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Kiplinger Bookshelf

Den of Thieves

  • Author: James B. Stewart
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 592 pages

In all honesty, the only reason I read "Den of Thieves" was because I worked with the author, James B. Stewart, in the early 2000s. I edited his financial columns for "Smart Money" at the turn of the 21st Century. It was the end of the dot-com boom, nearly a decade after this book was originally published. I figured if I was going to edit a Pulitzer Prize winner, I should have a better understanding of why he was deserving of such a prestigious award in the first place.

His work still deserves all the accolades it received back then. Den of Thieves exposed the underbelly of high finance in the 1980s. With an intricate plot involving junk bonds and insider trading, and a cast of characters that included Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky, a non-fiction historical narrative seemingly sprang out of the mind of a seasoned novelist. I was too embarrassed to admit that I hadn't read the bestseller, so instead of asking Stewart for a loaner I snuck down to Strand Bookstore to pick up a used copy. (Yes, Amazon.com was around in 2001, but I was still old school back then.) Once I opened the worn paperback, it was hard to put down. Despite being heavy on detail, the result of exhaustive research and likely ingrained from Stewart's Wall Street Journal days, Den of Thieves still reads like a legal thriller. I went on to devour all of the classic business books about that greed-is-good era on Wall Street -- notably Liar's Poker and Barbarians at the Gate -- but Den of Thieves still tops my list.

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