008 Tammy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This tsunami of details in this story of the leveraged buy-out of RJR Nabisco would be mind-numbing if it were not for the sharp anger at the incessant and insatiable greed it highlights.

One feels an eerie sense of déjà vu reading this book. The RJR Nabisco takeover battle was fought in 1988, but the unmitigated (and unregulated) greed on the part of Wall Street seems to only have changed in form, not in magnitude. It borders (then and now) on the obscene.

This book is not for the faint o
Corporations back in the day were established to create products and provide services and have certain laws and rights applied to the organization and its employees. Not so starting in the late eighties.

This book chronicles a selling-off of a major corporation in the late nineties: RJR Nabisco.

As the role of CEO has become more prominent the greed and ego of those in positions have risen. At some point a CEO wanted a bigger fiefdom so they thought it would be smart to combine a food company wit
Preston Kutney
Nov 19, 2015 Preston Kutney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
This book paints a grim picture of high finance and corporate excess. Although I'm fairly certain most of this wouldn't fly today because of how hard it is to keep secrets, and the media's scrutiny of corporate missteps. (a la Volkswagen, Exxon, to name a few recent cases)

Essentially, Ross Johnson rises to CEO of RJR Nabisco through playing politics, scheming with his band of merry men, and schmoozing board members. He constantly shakes up the company because he gets bored easily, and goes snif
Aug 27, 2015 Biafra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The tale of Ross Johnson, the CEO of RJR Nabisco who sets the book's plot into motion, and the frenzied time leading up to the final decision on who'll win the leveraged buy out (LBO) bid and take ownership of RJR Nabisco is fascinating. The authors do an excellent job of providing background for the many people involved in the final bids, much of which is crucial for understanding their motivations and decisions.

For example, the rise of Johnson through the ranks of Standard Brands, the late ni
Will Szal
Mar 20, 2014 Will Szal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished reading the iBooks version of “Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco,” at 763 pages in my edition. Written in 1989 by two Wall Street Journal reporters - Bryan Burrough and John Helyar - the book recounts the 1988 leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco by KKR & Co. L. P. This event represents the pinnacle of business culture in the Roaring Eighties.

The book begins with the history of the two sides of the company. I’ll review their early history here, as it’s particularly i
Jun 07, 2012 MisterFweem rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this one again. It's worth reading more than once. Still five stars. Even better after reading Benjamin Barber's "Consumed."

It's probably because I don't get around much, but I've only seen one depiction of greed that I thought was funny, and that's the one from The Addams Family, in which Gomez Addams shows the impostor Fester how to get to the money vault by pulling on the book titled "Greed" on the bookshelf.

Then there's the other kind of greed, the greed that is just nasty, heartless, s
Aug 12, 2014 Joris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book displays and describes the nature of the NJR Nabisco management in one of the biggest LBO's ever. Sometimes you have to check, am I reading a kindergarten manifest with grown up words or do these people exist for real? The tactics, backstabbing, gossiping and most of all the foul mouthing is bizarre and thus intriguing.., it's a huge read but well worth it if you're interested in leveraged buyouts, upper management, conglomerate companies and Chief Exec's who have lost contact with us ...more
Simon Lau
Dec 22, 2014 Simon Lau rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was recommended to me by a business school professor who referred to it as "the best business book on private equity." As someone who studied finance at NYU and a lifelong student of history, I was intrigued.

The book turned out to be a wonderful read. I learned a tremendous deal about private equity, the mid-to-late century evolution of finance on Wall Street, and the important role of corporate governance in business. Some of these points were not discussed on an academic level (e.g.
Amar Pai
This book is weird. It's written like a taut spy-thriller, and superficially it's a "page-turner"-- everything on the page seemed very exciting and I kept wanting to read it. But the stuff being written about-- the tale of some investment bankers fighting over who gets to buy RJR Nabisco-- is boring beyond belief. Lots of arcana about leveraged buy outs, endless paragraph-long sketches of interchangeable middle-aged white guys engaged in a financial dick swinging contest, pages upon pages devote ...more
Dec 11, 2009 Anita rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Detailed - and downright shocking - display of the egos and attitudes of hundreds of real people involved in the biggest private equity buyout of its day (and until relatively recent days). Describes far too many people to follow and too much detail, but the sheer magnitude of greed, excess and penis envy is amazing.

