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Dancing with wolves


Leonardo DiCaprio stars as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.

Jordan Belfort with a guest at the premiere of the film. Photo: Getty Images

Jordan Belfort with a guest at the premiere of the film. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Wolf of Wall Street'

Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Wolf of Wall Street'


Leonardo DiCaprio stars as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.

Originally published in 2008, Jordan Belfort's memoir of his time as a real life Gordon Gekko has now been re-released as "the official movie tie-in edition".

 This is the book that caught Leonardo DiCaprio's attention so forcefully five years ago that he was determined to turn it into a film with himself in the title role. He eventually talked Martin Scorsese into directing and the result is now on screens around the world. And it's not hard to see why.

It's an extraordinary story of excess peppered with bad language, drugs, private planes, millions of dollars made in a morning, women, yachts and whatever takes your fancy if you're a Wall Street wolf with no morals and no misgivings about fleecing mom and pop investors across the US.

The movie version sticks pretty close to the book – but at over 500 pages there is far more detail in the book about what Belfort got up to and it's a breathless read.

This is not literature, of course. It's like one of those big fat airport novels by Harold Robbins, except that it's all true. Or, as Belfort points out early on, as true as his drug-addled brain at the time allowed him to register. It's written in a style that is confessional but amused rather than apologetic as Belfort recalls and wonders at his own outrageous behaviour.

The excess that has made the movie a worldwide hit (and led to Scorsese being accused of wallowing rather than judging) is all here – and a great deal more besides.

Belfort jumps right into it from the start with the hair-raising helicopter ride from the office to his estate – he flew with only one eye open because he was so stoned he had double vision. When he landed on the vast lawn and stepped out he fell flat on his back and lay there looking at the sky contemplating his crazy life.

Inside the mansion, his delectable young wife awaited and she was not amused. The next morning she had her revenge as, minus her underwear, she sat spreadeagled on the floor teasing and taunting him and screaming abuse about his call girls and drugs. That's until she realised the internal security cameras were looking right at her.

These opening scenes are by way of an introductory plunge into Belfort's over-the top lifestyle and the culture he created in the office where prostitutes were on hand to supply executive relief to his stressed out young traders. Copious quantities of drugs were the norm – Belfort's daily intake of Quaaludes and other pills would have killed several horses – and he also entertained his hyped-up staff with events like a midget-throwing contest across the trading floor.

Before he was eventually brought down by the authorities and jailed for a scam that swindled ordinary investors out of hundreds of millions he had several years of extraordinary success in which there were virtually no limits on what he could do. This included owning and then sinking a 167-foot motor yacht when he ignored his crew and sailed into a storm.

All this is in the movie but the book is still worth reading for those who have seen the film for two reasons.

The first is that, despite DiCaprio's performance, the essence of Belfort's personality really only comes through on the page. He's the kid from a middle class background in Queens (his father was an accountant) who made a few hundred dollars a day in the summer selling ices on the beach and went on after college to be a meat salesman. He had the hunger for making money fast right from the beginning and he never lost it.

The second is the financial detail that Belfort provides in the book explaining exactly how he made a fortune. At the height of it he was earning $50m a year and in one move he made $12m in three minutes.

Basically what Belfort and his hundreds of young traders were running was a "pump and dump" operation. It may have been housed in a marble and glass office block on Long Island but it was essentially a bucket shop cold calling ordinary investors to flog them shares in dubious companies.

Belfort's crew were so successful at this that the price of the chosen share climbed sharply (the pump) leading to even more demand. With a sizable amount of stock for himself picked up at low rates Belmont was positioned to make a fortune when he gave the order to sell (dump).

Belfort was able to get out at the peak before the shares collapsed leaving thousands of ordinary investors sitting on heavy losses.

There were variations of this game, some of which involved getting other finance houses on board to muddy the trail; there were also direct kickbacks from the companies involved. Belfort explains all this in the book. There are also interesting sections showing how he was able to stay one step ahead of the regulatory authorities who he regarded as a bunch of clowns. And he explains how he hid his money in "ratholes" both in the US and Switzerland.

There isn't quite enough detail to turn the reader into a wolf of the Irish stock market but the book does give much more insight on the financial tricks involved than the film has time to show, even at three hours long.

Like in the movie, the main amusement in the book is the antics of Belfort's army of young traders, some of them straight out of high school, who snorted cocaine non-stop and had sex under the desks during breaks. They were taught by Belfort how to scream down the phones at the clients telling them they would miss the chance of a lifetime if they did not buy this stock NOW.

Sadly, many of them did.

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

Irish Independent