Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street's Wildest Con
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Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street's Wildest Con

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  306 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Octopus is a real-life thriller that tells the inside story of an audacious hedge fund fraud and the wild search, by a colorful cast of rogues and schemers, for a “secret market” beneath the financial market we all know.

Sam Israel was a man who seemed to have it all – until the hedge fund he ran, Bayou, imploded and he became the target of a nationwide manhunt. Born into o...more
ebook, 368 pages
Published July 10th 2012 by Crown (first published January 1st 2012)
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The definition of modern schadenfreud is reading about how a hedge fund manager’s life goes down the toilet, and the dirtier and more foul the toilet, the better. Octopus promises such a tale but it becomes, almost literally, a tale told by an idiot. As the main protagonist in the book develops from being an apprentice Master of the Universe on Wall Street to inhabiting a different Universe altogether, I began to feel I could be told a similar story from a number of patients on a mental ward who...more
Aaron Arnold
There were a few different reactions I had to this airport thriller-style account of the life and career of Steve Israel, a hedge fund con artist. One is that it's just another rise-and-fall tale of a Wall Street jerk who got shown that he wasn't as smart as he thought he was, and whose life story would be ignored if he had been, say, a blue-collar worker from the South Side with a gambling problem rather than a rich-kid trader who turned his hedge fund into a Ponzi scheme. The book is full of l...more
Jacob Wren
In this article:


Matt Taibbi writes:

The other thing that led him to believe in the Octopus? The Fed’s response to, among other things, the 1987 crash. Israel saw that whenever Wall Street screwed up, the Fed jumped in and rescued everyone with cheap cash. His reaction to 1987:

…the Fed had propped up the market. To pay for the massive rescue, the Fed had created money out of thin air. The end of the gold standard had turned the dollar into a fiat currency, e
The book reads like a thriller, and doesn't get bogged down in the minutia of high finance. It's kind of like FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS goes to Wall Street.

Sam Israel was a prominent Wall Street investor, and the founder of the Bayou Hedge Fund. He was a greedy, larger-than-life character, and OCTOPUS is the fascinating story of his downfall. Although he deftly conned his investors for more and more cash to keep the fund afloat, he falls prey to one of the wildest cons of all. Robert Booth...more
David Earle
Octopus opens with a suicide, and by the end of the book you've encountered frauds, spies, scam artists, lunatics, killers, Chinese gold, shadow markets, thirteen families that run the world, the lost Zapruder footage, and General Zod's henchman. None of this is an exaggeration.

This book is insane. It's supposed to be about Sam Israel, who is Bernie Madoff light: a Ponzi scammer, but one who retains a degree of sympathy - he at least didn't mean to defraud his victims. But the text reads like Wi...more
Pat Fitzgerald
Big disappointment. Sammy was a conman, and he found a mark in Guy Lawson. (And me too, I guess, since I shelled out $12.99 for this.) I've written about these conman-conspiracy types myself -- Chris Sugre, Lenny Dykstra and even Bayou itself -- and I think you have to be ruthlessly skeptical. I figured Lawson would be too. But he's a big disappointment, providing little perspective. He just lets Sammy spin out his delusional conspiracy theories, culled from the Voice circa the early 90s. There'...more
I entered a goodreads contest for this book because I thought it would be a look behind the scenes in the financial meltdown. It is not. It is about con men getting conned. The "secret market" is essentially a story that a favored few can buy dollar bills for 50 cents. Yeh sure. Sam Israel is probably mentally ill. If not, he is conning the author.