The DVD of the same title gives the abridged version of the story. It's quite hard to follow the story without knowing the background from the book. DVD also emphasizes Linda Robinso

Nov 29, 2015 Nikolaos rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Business students
I have not read such an exciting business book for a while. "Barbarians" is an outstanding account on the insights of the LBO world, written by two reporters with an appetite for refined ridiculousness. I was amazed at the relevance of the reported absurdities with contemporary criticism on Big Finance, though nowadays the spotlight was set on proprietary and algorithmic trading.

If you are into business case studies or just historical accounts of grand corporate events, this book is for you.
Mar 19, 2016 Lydia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this book because it was on the "must read" business book list. I kept reading all 500 pages because it was really, really interesting! Yes, much of that is because I am currently a business nerd, but the way businesses operated at that time, especially with such a large amount of money on the line, is fascinating.

Not for every reader, which is why it is only at 4 stars here, but really a 4.5/5 in my book
One of the great case-study refutations of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis: The stock price of RJR Nabisco, an unloved & unwieldy food/tobacco conglomerate with a high-living, backslapping CEO, is shuttling back & forth between $45 and $55 when management launches a buyout bid containing management rewards so lavish they were later described as "greed incarnate." Despite these & other warning signs, the company is sold a month later for almost $109 -- over twice its undisturbed shar ...more
Jun 26, 2015 Adi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Barbarians at the Gate is one of the eponymous books you have to read to get a sense of American capitalism in the 80s. The book itself is a very daunting 541 page read which could scare off some.The version I read is a 20th Anniversary edition with a new afterword which puts things in perspective 20 years after the events that inspired it.The book is written in the form of a novel with vivid characterizations of the players of the drama.Some might find that disconcerting as these are real peopl ...more
Chas Ely
Jan 25, 2015 Chas Ely rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In all honesty I believe that the apex of the brilliance and historical significance of this book flew over my head due to my age and place in life, simple as that. Were I a financial worker in his mid-forties I have no doubt that this book would have been much more resoundingly informative and thoroughly entertaining.

Back to the actual reality of my current circumstances however, and the book was still very good bar a few issues. The claims of it having "the suspense of a first-rate thriller" m
Vinod Peris
Jan 20, 2015 Vinod Peris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I re-lived the the high drama that surrounded the Leveraged Buyout (LBO) of RJR Nabisco 25 years ago. The authors have done a phenomenal job in researching all of the characters involved and lay it out in excruciating detail. Whenever they introduced a new company or major character they went back several generations to lay the foundation for the story. This made the book rather long (500 pages) and towards the end, I was eager to see it through. The cast of characters is like a Who’s Who of Wal ...more
Dec 22, 2014 Don rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Zany account of the fall of an empire, and a good overview of the LBO (Leveraged Buy Outs) fad as it culminated in the largest sale in Wall Street history ooncerning RJR Nabisco stock in October and November of 1988, before fading into the next phase of financial restructuring. My brain is still reeling while attempting to understand why intelligent people would trade PIK (pay in kind) junk bonds for other bonds, not involving cash or securities, that made these kind of private buyouts highly l ...more

I thought this would be boring. The book proved me wrong; there are more than 500 pages here, and it is a page turner.

