Book Review: Red Notice, By Bill Browder


It’s All Fun and Games Until….

The first half of Red Notice reads not unlike a 1990s emerging market version of Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker:1 Browder the investment ingenue learns about the quirky world of Eastern European finance in the early 1990s. He describes hilariously and ruefully the characters he meets and the insights he gets into early opportunities following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The consulting gig failure in rural Poland. The terrible job working for soon-to-indicted Robert Maxwell. Valuing an aging ship fleet above the Arctic Circle for Salomon Brothers, and finding tremendous value in what others thought was a scrap heap.

Browder writes breezily, humorously, humbly, even about the years in which he gained financial experience and stature – just as Lewis did. His novelistic details of quoted conversations, what people wore, and what they ate over meals – these experiences cannot be literally true based on memories from 20 years ago – they have the ring of truth and the flow of narrative. It’s a great read. Super fun.

Then Browder creates his big breakthrough – as maybe the only American to figure out how to profit from the vouchers that privatized Russian national wealth and created the Oligarchs – as a Salomon Brothers Vice President. His greatest success, becoming the largest foreign investor in Russia by 2005 with Hermitage Fund, also begins the dark chapters of his life, and of the book.

The Second Part of the Book

The fun turns to concern, then fear, and then horror. Browder handles the narrative mood changes well. The central problem is that he became a thorn in the side of Russian businessmen by attempting a version of “corporate good governance” campaigns within Russia. While this made him and his funds money in the beginning, eventually his methods bumped up against the corrupt mafia of the Russian state, the Oligarchs, and their Capo, Vladimir Putin. The Russian state fought back.

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Janice W McNair 5 months ago Member's comment

A very interesting true story about high finance and murder.