It is fun to win boks on goodreads but I am really sorry that I wasted the time to read over half of this one.
B. Rule
This is a book about mental illness, both that of Sam Israel and of the entire global financial system. Israel's illness is obvious; he is paranoid, delusional, and apt to believe fantastical conspiracy theories about a shadow market for bonds available only to the super-rich. Israel rejects all evidence to the contrary, seemingly even today, and goes down an increasingly bizarre and dark path in his efforts to avoid the consequences of his own fraud. The degree to which perpetrators actually we...more
If I would not have got this book as a giveaway (many thanks for it), I wouldn't have read it and I wouldn't have a great two days immersing an incredible story. Well written page-turner I couldn't say less, great work and style. I quite love the ending, mysterious, as it assume the stupidity of the world is never lessening.. Good to know where our money going if we try to invest or make big money. One more thing about the style of the writer, brilliant anyway, he made me involved into this stor...more
I didn't finish this book. The writing was fine but the characters were rotten. I've read about this mixture of ego, greed, ruthlessness and immorality on Wall Street before. I decided that there were better things to read, and better people to read about.
Mary Ann
The tale of Sam Israel, who founded a hedge fund that he turned into a Ponzi scheme to avoid admitting failure, is truly stranger than fiction. Israel, the scion of a wealthy New Orleans family, falls under the spell of trading on Wall Street and becomes a heavy drug user. Under the spell of "masters of the universe" self-aggrandizement, he bites off considerably more than he can chew in starting his own hedge fund and resorts to fraud to hide his mistakes. But that's not close to being the craz...more
Octopus tells the weird, wacky and true story of Sam Israel III, a member of a very rich American family, who had been making money the old fashioned way - via trading and the market - for decades, heck since the mid 1800s. Sam III decided he wanted to make his own mark, so off he went to trade on the market, this time as a day trader, working on minor fluctuations of the market.

He learned how to turn inside information into cash and then decided to go one better and start his own hedge fund. N...more
Crown Publishing Group
Octopus is a real-life thriller that tells the inside story of an audacious hedge fund fraud and the wild search, by a colorful cast of rogues and schemers, for a “secret market” beneath the financial market we all know.

Sam Israel was a man who seemed to have it all – until the hedge fund he ran, Bayou, imploded and he became the target of a nationwide manhunt. Born into one of America’s most illustrious trading families, Israel was determined to strike out on his own. So after apprenticing with...more
Sharon Thomson
The book was well written. Instead of jumping in and just telling the story of the con that Sam Israel perpetrated, Guy Lawson starts off by introducing Sam as a young man trying to carve his own way in a world where he is expected to fall in to line and join the family business. Even though his family was rich, he worked hard trying to make a name for himself. As a result he became greedy and wanted more money. Maybe if he had not had such an affluent upbringing he may not have pushed so hard t...more
Phil Scovis
When I got this book, for some reason I thought it was a financial thriller novel. I was surprised to learn after a few chapters that I was reading non-fiction -- a biography, no less. Yet, the story is quite novel-like anyway. I kept thinking of the people as "characters" (which they certainly were).

About halfway through the book the story joins just about every wild conspiracy theory ever heard; the JFK assassination, the Yamashita gold treasure, and the vaguely understood new-world-order con...more
Darren Vincent
I picked this book up thinking it was a financial thriller and was surprised to find that it was not. I was even more surprised that I started to read it anyway because I do not enjoy non-fiction. But it was a good read in that watching a train-wreck as entertainment sort of way.

I find it hard to give an opinion or like/not like something that has actually happened. I mean, how do you say that you like/not like a character or the plot when it actually happened. The book itself was hard to put do...more
I received this copy through Goodreads.

Sam Israel was born into a family of great privelege and wealth. He wanted to succeed on his own, and not just follow his family's path, so he apprenticed with a stock trader at a young age. He eventually opened his own hedge-fund, and, over time, the fund began to accrue great losses. In order to hide the losses, and try to rebuild the fund, Israel ventured into a multitude of schemes to try to make billions of dollars.

If this book were fiction, I probably...more
Sam Israel will soon be yet another footnote in the plethora of frauds running hedge funds and those yet to be uncovered and on into the future, and on and on.

This book about his escapades that led to a saga of worldwide adventure and intrigue lays out how Israel supposedly unintentionally got caught up in some bad trading of his own that culminated in wild schemes to bail himself out of the mess.

Lawson briefly states early in the book that credibility of the stories related by Israel now servin...more
Doug Cornelius
Sam Israel is a scumbag. He is a liar and a cheat. He admits so in Octopus by Guy Lawson. Israel was the nefarious trader behind the Bayou Funds, one of biggest hedge fund ponzi schemes, at least until Bernie Madoff finally fell to Earth.

Lawson met with Israel while Israel was in prison. He want to write about Israel's fraud at the Bayou Fund. Lawson found him to be devious, defiant, impossible to not like.

