Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions

Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions

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by Ben Mezrich

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Ugly Americans is the true story of John Malcolm, a Princeton graduate who traveled halfway around the world in search of the American dream and pulled off a trade that could be described as the biggest deal in the history of the financial markets.

Without speaking a word of Japanese, with barely a penny in his pocket, Malcolm was thrown into the bizarre

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Ugly Americans is the true story of John Malcolm, a Princeton graduate who traveled halfway around the world in search of the American dream and pulled off a trade that could be described as the biggest deal in the history of the financial markets.

Without speaking a word of Japanese, with barely a penny in his pocket, Malcolm was thrown into the bizarre life of an ex-pat trader. Surrounded by characters ripped right out of a Hollywood thriller, he quickly learned how to survive in a cutthroat world — at the feet of the biggest players the markets have ever known.

Malcolm was first an assistant trading huge positions for Nick Leeson, the rogue trader who brought down Barings Bank — the oldest in England. He was the right-hand man to an enigmatic and brilliant hedge-fund cowboy, Dean Carney, and grew into one of the biggest derivatives traders in all of Asia. Along the way, Malcolm fell in love with the daughter of a Yakuza gangster, built a vast fortune out of thin air, and came head to head with violent Japanese mobsters. Malcolm and his twentysomething, Ivy League-schooled colleagues rode the crashing waves of the Asian markets during the mid-to late 1990s, culminating in a single deal the likes of which had never been seen before, or since.

A real-life mixture of Liar’s Poker and Wall Street, brimming with intense action, romance, underground sex, vivid locales, and exotic characters, Ugly Americans is the untold, true story that will rock the financial community and redefine an era.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though the names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, this is a true story, containing all the ingredients of a great narrative a main character the reader can relate to, an appealing love interest, money, danger, the need for acceptance, suspense and even the realization (in some form) of the American dream. Mezrich (Bringing Down the House) presents wanna-be financial star "John Malcolm," who accepts a nebulous job offer in Japan in the mid-1990s and leaves his middle-class New Jersey postcollege aimless existence for an adventure he might have dreamed of had he any idea of what the big boys' world of finance was really like. After hitting the ground at top speed from day one, John and his cohorts all male, mostly Ivy League graduates learn their way around the lucrative, fast-paced and legal-but-barely-palatable world of cowboy-style Asian market finance. In the process, they make millions (sometimes per trade) and pride themselves on knowing when to get in and how to spot their exit point. Their bottom line is all that matters; everything else from emotion to opinion is secondary. In a truly engaging look at how an innocent who thinks he knows the world does actually end up understanding a small but significant piece of it, Mezrich manages to incorporate solid journalism into a narrative that just plain works. Agent, David Vigliano. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sex, money, and more than a whiff of criminal activity enliven this too-good-to-be-true real-life business drama. With the exception of Bringing Down the House (2002), which profiled six MIT students who scammed the Vegas casinos, Mezrich has made a career in fictional thrillers (Reaper, 1998, etc.), which doesn't make him unqualified to write nonfiction but definitely makes him suspect when the going gets pulpy. After an author's note that tells us all the main characters' names have been changed, we meet our bright young star: John Malcolm, an ex-Princeton football player who lands a job as a Nikkei trader in Osaka in the 1990s, working for Kidder Peabody superstar Dean Carney. After an accounting screw-up leaves Malcolm's division unemployed, he gets hired by Barings and meets the venerable British bank's Singapore hotshot, Nick Leeson. In January 1995, when an earthquake rattles Japan and the Nikkei, it turns out that not only had Leeson had been betting billions on the Nikkei rising, he'd been betting the company's own money with no client to back it up. The resulting catastrophe almost destroyed Barings, which laid off 1,200 people, including Malcolm. He bounced back with a job at Carney's hot new hedge fund, where rules were broken and scruples shattered in the name of ungodly amounts of profit. Here's where the tale begins to resemble one of Mezrich's thrillers: the Yakuza show up, and there's even a gorgeous girlfriend whispering get-out-before-it's-too-late warnings in Malcolm's ear. The author knows how to plot his story, giving his protagonist moral dilemmas to solve at regular, well-timed intervals and painting it all against a Boiler Room-like background of easy money,sports cars, and frat-boy Americans going wild in Tokyo's seedy underbelly. But the beats are too perfectly synchronized, the action too perfectly dramatic, and the people too reminiscent of stock movie characters. Undeniably fun, but readers may well wonder just how much of this could actually be true. Agent: Michael Harriot/Vigliano Associate
“A high-octane passion play pitting a young man’s ambition against his sense of humanity.”

