Nothing prepared me for The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort’s memoir of his time running an investment firm out of Long Island. From the book description and murmurs of an adaptation by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, I garnered that it was going to be an interesting story. Underestimate much? Apparently.
Shall we say that Belfort made the most of his time at the helm of the wildly lucrative Stratton Oakmont? In the early nineties, Belford founded the firm, which would go on to become one of the biggest – and most fraudulent – shops of its time. But the laundering and fraud is just half of his story; the other half is Belfort’s own personal, ahem, adventures – with prostitutes, drugs, and an obscene amount of spending.
Stripped to its core, The Wolf of Wall Street starts as a rags-to-riches success story: Belfort is a kid who comes from a modest family but has big dreams. As a teen, he makes money selling Italian ices on the beach; a few years into his twenties he finds himself with a new job as a connector at Wall Street firm L.F. Rothschild. Fast forward six years and Belfort is king of his hill, or shall we say island – as in Long Island.
The escapades on which Belfort embarks with his ragtag group of Stratton-made spenders are enough to make a reader blush, gag, and guffaw. This is not a likeable group of financiers, and their ways with drugs and hookers are deplorable. Is there a soft spot in the heart of our protagonist? He does, actually, love his wife; he worships his infant daughter. But as quickly as he pushes them to the back of his mind as he dives into another bottle of Quaaludes or pile of cocaine, the reader also sets aside any sympathy.
Sounds awful, doesn't it? Sure -- Belfort's actions are heinous. But it makes for one incredible tale. From drunk-driving his helicopter home to sinking his yacht, from leaning on an old aunt to help him transfer money to his Swiss account to avoiding the Feds, The Wolf of Wall Street will have you turning pages almost as fast as Stratton Oakmont's rabid suit-wearing stockbrokers are flipping stocks.
Does Belfort ever redeem himself? See the error of his ways? Make up for his infidelity, his lying, cheating, and all-around havoc creation? It depends how forgiving you are as a reader. So before the movie barrels into theaters, read Belfort’s wild memoir – The Wolf of Wall Street -- and decide for yourself.