Israel started as a trader, not an investor. He made his money on the short movements of...more
Exapno Mapcase
It seems it is easy to con a con man. For the first part of the book, Octopus shows the reader a fairly normal portrait of a young man who gradually works his way to the top of a trading company. But the action really heats up during the second part. The first part is fairly straightforward show Israel going from legitimate trades to covering his losses with Ponzi-style schemes.

The second part comes off like the TV show Leverage, in which you see the con and then are shown how it all takes plac...more
Ankur Maniar
One of those books where its hard to believe that its a non fiction..With so many fictional accounts and unconfirmed reports about Sam Israel, Robert Nicols, shadow market, Wall Street frauds, Cons left right and centre...its hard to figure out whether its a book as claimed or there are figments of imagination put in by the author. Nevertheless the narrative doesnt bore you, keeps you interested for most of the times. I, especially liked the initial chapters of the book where the formative years...more
Siggi Asztalos
The book is essentially split into two haves: wall street fraud then an outlandish scam but the issue here is that both sections set up the premise then seem to enter an endless loop where new characters and problems arise but they are just another scoop of the same exact flavor. Author explains the same decision process over and over and over.
I started reading this book as the story of a hedged fund manager - and how he destroyed his fund.

The book starts normally enough, his early years, how he got in the trade, how he set up his fund, nothing out of the ordinary - and then, at about p150, BOOM.

Suddenly the story turns into a real-life long-con; it was like reading the script for a Hustle long episode. Incredible characters, worldwide 'conspiracies', unbelievable money, the lot. At times I was imagining Neil Caffrey forging bonds, or...more
Phenomenal. Matt Taibbi recommended this book on blog and it is well worth a read. The true-life story revolves around a crooked hedge fund thief who falls for an even larger scam artist and receives his just comeuppance. Gripping and twistedly brilliant. Five stars all the way.
I won this book through a good reads giveaway.

I wasn't sure what to make of this book as it had mixed reviews. The story follows Sam Israel, a man from a successful and powerful family, trying to prove himself in the shark invested water of the stock market. With a new, struggling, hedge fund Sam needs to increase investment. Sam's CFO, Dan Mario, discovers how easy it is to fix the books. The story continues on a weird journey through Secret underground financial markets. A massive $100 Million...more
Oliver Schnusenberg
This story was so unbelievable, it may have been a thriller!! Guy Lawson managed to tell this tale in such a way that it came across as pure fiction and kept you saying "This just can't have happened." He did a fantastic job of illustrating Sam Israel's Problem and his obsession.

There are a couple of things I didn't like about the book. First, I think that the first 100 pages could have easily been condensed into 50 pages. The setup for the "real" story was a little too elaborate for my taste....more
Low Keng
The story was hard to believe. From fraud,certain families running the whole system, bond trading at Barclays, it was truly a story that is beyond your imagination. I stopped after 3/4 of the book, as it ( the story) was getting too weird.
This book really captured my attention, and I found it very interesting and intriguing, even though it took me a while to figure out all the financial terminology (since I'm particularly ignorant about hedge funds, day trades, etc.). I would like to give it 3.75 stars if I could. The writing was good, the story incredible, but there were things missing (I thought) - for example, none of Bayou's investors was interviewed for the book, so that side of the equation is missing. It fascinated me that...more
Don Gorman
The truth is stranger than fiction, it sure rings true in this one. I was attracted to this book by a review in the business section of the Sunday NY Times and it is really crazy. Another insane financier (with a silent sidekick) who lies his way through his professional life. Never wants to take the money and run but can't imagine he isn't producing the results he promised. The downward spiral starts......with more crazy twists and turns that a hollywood screenwriter could ever come up with. If...more
Good story but poor delivery. Read the whole book, but disappointed
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Guy Lawson is a true-crime journalist who has written for The Observer, GQ, Rolling Stone and New York Times. His Rolling Stone piece Arms and the Dudes is currently shooting with Warner Brothers. For Octopus, he interviewed Sam Israel in prison for three years and travelled extensively through London, Berlin, Washington, and New York to corroborate Israel’s story. The book is currently in a biddi...more
More about Guy Lawson...
The Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia The Brotherhoods Octopus Octopus: The Secret Market and the World's Wildest Con Octopus: Sam Israel, the secret market, and Wall Street's wildest con

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