Ugly Americans

Nope – this is not yet another post about Iraq.

I just finished reading Ugly Americans : The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions. Awesome!

Ben Mezrich previously wrote Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. I directly knew one of the people in the book (an old boyfriend of my wife and a frat brother of mine) and indirectly knew another (a frat brother of Raj Bhargava, an entrepreneur that I’ve done five companies with) so I figured I was pretty biased when I thought it was a great book.

Mezrich did it again. Ugly Americans is riviting. It’s a true story about a clueless Princeton grad (John Malcolm) who randomly ends up in Osaka trading Nikkei futures for Dean Carney (an alias) at Kidder Peabody. After Joe Jett blows up Kidder, he ends up at Barings trading the same futures for Nick Leeson. After Nick Leeson blows up Barings, he ends back with Dean Carney in Tokyo who has started a hedge fund.

The book catalogs Malcolm’s exploits through his six years of being an Ivy League Cowboy in Asia, culminating in the trade of the century which will either earn $500 million in three minutes at the end of the day on a Friday or wipe out Carney’s hedge fund. Of course, there is plenty of Japanese culture, sex, some love, American’s gone wild, Yakuza, and twists and turns that could only happen in real life.

Highly recommended – along with Bringing Down the House.

  • Fred Wilson

    i have a friend from MIT who traded in Japan for 10 years before he drank himself to death. i wonder if he’s in the book. he was the smartest guy i’ve ever met and could have taken Vegas for millions too.

  • Annie

    I love both of the books. They are both packed with adrenaline. I figured there should be some rumors out about both stories.

  • Ben Bowman

    I just finished the book, and, while it was certainly captivating (I finished it in two days between 16 hour workdays!), I find myself even more entranced with discovering the true identity of the book’s protagonist…if he truly was the largest player on the Nikkei, and delivered the largest deal in the world then he’s certainly been documented prior, right?

    Anyone have any answers?

    Feld Comment: It appears to be Michael Lerch per the recent Boston Globe Article on the author Ben Mezrich: “The pseudonymous main character, John Malcolm, is a Princeton football star who goes to Tokyo and practices “arbitrage with a battle axe” on the Nikkei. The book cloaks Malcolm’s actual identity by altering details (though his real-life model can only be one Michael Lerch, a 1993 graduate of Princeton).”

    • Magnus

      Michael Lerch is the founder and CIO of Evolution Capital Management, an investment advisor based in Los Angeles with additional offices in Tokyo and Hong Kong. Before starting Evolution in 2002, Michael worked at different investment banks in Japan where he specialized in equity and equity derivative trading. During that time, he was in charge of trading desks at Lehman Brothers, Credit Agricole and Merrill Lynch. Michael graduated from Princeton University in 1993 where he was also a stand out in the Varsity Football program. He was a two time First Team All Ivy League selection and recipient of the William Winston Roper Trophy his senior year.

  • jz

    i can attest to feld. michael lerch (malcom) is the divison I-AA single game receiving yard leader as mentioned in the book

  • Patrick Slevin

    Mike Lerch was from Clearview HS. Lives in Hawaii, according to the HS page,

  • John
  • Eric

    This book was absolutely amazing and am so interested in the actual storyline I can’t stop thinking about all the events that happened over there in Tokyo. I almost have an obsession with finding out the real John Malcom and finding out all that he is.

  • joselima

    yea he was a real jock and pretty stupid also. He just fell into the game. Here is is bio from High school.

    Michael Lerch (Class of 1989)

    Michael graduated from Clearview H.S. in 1989, culminating a most successful academic and athletic high school experience. Academically, Michael ranked near the top of his high school class earning Superintendent’s list and honor roll distinctions repeatedly. Following high school, he attended Princeton University and graduated with honors in 1992.

    Athletically, Michael lettered in baseball, basketball, and football at Clearview

  • lee

    i’m not sure if it is the same person but there is a michael lerch who is a managing director of a company called Dornier MedTech.

  • Posted by Matt:

    I thought Mezrich told a very interesting story, fascinating. However, this is one of the sloppiest books that I’ve ever read. I realize that he “altered” many of the facts to “protect” the identities of many of the characters in this book. But whether Lerch was a decoy to throw us off the trail (Malcolm’s 1991 NCAA record mentioned in the book was easily found on many sports related sites, attaching his name to the book) or was the actual main character, Mezrich (and his editor for that matter) commit MANY gross errors in fact.

