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House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,871 Ratings  ·  231 Reviews
A blistering narrative account of the negligence and greed that pushed all of Wall Street into chaos and the country into a financial crisis.

At the beginning of March 2008, the monetary fabric of Bear Stearns, one of the world’s oldest and largest investment banks, began unraveling. After ten days, the bank no longer existed, its assets sold under duress to rival JPMorgan
Paperback, 608 pages
Published February 9th 2010 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2009)
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After I read Too Big to Fail, I just hadn’t gotten enough stories about greedy assholes so I figured I‘d read this to angry up my blood some more.

Actually, Too Big to Fail began after the Bear Stearns meltdown so even though there was some background there, I felt like I hadn’t gotten the whole story so I picked this up to try and complete the picture. The two books dovetail nicely with this one concentrating on the history of Bear Stearns and how it became the warning alarm that something bad
Jan 02, 2011 James rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life-in-amerika
I've read at least 6 other books about the financial crisis of the last 3 years,
This is by far the worst of all.

The story starts on May 1st 1923,
and the author retells everything others have written and added a story of just about every cough, sneeze, and fart that occurred on Wall st since then.

This book clearly wasn't edited.
At 430 painfully long pages it just covers too much unimportant drivel.

About the only interesting thing he brought to attentions was the attitude of BS's exec's when t
Mar 16, 2010 Rebecca rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Goodreads needs a new Bookshelf Tag....Abandoned! I struggled through half of this book for a week and a half and just couldn't do it anymore. The first few pages are fascinating. We get a behind the scenes look at the negotiations behind the collaspe and rescue of Bear Sterns. It is unbelievable how these companies operate, selling and borrowing on securities leveraged out the ying-yang. It was also exciting...before most of us have hit the alarm, billions of dollars have already been traded.
Dec 25, 2011 Abhishek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While the Wall Street stories emerging post the subprime crisis are plentiful, reading about them at length may not always be captivating for the common man. And that is why each book is required to do something different, tell something that the previous book did not, fill in the gaps left in other stories. House of Cards tries to tell the complete tale of the rise and fall of Bear Sterns. And William Cohan does a pretty good job of it! The best part that I liked about the style of narration is ...more
Jul 15, 2009 Harold rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book appears to have been raced out, and is somewhat disorganized, covering much of the material twice. It isn't a compelling read, but if you are interested in the subject matter specifically of the fall of Bear Stearns, it covers it pretty thoroughly. But it just deals with the fall of Bear Stearns, not any of the other troubles on Wall Street, so if you are looking for an overview of the street in this century (and the debacle of our current economy), this is not your book.
Greg Talbot
Jun 24, 2012 Greg Talbot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As Robert Schiller wrote in Irrational Excuberance, when you look at what Americans were reading in the 1930s, there was a critical focus on books and writings about the economy and how the run on the banks had unfolded. Starting in the beginning we see where the dust has settled and JP Morgan has bought out the remaining equity from the former premier bank Bear Sterns. What Cohen brings is the inner storm; the restless economic changes throughout Sterns run, and the ferocious battle their leade ...more
Jan 14, 2013 Derek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Cohan, a former investment banker, gives us in "House of Cards" a chilling, almost minute-by-minute account of the 10, vertigo-inducing days that one year ago revealed Bear Stearns to be a flimsy house of cards in a perfect storm.

He shows how quickly rumors about liquidity led to a run on the bank, and how fears that a bankruptcy of Bear Stearns could wreak fiscal havoc around the world led the Federal Reserve to approve a $30 billion credit line to help JPMorgan Chase acquire the ailing
Mar 29, 2010 Corinne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I knew nothing about how the financial collapse happened--at least not in detail of how the subprime mortgage securities were structured, and ultimately, how Bear Stearns and Lehman failed. I figured it had to be more than people taking out mortgages on houses they couldn't afford since the losses were so much greater than the value of the loans.

So I picked this up. The first 150 pages on the fall of Bear I found really interesting, if for no other reason than the author clearly has top level co
Jan 16, 2015 judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is probably the 12th book I've read out of the hundreds written about the market meltdown. I'm still clueless on exactly why everything crashed but I feel better. This book demonstrated that very few of the Wall Street big boys understand what went on either. Many just assumed their underlings knew the score. This book, in particular, begins at the beginning--the demise of Bear Stearns. That's the first half of the book. The second half analyzes the founding and culture of one of the most s ...more
Jul 01, 2009 Aharon rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
If you took out the verbatim email reprints, verbatim half-page chunks from articles in CEO Magazine, and verbatim rambling quotations, this would be about 20 pages long. And the parts that Cohan himself actually wrote are kind of unfortunate: on the second page of this book about mortgage-induced financial collapse, he confuses one kind of mortgage for another. It's like a term paper in a class the author's taking pass/fail.
Mysti Berry
Mar 24, 2014 Mysti Berry rated it really liked it
If you have a hard time remembering how the meltdown started, or have a hard time understanding where "toxic mortgages" come from, this book is a step-by-step map to what happened.