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Abridged, 5 CDs, 6 hours
Product dimensions:
5.24(w) x 5.76(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ugly Americans

Chapter One

The breeze was thick and hot and weighed down with the stench of cigarettes, alcohol, cheap perfume, and dead fish. The alley was narrow, bordered on both sides by four-story buildings with blackened windows and steel-grated doors. The pavement was cracked and the sidewalk was littered with broken milk crates and crumpled magazines. There were puddles everywhere, flashing bright snakes of reflected neon from the signs perched above the buildings. The puddles were impossible to avoid, and John Malcolm cursed to himself as he splashed through them. His Gucci shoes were already two shades darker and soon they'd be completely ruined. Shoulders hunched, head down, he was moving as fast as he could without showing how much he wanted to run. Somewhere up ahead someone was shouting, but the words weren't English, and even after five years Malcolm didn't speak anything else.

Wrong time, wrong place. That's what the headlines would say, Malcolm thought to himself. Another ugly American sticking his head where it didn't belong. He knew he was just being paranoid. Even here, in this alley in a part of the city you didn't find in the glossy travel brochures or happy little guidebooks, you were safer than anywhere back in the States. It was well past two in the morning, and there were people everywhere; bad things usually didn't happen when people were around. But just the same, Malcolm wanted nothing more than to turn and head back toward the train station. Back to the safety of fluorescent lights, vending machines, and brightly dressed tourists.

He stepped over a milk crate and through another puddle. In front of him, oneof the grated doors flung open and a group of businessmen in matching blue suits stumbled out into the alley. Loud, laughing, jackets open, ties undone. Fumes of whiskey coming off them like diesel, their faces matching shades of red. Then they saw him and quickly made a show of not seeing him, their voices dulled, their movements suddenly subdued.

He hurried past. Another ten yards, and a dark green awning caught his eye. Beneath the awning was a yellow wooden door with no knob, just a covered steel slot at eye level.

Malcolm pulled at his white oxford shirt, which was sticking to his chest and back. There was no number, but he knew this was the place. Green awning, yellow wooden door. Then he noticed the handpainted sign next to the door, brilliant red English letters on a black background: JAPANESE ONLY.

He felt his lips tighten, more reflex than anything else. There were signs like this all over Tokyo. On the surface it seemed like bigotry: acceptance based on race, as if his white face would contaminate the place. But it was more complex than that. This wasn't a gourmet restaurant or a country club or the entrance to a golf course. Establishments with signs like this really weren't meant for Americans. Especially here, in Kabuki-cho.

Although originally intended as a cultural center to showcase the glamorous Japanese-style theater from which its name was derived, Kabuki-cho had morphed into an entirely different entity by the 1950s: a place with no equivalent in the Western world, a redlight district on a scale unimaginable anywhere else. A twenty-block maze of dark, windowless alleys and bright neon signs that drew more than six hundred thousand visitors a night. A throbbing city within a city, a pincushion of sex-related amusements: strip clubs, hostess bars, massage parlors, X-rated theaters, and various shades of brothels.

Malcolm straightened his hair with his fingers, then rapped a knuckle against the steel slot.

There was a brief pause, then the slot flipped inward. A pair of dark eyes peered at him from inside: long eyelashes, thick blue shadow, cracked eggshells at the corners. Malcolm's face relaxed as the woman considered his appearance: short, dyed blond hair, narrow blue eyes, lips that naturally turned up at the edges. A bit below average height but compact, with muscular limbs and an athlete's shoulders. A personal sense of efficiency was reflected in his clothes: dark slacks, dark shoes, the white oxford rolled up at the wrists. He had come straight from work. His jacket and tie were still draped over his chair back at the office.

A few seconds passed in silence, then the steel slot snapped shut. There was the sound of multiple locks clicking open, and the door swung inward. The woman with the blue eye shadow and eggshell eyes was standing at the top of a descending carpeted stairway. She was tiny, less than five feet tall, and wearing a floor-length pink gown. She smiled, showing crooked yellow teeth. Then she took Malcolm's hand and ushered him inside.

A blast of cold air hit him as he reached the bottom step. He paused, pulling against the woman's hand as he took in the strange sight ahead. The room was long and rectangular, stretching a good fifty feet. There were steel benches lining either side and chrome poles sprouting from the floor. Metal bars and leather hand straps hung from the ceiling. Women in business suits, some with briefcases, stood with arms outstretched, holding on to the straps and bars. Younger women, in the penguinlike schoolgirl uniforms common all over Japan, gathered by the chrome poles. About a dozen men, most of them middle-aged, were seated on the metal benches, watching the women hungrily. The women seemed to sway back and forth, as if the floor were vibrating beneath them. Stranger still, the walls of the room were covered in rounded windows with fake outdoor scenery.

A subway car, Malcolm thought to himself. He watched as one of the men got up from his bench and made his way to one of the schoolgirls. The girl pretended to ignore the man as he came up behind her. Without a word, he lifted her skirt with one hand. His other hand slid between the buttons of her blouse ...

Ugly Americans. Copyright � by Ben Mezrich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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