9.5 Rich and dysfunctional
The funniest, wildest and most intriguing autobiography I have ever read! (maybe to add “criminal” to make the adjectives complete) Jorden Belfort beautifully and foully told the story of the rich and dysfunctional. It was a twisted hallucination: glamorous, exciting and inevitably unforgiving.
Before he came to Wall Street, he was selling meat in a big van. His first career on Wall Street was making phone calls for other brokers. His job was largely to swallow hard all the insults drizzled on him from senior brokers and then try connecting as many phone calls as possible. The alien world was infested with drugs, foul-mouthness, unprecedented extravagance and all type of exaggerated madness. Jordan stared in awe when he first saw the broker sniffing coke into his nostril in a posh restaurant. Then before he knew it, he quickly dived into the madness. No only had he become part of it, he was the center of it.
He and his relentless merry band of brokers wooed the top 1% riches American with hyped investment strategies. While most of the investors lost money, Jordan and his company, the main market maker, made insane amount of money by manipulating the thinly traded stocks. He bought stock cheaply from the desperate owners and sold the stock right back to the owners with a marked profit. He sold stocks to the public concealing the fact that he was actually the majority owner of the newly found companies. And the owner on paper (or more commonly referred as rat-holes), slowly recouped the raised capital to Jordan through covert stock operations. He was outsmarting SEC and FBI by forged documents, false identities and ingenious money laundry techniques.
He rapidly raised to the stardom and became the idol of a generation of young brokers. They revered him like a god. They shared his success, his genius and his madness. In Jordan’s world, everything was normal. The young brokers threw midgets in the office for fun; they took pride in learning new techniques to squeeze money from unsuspecting investors; Drugs and prostitutes were inseparable components office consumables; at the pinnacle of the madness, there was no visible difference between the company and a brothel. The craziness could easily dwarf even the former Long Island resident Great Gatsby.
Besides his crooked enterprise, the rest of the book was about how he spent all the money. The book graphically depicted the world of rich and dysfunctional: a massive mansion with dedicated horde of servants and a world class security system in a crime-less neighbourhood; the expensive silky decoration in the bedroom was enough to decorate a normal house 100 times over; his prized, beautiful, long legged wife has the habit of throwing water on him during a fight; he flooded his nerve system with a dangerous selection of drugs that are “well balanced”; everything was counted at least in thousands. His world was insanely beyond the word ‘expensive’ can describe. It was another reality, intoxicated reality.
Well, he faced his bitter end. Otherwise he would not have written the book when he was in prison. His company was closed; his millions of hard smuggled money in the Swiss accounts were strangled and his 170 feet luxury yacht capsized near the coast of Italy. His wife spit to him:
“Love is like a statue: you can chip away at it for only so long before there’s nothing left”
And filed for divorce when he was bailed out in the court. He thought he was bulletproof all along before he learnt the world can be punishing and unforgiving.
So far one of the best book I ever read (as you can see my ranking). It was magically engaging, largely thanks to his outlandish experiences. His fabled real life stories lent a special aura to the book that attracted me like a magnet to read from start to end, without which the book was just a third grade porn fiction. Actually the episode of sunk boat reminds me vividly of a similar experience by Richard Branson. Although I despise what Jordan did for a living, but I still admire his audacity. Towards the latter part of the book, Jordan eloquently recounted his madness when he were incurably intoxicated. The eerie feeling of inside another person’s brain was so surreal. From his perspective, things looked so normal, so logical and so “expected”! I am looking forward to pick up the sequel “Catching the Wolf of Wall Street” to read more about the five years before he actually went to prison. It should be another great book to learn and to be entertained.
It is a timely warning to inspiring professionals (including myself). When one is showered with money, power and boundless pleasure, it is so important to maintain a sliver of sanity.