Ghosts of Manhattan by Douglas Brunt

September 2008 – a month that many will equate to the worst financial crisis that hit the U.S. and the world since the Great Depression.  How did the crisis come to pass?  Who was to blame?  The federal government?  The banking industry?  The answers to these questions are still being debated today.

Douglas Brunt highlights the heady days of Bear Stearns before its crash and eventual bankruptcy in his book Ghosts of Manhattan.  His book offers a window into a corrupt culture where employees were encouraged to put strip clubs, alcohol, and drugs on the company expense account.  In addition, they were given huge bonuses.  Brunt displays this culture through the first-person account of fictional character Nick Farmer.

Nick is living the American dream – money, success, and a lovely wife.  But, it comes at a high price to himself and his marriage.

The book is an excellent story that portrays Nick’s downward spiral and his efforts to leave the debauched lifestyle that he has led for more than a decade.  Brunt shows the constant partying of Bear Stearns traders for what it is – a sad, lonely, drug and alcohol-fueled series of days that lead from one party to the next (with a little work sprinkled in between).

For the most part, I like Brunt’s portrayal of the lifestyle (although I do not agree with it), but I could have done without one scene toward the begging of the book.  It takes place when Nick first gets hired and is taken to his first party.  Brunt describes Nick’s sexual escapades a little too graphically.  Brunt could have muted the sex scene more, instead he choose to go into more detail than I cared to read about.

I think that Brunt develops the characters well – especially the shallowness and greed of the traders of Nick’s coworkers.  The plot keeps you interested all the way to the end.

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