David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Po Bronson’s “Bombardiers”

Po Bronson's 'Bombardiers'This book review was originally published in the Baltimore Sun on March 3, 1995.

Poor, naive Sidney Geeder.

Geeder thinks his firm, the Atlantic Pacific Corporation, is going to turn belly up when the market discovers how flimsy its RTC bonds are. Geeder thinks that the SEC will come storming in like the A-team when they find out Atlantic Pacific is propping up both sides of the market on their Romanian investment deal. At the very least, Geeder thinks he can walk away cold with a few million bucks as soon as his company shares mature.

Sid Geeder is, of course, dead wrong.

That’s because the system of high-finance capitalism Po Bronson satirizes in his debut novel Bombardiers has little concern for its servants. The bond salesmen and women of Atlantic Pacific are saddled with impossibly high quotas, whipped into a frenzy by high-strung managers, and then ridden to the bone for every last dishonest penny the company can take.

Bombardiers is, in a word, brilliant. In a few more words, it’s devastatingly funny, as wise as any Wall Street guru, and bitter as a cup of jet-black coffee.

Po knows all the secret vices of America’s business community: material greed, sexism, the machine mentality, and the smug assurance that no matter how bad things get, the government will always be there to bail them out. Bronson’s capable hands stretch laissez-faire capitalism into the realm of the absurd — one enterprising young salesman corners the market on staff breakfasts — but it’s never so absurd that you can’t see the same mentality at work behind the headlines of the Wall Street Journal every day.

Most chilling is the way in which international politics factor into Atlantic Pacific’s corporate priorities. With the military establishment hamstrung by treaties and trade agreements, Geeder and company have become the soldiers on America’s front line, invading the Third World under the flag of the Almighty Dollar. The United Nations and Amnesty International be damned — when you’ve got money, developing countries are no more than booty to be plundered, exploited, and discarded at the first opportunity.

Bombardiers is written for a financially sophisticated audience, but don’t worry if you can’t understand the details of Atlantic Pacific’s outrageous plan to arrange a corporate takeover of the Dominican Republic. The salesmen can’t understand it either, and Bronson has fun stringing together a lengthy game of Telephone where the nonsense factor of their sales pitches increases exponentially on each pass.

Bronson, an associate publisher at Mercury House and former First Boston sales recruit, isn’t beyond a little barnstorming himself. He’s shanghaied the plot, tone, and structure of his book straight from the comic masterpiece on bureaucratic doublethink, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Bombardiers even has some of Catch-22‘s shortcomings: two-dimensional characters and a lack of subtlety.

Absorbed in the spirit of corporate piracy and still rankling from Heller’s own dismal Catch-22 sequel last year, I couldn’t have cared less. Po Bronson’s flight of the bombardiers is well worth cheering on.

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  1. Steve Lownds on January 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm  Chain link

    I love this book so much. Eggs Ignio is one of my favourite modern novel characters of recent years, and the exhausted futility of the final days of the beleagured office was all to familiar.

    Even if you don’t get all of the finance terms, don’t worry, that’s just the vehicle for some scary, insightful and satisfying social satire.

  2. David Kells on March 19, 2015 at 10:55 am  Chain link

    I first read “Bombardiers” back in the 90’s enjoying it as a satire and loving the rage against the idiocy of the financial industry that drives its prose. With the passage of time I believe this is a genuinely great book. It no longer reads as smartly sarcastic but rather as the appropriately savage response of an intelligent man to a morally irreconcilable situation.
    That it so clearly captures the mindset that would create the dotcom disaster , the great crash and of course whatever catastrophe is coming next mean that is should be on school syllabuses.

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