The only piece Cohan leaves out is some details about the complex formulas used to create CDOs (a change to it made them toxic).

The number of things that had to go wrong, and did, to start the meltdown is mind-bending. I'm guessing the human part of the equation ("Wait! *These* are the guys who were in charge???!!!!!"
Mar 29, 2015 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this by accident because I thought I was ordering the British Political series.

Still, it worked out because this book is incredibly engaging. Deftly explaining some of the more intricate economics, while just skipping over most of them, it is a character study in the world of Wall Street by detailing the demise of one of the rougher firms.

The main characters are given backstories, but only as much as is needed. The real character is Bear Stearns itself, a firm that had few friends and
Narrated by: Alan Sklar

Length: 25 hrs and 16 mins

Publisher's Summary

In March 2008, Bear Stearns, a swashbuckling 84-year-old financial institution, was forced to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase for an outrageously low price in a deal brokered by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who was desperately trying to prevent an impending catastrophic market crash. But mere months before, an industry-wide boom had "the Bear" clocking a record high stock price. How did a giant investment bank with $18 billi
William Cohan's "House of Cards" will set your blood boiling, not through any rant or screed, but by its accumulation of facts and skilled weaving of those facts into a coherent, damning narrative.

Bear Stearns, the scrappy outsider of Wall Street banks, brought about its own destruction by focusing on short-term gains (including the desired goal of being the Most Talked About Bank on Wall Street) and glamour rather than prudent financial stewardship. A classic example of false metrics, willful b
Jerry Peace
Jul 18, 2015 Jerry Peace rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Greed, perhaps the worst of our sins because it is so prolific and ubiquitous and because it is truly classless. However, as this book shows so well, the greed of the Wall Street vampires has the added power to destroy the economic present and futures for millions. And be rewarded for it. And it continues, with the "recovery" further enriching the 1% while the 99% continue to at best languish economically. This book will make you appreciate bridge playing as a path to riches, though. Read it. Yo ...more
Nov 15, 2015 J rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
BEWARE of spoilers. (Or is that possible when writing about a piece of non-fiction that deals with known historical events?)

Hubris is the operative word.

I read this in order to get a better handle on the economic meltdown of the late 2000s, the Great Recession, whatever you want to call it. I figured a readable account would do more for my comprehension than a dry economic treatise.

Shameful behaviors by multiple players.

I didn't feel much pity for the thousands of Bear Stearns traders/analysts/s
William Cohan's epic account of the 2008 collapse of Bear Stearns is a fantastic, illuminating read. With an insider's perspective ( Cohan spent years working on Wall Street ) we are taken step-by-step through the implosion of the ( then ) No. 5 largest investment bank in America. This disaster marked the beginning of an economic domino effect that would plunge the entire world into the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression.
'House of Cards' will no doubt stand out historically a
Sep 21, 2009 Andy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Cohan’s account of the March 2008 implosion of Bear Stearns reads like a fairly cut-and-dry example of financial Darwinism in action. Other Wall Street firms found themselves in similar circumstances that spring, but few were so highly leveraged or so deeply exposed to toxic subprime mortgages.

