Picks and Pans Review: Greed and Glory on Wall Street

updated 03/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Ken Auletta

Investment bankers can be a breed apart, especially if they are top dogs in a firm like Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb. Such bankers have moved beyond material wants to a particular kind of ambition and greed. In this biting, intriguing book, Auletta, a New York columnist and author of four other books, explains two of these men by describing their feud, which destroyed their distinguished firm. Peter G. Peterson had been a whiz at Bell & Howell and held important jobs in the Nixon Administration. His third wife is Joan Ganz Cooney, the Sesame Street creator. He joined Lehman in 1973 with connections that paid off handsomely. Lew Glucksman, a brilliant trader who had worked his way up, had an overpowering need to be in control. Lehman, prior to the Glucksman-Peterson ascendancy, was a place where rich gentlemen got richer by coming up with big bucks for their corporate clients. But investment banking was changing from a business based on personal relationships to "a business based on a variety of transactions and an instinct for gambling on interest rates, stock market shifts and new financial instruments." Though Glucksman, a master of the new techniques, managed to get rid of Peterson, Lehman was fatally wounded. Shearson/American Express, another investment company, bought the firm, an act that one banker described as "McDonald's taking over the '21'." For readers who are fascinated by how the big deal makers operate, Auletta provides an exhaustive picture. He concludes, "The failure of Lehman Brothers can be traced to the failure of Lew Glucksman to be a statesman-leader, can be traced to the collapse of comity and civility among a group of partners more interested in themselves than the firm, can be traced to a corporate culture poisoned by too much individualism...." It couldn't have happened to a more deserving bunch of guys. (Random House, $19.95)

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