Merchants of Debt:
KKR AND THE MORTGAGING OF AMERICAN BUSINESS
It can be really fun to read the “history” of something that is still going today, bigger and stronger than ever, yet the “history” was written almost thirty years ago. The origins of private equity behemoth started in the 1960’s, and this book was written in the early 1990’s, which means there was plenty to cover about KKR’s formation and first couple decades of existence when this was written, but I as a reader get to take it in knowing another ~30 years of history that the author didn’t know. All in all, the book was utterly fascinating, the warnings about leveraged buyouts comical to read in the context of what actually happened with interest rates, and the historical detail well worth the read. The demonization and misunderstanding of private equity is likely not going anywhere, but nor is private equity’s unmistakably positive contributions to our economy and quality of life.
WHO SAYS ELEPHANTS CAN’T DANCE?
Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
The only thing I love more than a really good CEO memoir is a really good CEO memoir that the CEO actually wrote him or herself, sans ghostwriter. Gerstner is no longer with us but what he did for IBM in the 1990’s is one of the top five CEO legendary stories of all time, and his own raw memoir of his run there did not disappoint. Should be required business school reading, to the extent business schools still care about teaching one what it means to do business.
THE CAESAR’S PALACE COUP
You couldn’t make up an idea for a book that would suck me in more than this. Private Equity investors in a brawl with junior debtholders over one of the largest Las Vegas conglomerate of assets in the world. Lawyers. Lawsuits. Wall Street. Capital structure. Each side firmly convinced it is their ethical duty to get a pound of flesh out of the other side. A fiduciary duty to equity investors. The legal hierarchy of debtholders. All wrapped in a well-written narrative and story about one of the most bizarre legal and financial stories of the last decade. A stunning story with a who’s who of Wall Street cast.
THE ARISTOCRACY OF TALENT:
The book was almost depressing just in the sense of how it captures the assault of meritocracy currently taking place by culture warriors of both the left and the right. The book acknowledges some realities that a high value on merit, work, talent, and intelligence mean in the society, but dares to point out the scariest thing we face as a culture: Hint: It’s not more meritocracy, but rather, what we would face if we got rid of it!