Barbarians at the Gate

Recommendation: Yesterday

Where to read: Depends on the impression you want to leave 

Read with: Again, depends – either Moet or these bad boys

In brief: This is the original The Smartest Guys in the Room and it’s an absolutely cracking read.


Alas Viking fans, this is not about the fall of the Roman Empire. Barbarians deals instead with the leveraged buy-out of RJR Nabisco in 1988 for about $31 billion. There is, I will admit, a distinct lack of actual slaughter but the antics recounted here are pretty astounding and shit got more than nasty enough to keep even the most bloodthirsty reader satisfied. The level of decadence, self-indulgence, egotism and American swagger genuinely hurts to read about. To borrow a phrase, the whole thing ultimately comes down to a battle about who gets the title “big swinging dick of private equity.”

The personalities of the central characters are clearly sketched out, perhaps sometimes to the point of caricature, however the giant cast of lesser characters can get a bit confusing. The actual mechanics of the various proposed deals are, however, easy to follow – you don’t need to be an obsessive Wall Street Journal reader by any means.

It’s excellent fun, particularly for the corporately-inclined, but I think anyone who found Wolf of Wall Street interesting will probably enjoy this (distinct lack of Leo and/or Margot Robbie notwithstanding).

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