Ben Mezrich - Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboy Who Raided Asia in Search of the American Dream

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Mezrich: the master of a new genre

Apr 4, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A fast-paced thriller, very descriptive explanations put the reader into the "Wild East"

Cons:Need to have a basic understanding of finance, some of the facts have been "enhanced"

The Bottom Line: If you like Mezrich and are at all interested in finance, you'll love this book


Ben Mezrich is best known as the man who wrote the book, “Bringing Down the House,” which was a NY Times Bestseller and now the basis for the movie 㦁” starring Kevin Spacey. Mezrich has way of making real-life accounts of intelligent college-age kids who find ways to beat the system by teetering on the edge of ethics.

Both “Bringing Down the House” and “Busting Vegas” (also by Mezrich) tell the story of MIT students who find ways to make millions with their systems for beating Blackjack at casinos around the world, and the danger that ensues by developing such a system.

Because his forays into the gambling/casino/Las Vegas stories were so entertaining, I was excited to read another one of Mezrich’s book that took the same basic premise, but moved into the world of high finance. This book is definitely more fictionalized than the both “BDTH” and “Busting Vegas”, however, it still maintains the same suspense and character development techniques.

Beating Blackjack is something most people can comprehend fairly quickly. The overall “scheme” or “system” is harder to understand in “Ugly Americans”, unless of course you have a degree in finance or work as a trader in Japan. Mezrich does a good job at providing the reader with a basic understanding the mechanisms and tools that the main characters are using to get rich, but I’m sure individuals deeply involved the stock market will feel it does not go far enough, while individuals with little or no finance background will feel left in the dark.

Overall, Ugly Americans provides an account of the life of "John Malcolm" (who is allegedly based on trader Michael Lerch). Malcom was a Princeton football player who moved to Japan to take a job as a derivatives trader. He meets and is mentored by "Dean Carney" at the firm of Kidder Peabody. Carney is portrayed as a real “Cowboy” who’s success is impressive, but also built on questionable ethics. Throughout the book, Malcolm is clearly torn on whether to respect Carney or fear him.

Some real life accounts of the the fall of Barings Securities is discussed, specifically focusing on the criminal activities and unethical trading of Nick Leeson. Other actual events, like the earthquake in Osaka, Japan, and the underground “Water trade” of Japan, which are essentially sex-related businesses, are explained in great detail. Like in his other books, however, Mezrich, specifically as it relates to the “Water Trade,” does not go overboard in explaining the real life elements, but instead masterfully intertwines them into the narrative with the main characters.

Evidently, some of the facts and timelines of the book are questionable and Mezrich himself admits that he changed some of the locations and names to protect the identity of some of his sources. He has stated in various interviews that he has “enhanced” his books even though for the most part they are nonfiction.

Overall, if you are looking for a fast-paced suspenseful read, Ugly Americans will fit the bill. Again, you should have a basic understanding or interest in the world of finance, and not mind a few “enhancements” to add to the suspense, to truly enjoy the book. I always enjoy Mezrich’s works and I’m very impressed with his ability to keep the reader interested in this new genre of young people beating the system that he seems to have created.


Recommend this product? Yes


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