    They range from a Tokyo Tower that’s actually TALLER than the Eiffel, not a miniature version (333 meters versus 320 for the original), to the fact that Ivy league schools do NOT give sports scholarships. More importantly, he makes up facts and statements about Mercer County that are clearly false and actually quite idiotic.

    Amazingly, he claims that Malcolm supposedly grew up poor in Mercer County, with a “typical Mercer County upbringing.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, there were only a few “poorER” cities in Mercer, such as Trenton. Mercer is NOT an industrial or poor county- more typical of it include PRINCETON itself (hello?), Hopewell and West Windsor. That’s the brief on it, a whole host of other discrepancies uncovered by my girlfriend, who grew up in Mercer County in Hamilton…

    In short, good story, but SO much sloppiness and poor research that I put it more in the company of Sedaris’ “Me Talk Pretty One Day” fiction bestseller than a non-fiction financial thriller.

  • mac mcclelland

    so… we’ve got the actual identity of malcom as michael lerch… what about dean carney? or is he an amalgamation of characters?

  • Rally monkey

    I seriously doubt Mezrich would make it that easy – change the name of Malcom but leave in a true and easily identifying fact such as “NCAA divsion II receiving record”?

    If Mezrich is serious about protecting this guy’s true identity, then Malcom (and Carney) went to a school other than Princeton, grew up in a different area, and possibly played a sport other than football.

    I think Malcolm being an athlete is an important part of his character, but for all we know he might be a QB, RB, CB, or maybe a soccer player, catcher, or second baseman.

  • Tokyo Observer

    For those who are interested, the person in the book is Michael Lerch. From the football to the Ducatti’s…

    I have lived and worked in the finance industry in Tokyo for over 15 years and met Lurch at his old home in Tokyo and other places a few times.

    He was a legend here long before the book came out.

    He now lives in Hawaii and manages a fund…

    • Hello,

      I am just going through the book now and am hooked. I am currently living and working in Osaka. I was wondering if you could get in touch with me I am interested in discussing your experiences here in Japan. you can contact me via

  • Julian Elburn

    BUMP, anyone know the real identity of Dean Carney?

  • steve H

    There is a Michael Lerch who is associated with Evolution Capital Management that is based in Hawaii. Could that be him

  • Beltsir

    Apparently Michael Lerch is the founder of a Honolulu, Hawaii based hedge fund that invests throughout Asia

  • Aaron

    hey, i did a search in regards to Dean Carney, and i came up with “Richard Tavoso”. “Prior to this role, Mr. Tavoso spent seven years at Kidder Peabody in the equity derivatives group. As a senior vice president, he built and managed Kidder’s Tokyo equity derivatives business from 1990 to 1993. He was awarded Kidder Peabody’s equity trader of the year for his efforts in 1992. Mr. Tavoso graduated with a major in history from Princeton University.” it doesnt say anything about ASC, just that he is currently a managing director at RBC Capital Markets

  • Bleep

    Richard Tavoso is not the right guy, it says he joined RBC in 1995, that is too early for the story, it may be Tavoso’s replacement.

  • ghostoftomjoad

    Didn’t Mezrich write in the book that Dean Carney eventually ended up moving to Los Angeles and blowing all of his money on hookers and coke? Maybe these were fabricated details to protect the true identity of the real life trader?

  • NotNasser

    I suspect Carney is Tavoso, and the alleged "hedge fund" in the book wasn't a self-standing hedge fund at all, it was an operation internal to RBC, called the Global Equity Derivatives Group, that Tavoso was running at the right time to be the book's Carney.

  • This post… indicates that the "Dean Carney" character is a combination of two separate people: John Fou (also a Princeton grad) and Adrian Brindle.

  • Bringing Down The House is a great book. I've read it three times and absolutely love it.

    MIG Welding Techniques | Respectable Reviews | Training An Older Dog

  • Emicsoft

    You need to download the Mac AVI Editor. It includes Intel Version and PowerPC Version which can be free downloaded. VOB To Avi Mac peak or trough, should be Chongr

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