Tiresome tale of bankers behaving badly

Book review: Straight to HellA tale of bankers behaving badly lacking the class of its predecessors, says Matthew Partridge.


Published by Grove Press, £11.99

While many people read financial biographies hoping to learn how the wheels of finance turn, many others just want to hear tales of bankers behaving badly. John LeFevre shot to fame with "Goldman Sachs Elevator", a Twitter account full of outrageous comments supposedly made by staff at the prestigious and controversial investment bank.

When it was revealed he didn't actually work at Goldman, but elsewhere, his book deal was cancelled. Undeterred, he found another publisher, and as the title of his memoir Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion Dollar Deals suggests, it's very much a "bankers behaving badly" story.

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The focus lies squarely on the sordid details of life off the trading floor all prostitutes, cocaine and conspicuous consumption. There are nods to the wider context, with LeFevre discussing his training and the day-to-day of a trading desk.

He also makes some serious allegations about the rigging of bond fees by banks. But these are peripheral. It's primarily about LeFevre and his friends. And that's the big problem both he and the people he writes about are deeply unsympathetic. Sure, this is not unusual for the genre Jordan Belfort (of Wolf of Wall Street fame), or Peter Troob and John Rolfe (Monkey Business), were hardly upstanding citizens.

But even they displayed a modicum of self-awareness, and their misbehaviour had a certain style. By contrast, LeFevre and co. come across as overgrown children at best, or football hooligans at worst indeed, a highlight of the book is an alleged bar brawl with several members of the Manchester United squad.

Ironically for a book on high-living debauchery, LeFevre was hardly living it up by industry standards. As he admits, he was a mid-ranking executive in Hong Kong seen until recently as a financial backwater. His lifestyle was lavish compared to most "normal" people, but it was several degrees removed from the excess associated with true "Masters of the Universe". One gets the impression he could not have lasted as long as he did, either financially or career-wise, had he been in Europe or America.

There are a few amusing anecdotes and the fake quotes on his Twitter feed (scattered throughout the book) clearly show he has some comic talent. And "regardless of whether you actually believe him, he certainly knows how to tell a colourful tale", notes Guy Adams in the Daily Mail. However, the book "becomes less interesting the longer it goes on", says Fortune's Stephen Gandel, and ultimately, says Jonathan Knee in The New York Times, is little more than a "tired and dated memoir" of the author's "infantile high jinks".

Straight to Hell by John LeFevre; Grove Press (£11.99).

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri