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Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  14,120 ratings  ·  406 reviews
"Barbarians at the Gate" has been called one of the most influential business books of all time -- the definitive account of the largest takeover in Wall Street history. Bryan Burrough and John Helyar's gripping account of the frenzy that overtook Wall Street in October and November of 1988 is the story of deal makers and publicity flaks, of strategy meetings and society d ...more
ebook, 624 pages
Published October 21st 2003 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published January 1st 1990)
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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
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
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
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
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
Will Szal
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
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
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
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
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
Apr 15, 2008 Patricia rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Simon Lau
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.

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

Vinod Peris
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
This book is a must read for anyone planning on entering the business world in the near future or wanting to be more informed about it. The author lays out this book in a story like fashion that makes it read like a novel rather than a history of the events.

The book covers the several weeks leading up to the buyout of RJR Nabisco and the various cultural, interpersonal, and business factors that played into the saga. We learn of some of the biggest players on Wall Street and Corporate America a
Read this several years ago and was reminded of that by the current corporate corruption and greed on display now. We forget how these jackals were in the 1980's and now they are back with the same crap. If you want an insight of how this all began through junk bonds and worthless take-overs this is the place to start. Corporations haven't changed since this was written they have just gotten more despicable and corrupted.
Chas Ely
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
Fazlan Haniffa
Interesting read. If you like to know what's going on in Wall-street you may like this book. It's a real story about a how a great company was sliced and sold to satisfy the greed of few people.
Hilarious! This book speaks to human nature (unfortunately). I spent a lot of time thinking "I can't believe he/she did or said that"! Other times I was laughing very hard. I learned what a leveraged buyout is (LBO)! The bothersome thing is that sometimes I found myself falling asleep while reading this selection. There were times I was laughing out loud. This selection went into too much detail and read like a television soap opera. It took forever to get to the conclusion because there were to ...more
Hilarious! This book speaks to human nature (unfortunately). I spent a lot of time thinking "I can't believe he/she did or said that"! Other times I was laughing very hard. I learned what a leveraged buyout is (LBO)! The bothersome thing is that sometimes I found myself falling asleep while reading this selection. There were times I was laughing out loud. This selection went into too much detail and read like a television soap opera. It took forever to get to the conclusion because there were to ...more
Estibaliz Delgado
Es el libro que mas he tardado en leer en mi vida. Es un buen relato sobre adquisiciones de compañías apalancadas, el rol de los banqueros de inversión y el ego de los ejecutivos en las corporaciones. Sin embargo la lectura es muy pesada, los detalles algunas veces son innecesarios, demasiada información, demasiados personajes que no necesariamente marcan una diferencia en el relato. Aunque existen muchos escándalos de Private Equity en el mercado desde 1980, RJR Nabisco quedara marcado como una ...more
A surprisingly easy to read book, and it kept me hooked. Apart from the story telling, and the anecdotes, one can learn from this book, a quick idea on finances, on the history of LBO's, the big names that made it, but also the strategies, the plans, the tactic; and what's great, is that it's all real. The book also plunge the reader in the tough decision making moments, decisions that concern a mere 25 billions $ transaction.
As i was reading the book, though, and as i have not watched the movi
M. James Airey
Excellent book written by investigative journalists Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. All the plot twists, suspense and intrigue of a great novel with matter of fact reporting. After reading this book, you won't look at industrialist and financial titans the same way again. Despite being one of the largest LBOs at the time, it is amazing how big egos and petty details made such a significant impact on RJR Nabiscos corporate history. From one overthrow to the next, from genius to folly, this book m ...more
Gwyn Wilkinson
Gave up on this, it's written like a soap opera about Great Men who do Important Things without any political or historical context, meaning the more you read the less you feel like you understand. I got it thinking it would be like Liar's Poker, which is an inside look at modern finance's workings and how its people tick, but here the author understands corporate people even less than he understands junk bonds or whatever. If you want to know how corporate finance works, or you want to read a h ...more
Robert Sparrenberger
Very interesting book about the buyout of RJR Nabisco at the end of the 1980's. If you like Wall Street excess and money flying around everywhere, then this a book to read. Very readable account that reads like fiction at times. Probably could have been made into a movie with all the moving and shaking going on.

The only knock(the authors did help with this with a list at the beginning) is the cast of characters. It's hard to keep it straight at times who is in which camp.

Overall, an excellent bo
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
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
Gabriel Pinkus
This book is, quite simply, a thorough, descriptive, clear story of how investment bankers and corporate executives in charge of tens of thousands of employees and multibillion dollar businesses can spend six full weeks adding absolutely no value to society. These individuals are not running their business but playing a game with each other and making up computer spreadsheet projections, talking to each other but learning nothing of value, and spending massive amounts of money.

RJR Nabisco was un
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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.

Prior to joining
More about Bryan Burrough...
Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the First Age of Terror Dragonfly: NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safra

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