two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
By: 
David Denby
user_rating: 
0

A-AmericanSuckerWhen his marriage to novelist Cathleen Schine fell apart, New Yorker critic Denby decided that he needed a million dollars in order to keep his Upper West Side apartment. As luck would have it, his divorce occurred during the tech stock boom of 2000, when small-time investors could carry away big-time profits. Hoping to make a cool million, Denby courted people like the now disreputable ImClone's Sam Waksal and Merrill Lynch's Henry Blodget. And he invested. But as he got greedy, he found himself grappling with Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Xanax, all the while watching his spectacular fall back into the upper class.
Little, Brown. 320 pages. $24.95.

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"As Denby's pile fluctuates his exact gains and losses are quoted in the chapter subheads, but the chapters themselves are an eccentric mix of often lacerating confessions about his rocky love life and seminarish meditations on capitalism, conspicuous consumption and the psychological roots of greed." Walter Kirn

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"Through his relations with [Blodget and Waksal], Mr. Denby skillfully provides a view into the thinking of the era. ... It isn't pretty, but American Sucker may sneak into readers' hearts anyway, partly because so many of us were suckers." Dave Kansas

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"There's a limit to how sorry we can feel for a man who, after losing a bundle, still owns a $1.5 million Manhattan apartment. Yet in the end, Denby's skill as an observer and his willingness to be brutally honest about himself make the book a worthwhile read." Charles Stein

NY Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
" The book not only tells us more about Mr. Denby than many of us want to know, do we really care about his flirtation with pornography or how he forgot his suit in the closet of a married (now former) paramour?, but it also shows us the difference between being smart and being a smart investor." Allan Sloan

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"If American Sucker were solely a record of Denby's market encounters and the peculiar delusions that went with them, it would be a worthy addition to the great literature of business fiascos. ... [But] as the Nasdaq grinds on toward its appointed fate, American Sucker becomes an earnest, and deeply wrongheaded, meditation on greed, right conduct and the good life." Chris Lehmann

Houston Chronicle 2 of 5 Stars
"It's not surprising that he does not like himself, but frankly he just does not generate disgust at a level that makes it authentic." David L. Lewis

Newsday 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Given his willingness to ignore [Aristotle's] ancient wisdom, why should anyone take his second thoughts seriously?" Dan Cryer

Critical Summary

"[N]obody really wants to read about his own foolishness," notes the Wall Street Journal. "Or write about it." Except Denby. How did this smart man (and author of Great Books) become a half-witted speculator? Denby, simultaneously whiny, pedantic, and giddy as befits the boom and bust cycle he recounts, charts his personal transformation. At best, American Sucker is an honest, well-written memoir about marriage, professional responsibility, and love and loss, even if his attempt to grapple with philosophers and put his journey into a larger framework fails. At worst, it's a meandering, journalistic piece that reveals Denby's everlasting belief in the American dream, a dream readers will be smart to question.