Book review, Jordan Belfort, Wolf of Wallstreet

The Wolf of Wall Street, and 8 other great wrong side of the tracks stories

Wolf of Wall Street

I have just read this, 2007 by Jordan Belfort.

I liked it, even though at times I didn’t always follow the complicated lightning calculations he was carrying out. At times it almost seemed like chess in terms of the move and counter-move he would outline. How he would do x, which he anticipated would precipitate his adversary doing y, which would then enable another series of events, which would seemingly inevitably result in another $2 million dollars coming into his account.

These sort of bad boy stories are always quite entertaining. The drugs, the hookers, the outre behaviour, all seemed necessary and part and parcel of the aura he felt necessary to dress his company in. His father, ‘Mad Max’, and chief expenses monitor, would berate him for exorbitant expense account bills. Belfort would tolerate this to a point, and then describe how it was actually part of his strategy. To keep his eager workers earning lots of money, but also permanently near broke, due to the excessive lifestyle. Thus ensuring they kept working full out for the company to earn enough money to keep pace with Jordan’s behaviour.

The book was entertaining, even if not always completely making sense. It briefly touches on his first day at work. Then suddenly, flash forward 5 years, he has already started his own company, and is learning loads of money. This jump in the narrative is plausible, lots of films follow a non linear time line. However he never actually returns to this period, and so we have no idea how he made the progression from worm at the bottom to king pin.

In a rags to riches to probable rags and riches again narrative, it feels disconnected to never return to explain how he moved up. Similarly the whole way through the book there is the sense that he will do time at some point, and yet by the end of the book it is only about to perhaps become a possibility. You get the feeling that he perhaps got distracted by just how entertaining the good times were to him, and therefore never really had the energy to cover the other bits. I now know that there is a sequel, published 6 years later, so perhaps that one will cover all of those bits.

Despite these flaws it was a fun book to read. He manages to tread the line well between being unpleasant, and yet actually quite likable due to his ability to read and describe other people’s behaviour well. While reading the book I realised it fitted well into a certain type of genre of book. That of bad boys, who tell us what the view was like from somewhere probably very far from where we hope to live most of our own lives.

I tried to think what other books it reminded me of. Ones that I had read, almost with your hands over your eyes, wondering how on earth you would deal with a similar situation. In many ways this is a great reason why we read, to temporarily see what it would be like to be that person. Then thank our stars for what we have, and for what we don’t have to endure.

BancoPapillon film posterPapillon

Banco 1973, Henri Charrière

Here we are talking about the sequel to Papillon. The movie adaptation of the first book is so good, there’s no shame in watching that. The second part of his story his pretty amazing too though. There are several episodes that he only survives by pure good fortune. While Papillon the book is also a bit of a door step, Banco is a much more contained and readable story. I really recommend it, especially if you are going off and spending some time on a beach somewhere.

Shantaram

2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts

This is a door step of a book, but it is great fun. I was so hooked I would pack it into my bag, cycle it to work, and read it during my lunch breaks. I was so hooked to find out what would happen next in the twisting and turning narrative. From first breaking out of jail in Australia, to trying to find salvation in the slums of Bombay, and to the adventures beyond that, all great stuff. Was it really true? Who knows, so enjoy the ride.

Mr Nice

1996. A stoner classic around Dublin in the late 90’s, but also a great read too. He did it, and kept doing it, because he was able to. The thrill of pulling it off, often more fun than the money or the contraband. It is well written and fun. If you haven’t read it already then it’s an easy one to find. The charity shops of Dublin were flooded with copies of it.

Snowblind

1976, Snowblind : A brief career in the cocaine trade.

This preceded Mr Nice, but was re-issued in the wake of the above’s success, with a foreword by Howard Marks. It is another great read, as you marvel at the audacity of what people tried to do, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

The Colditz Story

Pat Reid 1953

Forgery, deception, breaking and exiting. It was all going on in this story. As a kid I loved it. It spawned a movie, a tv series, a game. The one flaw with the game surely being, who would ever want to be the Germans, when the idea was to try and escape from … Colditz. It was a great story, several more followed, and they all fueled our childhood imaginations. Read it if you can, good fun.

A million little pieces

James Frey, 2003

Oprah loved it, until she found out it wasn’t actually the true story he pretended it was. It’s still a good read, he went on to write novels after this. However when you thought it was true, it perhaps did have more impact. Tricky, because of course I imagine not everything in some of the above ‘true’ stories was completely as it actually happened.

Midnight Express

Billy Hayes book 1977, Alan Parker movie 1978

Watching this, you wonder why oh why smuggle drugs. Truly brutal what happens to him. You can dimly see on the image above they clearly see the link to the Papillon story too. His time in the Turkish jails are awful, and barely survivable. John Hurt playing another character in the movie looks awful. One of those stories where you thank your lucky stars you’re not doing time in a Turkish jail. Good story though.

Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas 1844

The classic tale of a man unjustly imprisoned. Maybe in some ways the one that all of the above were inspired by?

 

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