I mentioned in my GoodReads quick review that I didn’t finish this book entirely, and I guess the point is that you don’t need to. Each chapter is filled with the same frivolous attitude and lack of regard for other people, so you really only need to read a few to get the point. I’d recommend jumping around a little, or better yet, just watch the movie.
The Wolf of Wall Street is an autobiographical look at Jordan Belfort’s time as a criminally wealthy owner of Stratton Oakmont, an investment firm that made millions by manipulating the stock market. He turned nobodies into millionaires by teaching them simple selling strategies that were laid out in a script and because of his success, his employees were fantastically loyal. And you might think that this would be the central narrative in the story. You would be wrong. Instead, Belfort spends most of his time discussing his extra-marital affairs, his drug habits, and his psychotic friends and their antics. Prostitutes in the office, close-calls with foreign authorities, and an extraordinary amount of detail when it comes to how much everything in his bedroom cost all add up to a long-winded, unapologetic look back at his glory days.
When I read the introduction/preface, Belfort notes that he’s writing this down as he remembers it (and let’s not forget that he was high for most of it) and that conversations are reconstructed to the best of his ability. He also says that he’s going to have a lot to explain to his children when they get older, and so I was prepared to hear the full story and understand that in some way, he was trying to atone for his sins. But then as you read further, his writing style attempts to capture his moods and thoughts as they were then, which leads to sarcasm, rudeness, and completely ruins any attempt he might have made at redemption. I have a feeling that this was partly the fault of the publisher, but if you’re going to write a tell-all about all your terrible decisions and the negative impacts they had on people in your life, you may want to consider a more hat-in-hand approach.
I did see the movie before reading the book (which is rare for me) and I really liked the movie. This sort of story works well as a script because the audience is in the moment with Belfort. While we wouldn’t condone his actions, the results are often hilarious and we can sort of follow his line of thinking. When it’s happening in real-time in front of us, it’s a lot easier to swallow than to hear some jerk reminisce about it years later. There’s the added bonus that most of the movie comes word for word from the book, so save yourself some time and see the movie, enjoy the magic that is Leonardo DiCaprio, and skip the book altogether.
I felt like this book was an attempt to communicate an extravagant lifestyle and a lifetime of poor decisions to others, but instead Belfort fails to connect to, or impress, the 99%. Usually I walk away from these sorts of books feeling like at least I understand someone better and can see where they were coming from when they made a bad decision, but in this case, I just felt like Belfort had completely missed the point.