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Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  298 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Financial collapses—whether of the junk bond market, the Internet bubble, or the highly leveraged housing market—are often explained as the inevitable result of market cycles: What goes up must come down. In Liquidated, Karen Ho punctures the aura of the abstract, all-powerful market to show how financial markets, and particularly booms and busts, are constructed. Through ...more
Hardcover, 392 pages
Published July 13th 2009 by Duke University Press Books (first published November 30th 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,034)
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Ldrutman Drutman
Mar 13, 2010 Ldrutman Drutman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been reading a lot about Wall Street lately, but this book was unique in that it was written by an anthropologist. It was a bit redundant and dry (as are most academic books), but I did get a really good sense of what it was like to be working in a Wall Street bank, and it was definitely worth it for that.

So what is the culture of Wall Street like?

First of, there is this intense culture of smartness, of all these people who went to the best schools and think they are just about the smartes
Aug 22, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Marxists, financiers, anarchists, sceptics
Karen Ho - professor of anthropology and one time Wall St insider - has produced a landmark text that slices financial capitalism into slivers of contradiction, self-deception and hubris.

Her narrative starts with the innocent and everyday: what it takes to get into a Wall St firm and what it's like to work there. It's only for the "best", the "brightest" and the slavishly hard-working. Soon enough she turns to the ideology of Wall Street in which white knights on greenbacks save the poor and mis
Apr 25, 2011 Donna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best best best! explication of subprime crisis and Wall Street culture. The ethnographic approach works. The history in this book was fascinating. It describes, in part, the metamorphosis of the corporation as solid entity to a lava lamp-like liquidity with emphasis on share-holder value. I don't know where lava lamps would fall on the liquidity scale, but 'the Roots and Narratives of Shareholder Value' definitely my favorite chapter.
And this, from 'Downsizers Downsized', " In addition to being
Jul 16, 2010 Zj rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really enlightening. Demystifies Wall Street by reading it from a point of view that is so refreshingly human. A book that anyone seeking to understand finance or economics should read. Ho reveals the financial crises so often attributed to abstract "market forces" to be a product of a Wall Street culture of elitism that begins with Ivy League cliques and is supported by a cut-throat occupational environment characterized by norms of exhausting work schedules, perfectionism, and instability. A v ...more
John  Edgar Mihelic
Ho writes the book that I think I would have written, had I been born in different circumstances. She was a graduate student in the Ivy League and she saw her peers go into the Street, so she did what any good anthropologist would do – she went native to study the flora and fauna of Wall Street.

In it, she looks at the prevailing orthodoxies of the natives and tries to debunk them, amongst these are shareholder value and the benefit of so many hours at your desk (free food and a car service help
May 14, 2012 Chet rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not easy but essential.

Definition of ETHNOGRAPHY
: the study and systematic recording of human cultures; also : a descriptive work produced from such research

Meanwhile the Author has written a very long book and at times is extremely redundant. For example in the area of how the banks are specific in recruiting the best and the brightest, primarily from Princeton and Havard, after making the point effective it continues to be supported with anecdotal accounts leaving me with the repeating the fa
Jan 03, 2015 Dirk rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Must read if you are interested in economic sociology, sociology of financial markets, etc.
Karen Ho provides great insights into the workings and culture of finance. Eventually, it is quite depressing to see how little seems to have changed since the 2008 crisis, and how helpless governments seem to be in addressing the structural problems of financial institutions and financial markets. Also, the book provides a great starting point for those teaching economic sociology, finance and accounting
Fluffy Singler
If you want to know how the economic crisis of 2008 started, then read Liquidated. It talks about the culture of Wall Street and how it is diametrically opposed to the values of Main Street. It basically shows the parasitic relationship of Wall Street to Main Street and the way that they will kill off companies to make a profit, the way a parasite kills what it feeds upon. Not much of this was terribly surprising to me, having temped at corporations, including some who bought up failing companie ...more
Dec 29, 2014 Jina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, econ
I read this at the same time as Richistan and Young Money. Like the latter, Karen Ho focuses on Wall Street. She was an anthropology grad student who took a sabbatical to work on Wall Street; her ethnography is based on both her experiences during the year she worked there and interviews with the contacts she made during her work. The language is a bit stilted, but once you get used to it, she has a number of insights. Examples:

* Workers are motivated by being constantly told how smart they are
Jane S
Jul 10, 2012 Jane S rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very closely written yet riveting ethnographic account life and work in the world of Wall St, and definitely counts in my book as a classic of the genre. The author delved not only into the workings and psychological underpinnings of the Street's denizens but also the origins of more meta perspectives and historiographies of overarching tropes such as shareholder value. A valuable addition to the annals of ethnographic research and highly recommended.
Apr 17, 2014 Veronica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grad-school
I totally skimmed this book as any good grad student does, but I would still recommend this book. It is more academic than popular press. Even I glazed over a few times with all the academic-speak, but if you can get past that, it is a great dive into the world of investment banking. No, it's not boring at all. Rather fascinating at how easily we buy into the idea that anyone who goes to Harvard is "the best." And then if they work at Goldman Sachs they are "the best." And thus whatever they do ...more
Jul 27, 2016 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
If you want to understand the source and the consequence of the rhetoric of modern finance, this is your book. Ho is an anthropologist who lived and worked among the natives of Financeland and survived to tell about it. Her analysis is brilliant, her anecdotes are priceless, her insights are thrilling. The way in which companies like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey create personalities, even for those who never work in finance much less who work for them, is remarkable. These are the real sources and ...more
Gabriel Alonso arias
Some quick (and not very well structured) thoughts about this research...

