Reckless: The Rise and Fall of the City by Philip Augar

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Reckless: The Rise and Fall of the City by Philip Augar

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Category: Business and Finance
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Readable, if slightly dry, account of the City of London over the past decade or so.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099524045

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The City, 1997. Many major institutions are struggling in the City, with high profile scandals taking down Barings and severely damaging the reputation of Morgan Grenfell.

The City, 2007. Less than a fortnight before becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, at the Mansion House Dinner, describes the current time as an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age.

The City, 8th October, 2008. Author Philip Augar states even the most conservative observer would have to concede that 8 October 2008 amounted to a catastrophic failure of private-sector banking in the UK.

So how did the City rise so rapidly in the first place, and fall so much faster? Augar talks us through the 10 year period leading up to 1997 in a brief chapter, then goes through the rises of hedge funds, investment banking, asset management and private equity, before explaining that monumental crash and looking at what the future holds.

Augar is a former investment banker himself and clearly knows his stuff, although I struggled with parts of this book a bit. A quick bit of background on myself, if you'll forgive me. I don't consider myself to be anything approaching an expert in matters of finance, but I've read enough books and magazines to think that I have at least an average grasp of the subjects contained in this book. That said, there were parts of Reckless which I had to read a couple of times before I could understand them properly - this may well mean I'm overestimating my knowledge, rather than being a criticism of the book! For a second opinion, I passed the book on to my dad - who has the advantage of a career in audit - to look at, and he certainly felt it was far more accessible than the majority of books of its type.

So, with the word of warning that you probably need to be fairly confident of your knowledge to gain full enjoyment from this account, I'd like to say that if you are happy with that, you'll really enjoy this book. Parts of it are absolutely fascinating - particularly the later section. I'm not sure whether it's because I had more background knowledge of the events since Northern Rock's problems, or just because there's something inherently more captivating about reading about things going horribly wrong than about reading accounts of good times.

While I found parts of the book dry – which may have contributed to my problems with understanding a few things – there are others where it flows really well, and Augar can certainly choose some interesting quotes to draw you in. A personal favourite for me was the American Daniel Loeb’s rebuke to the Star Gas chief executive Irik Sevin – ‘’A review of your record reveals years of value destruction and strategic blunders which have led us to dub you one of the most incompetent executives in America’’. I wish I could get away with being anywhere near that critical of some of the pupils I teach!

He’s also clearly still got some good contacts in the City from his time as an investment banker, although not all of them are keen to talk – a memorable contribution comes from a hedge fund contact who says ’’Please excuse me for not wanting to reminisce about the early days… [I] would never feel that I should comment about the past for fear it limits our potential in the future.’’ Thankfully, between his contacts and his research, Augar has more success in finding out stories about many of the firms.

Overall I think this is a ‘maybe’ for the majority of readers, but those people who are already comfortable with the workings of the City are likely to find it really absorbing.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further Reading: For a look at the situation the other side of the Atlantic, try Dear Mr.Buffett: What an Investor Learns 1,269 Miles from Wall Street by Janet Tavakoli

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