by Julia Stein
Po Bronson's Bombardiers is a satire of corrupt bond traders in mid-1990s San Francisco which makes the reader both laugh and cry. While not actually set in Silicon Valley, the novel captures the 1990s spirit of yuppies struggling on awful jobs to make big bucks and how their companies mercilessly manipulate them. Bronson worked for a time at First Boston, an investment bank, so he really captures the atmosphere of Bay Area yuppies on the make--whether in finance or Silicon Valley of the 1990s. Actually, the two fields were closely intertwined.
Sid Geeder, the hero of Bombadiers, is the King of Mortgages, the top seller of terrible overpriced bonds based on bad mortgages from failed S & Ls. Geeder and all the other salespeople know the bonds are terrible and know that the bonds are unpayable, but gleefully he sells bonds worth millions to those he hates as a way to undermine to government. To sell the bonds, Geeder makes up lies that "were well-constructed bombs that blew up few years down the road." Geeder is a "bombadier," spewing out his bombs--lies--about the financial system in order to make his $4 million in stock. Now that all those bombs of securities based on bad mortgages have blown up the global financial system, this novel is utterly fascinating and funny in a ghoulish way.
Bronson's chapter "Addictions" shows how the bonds salespeople are all addicted--to greed, to drugs, to lousy romances. Addictions seems to be part of the job. Another fascinating chapter "Information Economics" deals with how "the Information Economy was a Ponzi scheme spiraling out of control" starting with information glut stemming from computers and the press as well as the investment bank spreading rumors aka lies through the information system to help sell bonds. If a reader wants to understand the mindset of bond and stock traders knowingly selling bad securities, this novel is for you. Actually, it's quite funny in parts. Actually, this novel at first reading upset me a lot and I quit halfway through but then went back and saw the humor and made it all the way through.
Another fascinating chapter is "Assets" detailing how this extremely rich investment bank tries to stay as liquid as possible--everything in its offices is temporary and it can fire all its salespeople at any moment. The company's biggest asset is its workers' brainpower: "the firm strategized incessantly to milk its employees' brainpower while simultaneously keeping them so strung out, addicted, and off-kilter they didn't know how valuable they had become." What's fascinating is the characters in Bombardiers struggle to escape this vicious system but do they? Read the novel.
Causes Julia Stein Supports
Doctors Without Borders