I've got mixed feelings: on the one hand some parts are very interesting and illuminating, on the other hand I have big concerns about the relevance of the qualitative parts for the theoretical conclusions that are presented in the different chapters.

Moreover I wonder about the adecuacy of the interviews as a ethnography technique and to study the matter at hand and to extrapolate to macro conclusions about the finance mark
Duke Press
“Ho’s refreshing ethnography of the daily lives of Wall Street investment bankers . . . outlines a web of practices, beliefs and structures that may be vital to understanding what keeps the market system in place despite built-in instabilities.”--Publishers Weekly

“Karen Ho has picked an excellent time to publish her fascinating new study . . . of Wall Street banks. . . . As field-sites go, Wall Street is not classic anthropological territory: ethnographers typically work in remote, third-world s
Jan 09, 2012 Joel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic, socio
An interesting read on the culture of investment bank(s,ers,ing) and how the narrow field of backgrounds and ideologies feeds a cycle of behaviors seen alternately as being right or being the only possible actions. Assumptions about how "the market" behaves are held as gospel, alongside a knowledge that the investment banks are "the market." Boom and bust cycles are the inevitable result of personalizing gain and socializing risk, and that is the name of the game for investment bankers.

The prima
Mar 06, 2013 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I enjoyed reading this ethnography, I was a bit skeptical of Ho's theories due to her limited time working for Wall Street, the lack of clarity regarding her personal aspirations and reactions to being downsized, her seemingly small informant pool comprised mainly of friends or classmates who were also fairly new to Wall Street, and her lack of hard numbers to back up theories of recruitment and discrimination. After hearing her speak at the U of M and engaging in discussion with her, I ...more
This is an ethnography of Wall Street behavior in investment banking firms done by a Princeton grad who is currently an assistant professor of Anthropology at Minnesota. It seems like it is a book version of her dissertation.

Even though I am generally skeptical of ethnographies of business firms due to their theoretical looseness and generally critical stance, I liked this book and though the author contributed to ongoing conversations about Wall Street and its influence on the broader economy.
Alex Tank
the strength of this book lies in the thesis: common place features of "the market", like booms and busts, are not just abstract general features of markets, but are generated by the particular Wall Street culture of smartness, bonus compensation, rampant job insecurity, and extreme future reward discounting. The main flaw with the book is that most assertions are backed up through interviews with bankers, rather than data. It is also very repetitive and marred at times by anthro-speak. The firs ...more
Read this book before I joined Goodreads. Was reminded, recently, that I enjoyed it. written by an anthropologist who had actually worked on Wall Street--it talks of the disturbing fact that Wall Streets view that "profit is all" has infiltrated many areas of the rest of Society.
Zach Blume
Apr 11, 2014 Zach Blume rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first couple of chapter are an absolutely amazing analysis of capitalism. She wrote this right before the crash in '07.

But, after the first chapter, the book is pretty inaccessible to anyone not versed in the scholarly mubmojumbo language which she tediously employs
Mar 22, 2015 Lorelei rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Additional context: The author is one of my professors at the University of MN. I am rating it so high both for content and research, but also because additional studies and conversations with her offer concordance.
Oct 21, 2016 Jess rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book if you enjoy nonfiction. Tells of the culture of Wall Street investment banks from the inside, and how this contributed to the most recent major recession.
Mar 25, 2011 Yang rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthropology
I read this book chiefly out of a curiosity about the Wall Street. Anthropologists pay much attention to the unfolding of humanity by thoroughly showing how the webs of significance( the culture) are at work. So feel safe if you expect to know this side of the Street. Karen gave a pretty precise desciption to that "culture of smartness". However, when it comes to clarifying and explaining the changes in the macro level, her analysis seem to be weak. How the wall street model really challenges th ...more
Sep 09, 2016 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthropology
The subject matter is absolutely fascinating and worth reading for the interesting subculture of Wall Street. Occasionally the book trudges through repetitive descriptions of the economic infrastructure of Wall Street and how it relates to the economy as a whole. However, the overall conclusion of the book (that Wall Street cultural behaviors and values shape the market, sometimes with disastrous results, rather than merely being a "reflection" of the market) comes across well. Certainly worth a ...more
I was stunned by the introduction of this book! It's so interesting that the author began her research from a news on television. However, the pages which she actively explained about how her ethnography was different from the prior were so boring.

Jump to chapter 1!

The part of recruiting is quite interesting. It seems Ivy league is high class student. It's good to show the relationship or the network of people in Wall Street.

I like how she show us the daily life of banker, how the office space
A must-read for anyone thinking of working on Wall Street. It applies a social scientist's anthropological lens on the biggest I-banking firms on Wall Street, shedding light on concepts like shareholder value and liquidity. Much of the information isn't new, but she makes a few surprising connections, like the extent to which Wall Street actually internalizes the advice it gives its clients on efficient market practices.
Jul 30, 2012 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Very well documented and provocative read! While it's a bit dense at times, the author is uniquely situated to gain access to otherwise elusive info. Her story gives good insights about our national financial landscape.
Jul 24, 2013 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Excellent example of an ethnography where the author did not understand the underlying principles of macroeconomics, rejected explanations based on her assumptions, and theorized based on preconceived notions.
Aug 20, 2010 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Poorly written and redundant, but has interesting insights into the culture of Wall Street. How they recruit and sell themselves, the insecurity of the positions, the idea of shareholder value.
Dana McLachlin
Dana McLachlin rated it really liked it
Oct 24, 2016
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