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The title of this book amuses me. It refers simultaneously to the fixation that Bear Stearns' leaders had on playing championship bridge and to the fact that the company's debt structure was a house of cards that could come down with only the slightest shift in the wind.

I recently went to a graduate school reunion and one of my classmates proudly told me that his daughter had gotten a job working at a major investment bank for two years. I felt like laughing. Why would anyone want a child to work at an investment bank?

As I read House of Cards, I resisted (with difficulty) the urge to send a copy to my classmate. I'm sure it would have been quite an eye-opener for him.

If you read most of what was published about the collapse of Bear Stearns as it occurred and have a pretty good sense of the current problems in the financial system, you won't find anything new here except for gossipy details about how clueless the leaders at Bear Stearns were about their circumstances and what needed to be done. If you like gossip about people failing to do their jobs and their personal foibles, this book is pretty good for teaching you what much of Wall Street is like.

If you want to know more about what happened at Bear Stearns and why from a financial or economic point of view that goes beyond what has been published, this book will be a waste of time for you.

For those who just want the gossip, they will probably find the book to be longer and more detailed than they need. For those people, my advice is to just read chapters 1-12 and 25-29. That will give you enough for a sense of this story of how those who felt mighty fell.

What happened in a nutshell is that Bear Stearns (like many Wall Street firms before it) believed itself to be invincible and didn't spend much time looking at what might go wrong. When evidence suggested any problem, the leaders ignored the evidence and looked to maximize short-term profits (even if those might lead to huge losses in the future). If their gambles (based on mountains of short-term debt) didn't work out, they probably assumed some other investment bank would pay them tens of millions a year to start all over again making the same kinds of gambles. It's a lottery where those who run the lottery feel they will always win . . . even if the investors lose. This time some of them were wrong, and they paid the price.

It will be fun to see this story rewritten after banks and insurance companies finally admit that they have lost many more trillions of dollars than anyone is willing to talk about now. I suspect the Bear Stearns story will look less awful then than it does now. Why? The greatest financial misdeeds in this financial crisis may well be ahead of us, not behind us.

Don't bet more than you can afford, no matter how good your cards look!
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