The topic is LBOs or "leveraged buyouts' and in particular the LBO of RJR Nabisco in the late 80s.
In a leveraged buyout, company A buys company B with mostly borrowed money, attempting to make an eventual profit from company Bs assets. Making the deal happen can become a very competitive, complex and lucrative process. LBOs reveal the cross section of people in the financial ind
Adriaan Jansen
Jun 06, 2015 Adriaan Jansen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
This is an amazing roller coaster of greed, selfishness, arrogance, lies, backstabbing, unlimited riches, dodgy schemes, abuse of power, and then, impossible though it seems, even more greed. In this world where only greed matters, you hope to find some heroes. There aren't any. Next you hope to at least find some decent people, not driven by greed. There are very few in this story. I found myself bewildered by all that happens and couldn't put the book down.

''Barbarians at the gate'' tells the
Apr 15, 2008 Patricia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone in business school
Recommended to Patricia by: hbs
Shelves: nonfiction
This book appealed to my morbid curiosity. It was like watching a train wreck... I just couldn't tear my eyes away. I was totally facinated by the raunchiness and greed of Ross Johnson. I was blown away by the unfolding of the events in the last quarter of the book. I think that it makes an interesting commentary on the social pcychology of bankers. I loved it and I think that it is something that everyone going into business should read.

It was in my husbands distribution box at school. He was s
Mar 27, 2016 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When you run out of Eichenwald books to read, most algorithms point you here. For much of this book, that's an apt recommendation. It's a large, well-sourced, tomb that is a dense tick-tock of a specific corporate situation. The difference, is that Eichenwald tends to exam corporate malfeasance and the ne'er-do-wells getting their comeuppance. Here, well, Ross Johnson & crew to some degree are rewarded (though their malfeasance is not great as Eichenwald's subjects - maybe just their greed). ...more
May 29, 2016 Javier rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great story! I can't tell you how many times the story in this book has been mentioned in the many Wall Street books I have read. This is a classic. This book chronicles the takeover battle of RJR Nabisco. Ross Johnson, RJR Nabisco's CEO, launched a management leverage buyout of the company with a $75 a share offer which was a total steal of the company. Ross knew that the company was worth more if the different business units were sold. When he bid for the company, the Board of Directors suppor ...more
Matt Austin
May 24, 2016 Matt Austin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After taking an LBOs course at business school, I knew it was time to read this book. Barbarians at the Gate could be one of the most interested business books I have ever read. While the book may require some capital markets knowledge, the real value lies in the authors' ability to develop the different "characters" throughout the book. I was hooked from page one and was always eager to open the book whenever I could. Even if you're intimidated by a finance heavy book, I highly recommend this c ...more
The book tells the story of the largest takeover or LBO of the decade (Leveraged buyout of around $25 bn in 1989) wherein Kravis group took control of RJR Nabisco - the joint company producing diverse brands like Camel cigarettes to Oreo cookies. The book, written by duo of investigative journalist, not only details the background of the deal and personalities of the major players involved; but also delineates intricate politics and strategies fueled by corporate greed that often go unnoticed in ...more
Nitesh Kanthaliya
This is the first time I came across a book that was slow paced in the beginning but it accelerated as I neared the end. The book is about the greediness amongst the Wall Streeters (as per the author). One of the best description of how teams are organized in doing a Leverage Buy Out or LBO. An interesting concept altogether and RJR Nabisco, the biggest LBO of its time, with an involvement of KKR and Ross Johnson is simply amazing. The guy Ross Johnson is a hero in my eye. His concept - Anybody ...more
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Bryan Burrough joined Vanity Fair in August 1992 and has been a special correspondent for the magazine since January 1995. He has reported on a wide range of topics, including the events that led to the war in Iraq, the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, and the Anthony Pellicano case. His profile subjects have included Sumner Redstone, Larry Ellison, Mike Ovitz, and Ivan Boesky.

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“It is important to remember that, as Ken Auletta wrote in his definitive Greed and Glory on Wall Street, “no reporter can with 100 percent accuracy re-create events that occurred some time before. Memories play tricks on participants, the more so when the outcome has become clear. A reporter tries to guard against inaccuracies by checking with a variety of sources, but it is useful for a reader—and an author—to be humbled by this journalistic limitation.” 0 likes
“turn over the reins to the board of directors.” 0 likes
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