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Saturday, August 27

Banned: "Bombardiers" by Po Bronson

Perhaps the greatest recommendation that I can give to this book is to tell the truth. In 1997 after I first read it, I loaned it to my fellow brokers. Soon the giggling and eyerolling started in the dull, pointless morning meetings and pompous corporate events. The head of the desk told me that he wanted to see me privately. I was told that I was not allowed to bring the book to the bank anymore, as it was destroying the morale of the troops. I still find this one of the most stupid things I have ever heard - banning a book and not trying to correct or even admit the issues that had become a laughing stock was disastrous for everyone's morale. After 12 months most employees had left the company.

Bombardiers (1995) by Po Bronson tells a cynical and hysterically funny story of the working lives of a few bond salesmen at a fictional tier-two investment bank. The story is told through the eyes of a veteran king of sales who can turn bonds like no-one else. He is close to cashing in on his company stock and dreams of leaving and doing something else - anything without the lousy bonds, branch managers or dysfunctional coworkers he hates, maybe even fall in love.

At the onset of the novel a new, young recruit - the protagonist - joins the team. His different ways and views soon poison the desk's atmosphere and everyone begins to doubt the meaningfulness of their daily grind - some because they are afraid of becoming outdated, some because they realize that they, too, were once young and had a life. The characters respond in different ways - fight, flee, freeze, rationalize, project, cognitive dissonance, but absolutely no-one copes. At the same time the bank's reputation is in danger, and it looks like it has to change its name soon, for the umpteenth time.

The first chapter of the book is available for free on Po Bronson's web site. I guarantee that after reading it you will want to read the rest of the story. The author used to work briefly as an assistant bond salesman and his then-wife had worked for PaineWebber, so he has enough background to keep the dilemmas interesting and the action frenetic. If you like the Bombardiers, these two from Po might interest you as well: