At first sight the book seems amazing. Bill Browder was the founder of Hermitage Capital, a hedge fund based in Moscow created with the objective of seizing huge financial opportunities in the land of the czars. So, in a reasonable fashion, I thought the book was all about Browder´s adventures, his quest to make money, and the various trades and deals he made during his time as portfolio manager in Moscow. Well, I was wrong, if not completely, at least half wrong.
The book begins really well, with exactly what I was expecting. Bill starts the book by telling his personal story, how he started out in the financial markets and then how he founded his own hedge fund. Hermitage Capital was the product of a lot work from Bill and a lot of money from the deceased financier Edmond Safra. Bill saw the opportunity to exploit the financial opportunities that were arising in the post perestroika era in a corrupt economic environment, while Safra put in the money.
What´s important to understand here is that we´re not talking about a regular hedge fund, we´re talking about a hedge fund in Russia wishing to make money out of privatizations in one of the most crooked countries in the world. Bill decided to go after the oligarchs of Russia, the politicians in the Kremlin and the whole system. He was poking the eye of the monster. Of course, with big risk, comes big reward.
The book then tells a few of Bill´s successful trades. He started out by figuring out how privatization actually worked and exploiting that. State owned companies were being sold by fractions of what they were really worth, and Bill worked tirelessly to get a piece of them. In one of his trades, Bill decided to go face to face against one of Russia richest men, Vladimir Potanin, in order not to get diluted and squeezed out of Sidanco, an oil company based in Siberia. He won the battle by appealing to Russia´s head of the central bank, but, in the process, he found out Russia was not the USA.
Those were the stories I was looking for, but unfortunately, the book becomes something else from then on. Browder, after poking too many eyes and infuriating too many people in Russia, became victim of corporate raids, criminal indictments, fraud accusations, etc.… all in order to flush him out of the politicians and oligarchs way. Browder, thus, started to hire several lawyers and accountants, one of them called Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky was arrested, beaten up, tortured and murdered in 2009, at the age of 37, for trying to protect Bill and expose Russia´s corrupt politicians and FSB (formerly knows as KGB) agents.
The last half of the book is solely the story of Browder and Magnitsky, the good guys, against several Russian characters, the bad guys. In the end Browder describes his crusade in America to avenge his friend´s death and do some justice in the world, culminating in the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which punished those responsible for his death by denying entry to the United States and blocking their bank accounts.
I don´t want to downplay Browder and his quest for justice, nor I want to deny that Magnitsky was a martyr. I have to acknowledge both of them did a lot to uncover a corrupt system and put to light some of its worst criminals. But I bought a book hoping to read about amazing trades and adventures in Russia´s privatization era. I was hoping to read more about how and why, in a detailed manner, Hermitage Capital became one the most successful hedge funds in the world for a time.
Although I was not fully satisfied with the book, I admit I may have misread the last words written right on its cover: Red Notice: a True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man´s Fight for Justice. I guess half the book for a “Story of High Finance” is what I should have expected since I first decided to read it.
Not a favorite. I´m sure Bill could do better. But if you still feel like reading it, do it over a flight.