Cohan describes Bear’s final years as a period of lax accountability, with no centralized management (or understanding) of the firm’s vast investment portfolio and no comprehension of the immense r
Oct 23, 2009 Cramer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, what a book! Cohan takes you through the last 10 days of the investment banking giant Bear Stearns. Just before its collapse Bear was the fifth largest IB in the world but excessive greed, risky and arrogant CEOs and rumor brought this 85 year old institution down to its knees. This is a very gripping story, one that even if you are not familiar with many things financial, has been written such that all readers will comprehend what many opine as the starting of the world recession. Cohan hi ...more
Apr 29, 2012 Cyndi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I finished the book but in no way feel I could have an intelligent conversation regarding the crash of 2008 and the events that led up to the crash. I was hoping to understand a bit more about how the stock market works and the different funds and players in the game. I learned just that - it is a game. The author talks about the way funds are sold and players are brought in, that it is much like a pyramid scheme. I thought it was more of a shell game, shuffle here, cover that one up and guess w ...more
Diane Paoni
Jun 08, 2010 Diane Paoni rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really loved this book. William Cohan does an excellent job of explaining the blow by blow, day by final day, dynamics that brought Bear Stearns to its knees. The reader learns through this story in wonderful clarity not only what too big to fail means but also what aspects of the financial system reach a point of no good options. The story as revealed is the best argument I've seen for regulating hedge funds, investment banks, and limiting the leverage which can accrue in whatever financial i ...more
Kathleen Gilroy
Apr 12, 2009 Kathleen Gilroy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read a few books about the financial crisis and this may be the best so far. William Cohan details the downfall of Bear Stearns. The books is elegantly structured: he begins with the days just prior to the sale of Bear Stearns to JP Morgan for dollars a share (this one year after it had traded as high as $175 per share). Cohan clearly had detailed inside information and his recounting of the meetings and conversations and opinions of the key players is fascinating to follow. This section ...more
Jan 16, 2011 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the great collapse on Wall Street of Bear Stearn, Lehman Bros., etc. It is about how they got into toxic subprime mortgages and then tried to repackage them for unsuspecting investors. While the big wigs made money and got rich, the investors often lost their money.
Additionally, there is a twist. Under the Clinton administration, there was a push to get mortgages for more people. The middle low and low income people. The administration lowered the standards for mortgages. I
Frank Stein
Jul 20, 2011 Frank Stein rated it really liked it
OK, I've definitely reached burnout on books about the financial crisis. I swear this is the last one.

This book recounts the rise and fall of Bear Stearns, once the fifth largest investment bank in America and now a mere rounding error on JP Morgan's balance sheet. It centers around Jimmy Cayne, the aggresive CEO of Bear Stearns for the 15 years preceding its collapse, and, importantly, a renowned international bridge champion who spent much of the firm's crucial days perfecting his game.

Evo Popoff
Apr 05, 2009 Evo Popoff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The first part of the book is a wonderful play by play of the final days of Bear Stearns in March 2008. The story of how a firm can go from solvent to out of business in 24 hours and the people who brought it down is both fascinating and frightening. The second part, which relates the rise of the firm over the last 80 years, is also interesting and juxtaposes nicely with the frenetic first part (the second part covers 80 years in the same number of pages that the first part covers a week). The l ...more
Jul 11, 2009 FrankH rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a skillful, highly readable presentation of the personalities, policies, and neglect leading to the demise of Bear Stearns. My only quibble is the lack of depth and detail on how the new credit instruments were reshaping the entire financial services industry in a way that few of its leaders could completely grasp -- let alone the rest of us.

Cohan has a point of view on the excesses of Wall St. and the need for better regulation -- a recent NY Times op-end piece co-written by the author
Laura Lorber
May 21, 2010 Laura Lorber rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Still reading this, so here's my take so far. It literally took until about page 200 of the 450 page book to get into it. The beginning was so incredibly depressing, as it goes into extreme detail about the last two weeks of the life of the firm, particularly the painful last weekend of negotiating its sale to JPMorgan. Just about every page includes the sentence: "We're f--ked," or the equivalent. It's really hard to take -- maybe because a close family member lived through it and I closely fol ...more
Sep 22, 2009 Mazola1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

George W. Bush reportedly said of a proposed fix for the financial meltdown of 20008, "Why am I supporting a program I don't understand?" Whatever you may think of Bush's intellect and leadership, his remark is right on target in what it reveals about the complexity of the problem and the difficulty of arriving at solutions. Along with most of his fellow Americans, including many of those working on Wall Street and those supposedly regulating Wall Street, Bush found himself bewildered by the "su
Apr 29, 2009 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, horrifying, amazing glimpse inside the workings of Bear Stearns, its founders, its management, and the culture of the company that made it vulnerable to the series of things that ultimately caused its demise.

If this culture is typical, we have a lot of changing we must do on Wall Street. If, as I hope, these dysfunctional characters and their dysfunctional companies are not typical, then there is hope for a return to operating from a more solid foundation and not in
May 11, 2009 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very inside view of the collapse of Bear Stearns told in a way that even a layman can understand. I really liked this book even if it felt at times that Cohan had gotten a little too close to his subjects. There is an awful lot of empathy for all the characters involved which may have been the sentiment at the time, but certainly isn't any longer. There is a very palpable sense of hopelessness that Cohan is able to capture. He is able to portray the main figures at Bear Stearns very much like ...more
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William David Cohan (born February 20, 1960) is an American business writer. He has written three books about business and economics and is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.

Prior to becoming a journalist, he worked on Wall Street for seventeen years. He spent six years at Lazard Frères in New York, then Merrill Lynch & Co., and later became a managing director at JP Morgan Chase. He also w
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