Battle of the Bears (the Bear Stearns books, that is)

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Justin’s not the only one hitting the book-party circuit. Last night I went to a shindig for Kate Kelly’s new book, Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughtest Firm on Wall Street. I saw in the comments section of Justin’s post that rrsafety plans to read the “Bear Stearns books”—which I assume to be this one and William Cohan’s best-selling House of Cards.

Since some people might not be looking to read more than one book on the topic, I thought it would be useful to quickly explain the difference. Cohan’s book, which I’ve (full and important disclosure) only read in chunks, is pretty darn comprehensive. His narrative construct is to follow the last 10 days of Bear, which he does with impressive detail, but he also takes deep dives into the years leading up to that point. Cohan extensively interviewed Jimmy Cayne—a rarity—and the access he had to the then-chairman/ex-CEO shows. At times, the book really gets into the nit and grit of high finance and what, exactly, went wrong, like when Cohan digs into the failure of the Bear hedge funds run by Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin. He does not shy from using phrases like “ABS CDO.”

Kelly definitely does. Her account, which is (tellingly) half as long (247 pages vs. 468), takes the last 72 hours of the firm as her jumping off point. She, too, strays into the years-long run-up—lots of detail about Jimmy Cayne’s drug habits…—but she hews much more closely to the minute-by-minute unravelling of the firm. She also—and I hope I can say this without being accused of being a girl—more compellingly gets at the emotion of what it was like to be in the sinking ship of Bear Stearns. People are frantically e-mailing their wives and crying all over the place. Even then-CEO Alan Schwartz  falls apart a little—on the day his company gets handed to J.P. Morgan for a paltry $2 a share he stands in line at Starbucks and starts to tear up. Kelly’s is a much more human account of the end of a company—and an era. Which I would say makes it more accessible to a broader audience.

UPDATE: I did not mean to step on Justin’s post about his own book. Let me make clear: if you are only going to read one book about Bear Stearns, it should definitely be The Myth of the Rational Market. Makes a great Fathers’ Day present.