iOS app Android app

Norb Vonnegut
The New York Times describes my novels as “money porn,” “a red-hot franchise,” and “glittery thrillers about fiscal malfeasance.” Through fiction I explore the dark side of money and focus on the motivations of those who have it, want more, and will steamroll anybody who gets in their way.

I wasn’t always an author. I spent most of my career in private wealth management with several brokerage firms, primarily Morgan Stanley, and with a registered investment adviser in New York City. Back then, I always thought the people of Wall Street and their clients—smart, goofy, hip, the complete spectrum from good to evil—would make great characters in a novel.

One thing I’ve learned: If a novelist can cook it up, chances are somebody is doing it. In December of 2007, I delivered the manuscript for Top Producer to St. Martin’s Press. My debut novel told the story of a Ponzi scheme in the public markets—which may not sound like a big deal in the aftermath of 2008. But I completed the book twelve months before Madoff unraveled.

More recently I wrote The Trust, a novel about drugs, money laundering, a sex superstore, and the Catholic Fund. A few months after its publication, a Catholic priest was indicted in Connecticut for cooking methamphetamine. And the press reported that he bought a sex shop to launder his drug money.

My stories have been nosing up to reality, long before the headlines make the press. The reason? Fiction is liberating. Novelists can advance theories about characters, no matter how crazy, without fearing the public embarrassment of being wrong. In my case, I’m probing people born from my real-life experience in the trenches of private wealth management. I’m straddling fact and fiction, which may explain why Top Producer and The Trust were predictive. And I sincerely hope The Gods of Greenwich never comes true.

Let’s see what happens with Masterpiece, the working title of my next novel. The idea for the book came from a question I couldn’t get out of my head: What would happen if the Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum received a package from an anonymous sender that contained one of the paintings taken in the great heist of March 18, 1990? With that, I was off and running. Who steals art? Why? Where do they hide it?

The hero of Masterpiece regards himself as a refugee from Wall Street. He left New York for a small town in New England, but he’s so good at his job, so completely trustworthy and rock-solid reliable, he keeps getting sucked back into the world he left behind. The story takes an irreverent look at the lives of families who depend on Wall Street. And, as in my previous novels, the stakes are deadly.

Other things to know about me: I write a column about private wealth management for the Wall Street Journal. My commentary addresses financial advisers. It’s opinionated. I don’t hold back. But it’s unbiased, because I’m not constrained by ties to Wall Street. If you’re evaluating your own financial advisers, I encourage you to take a look.

I graduated from Phillips Exeter in 1976, Harvard College in 1980 and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1986. My family and I split our time between New York City and Narragansett, Rhode Island. I'm an avid cyclist and a Trustee with the American Foundation for the Blind. And I absolutely love books on tape.

Entries by Norb Vonnegut

Honey and the Goodfellas

(0) Comments | Posted May 28, 2013 | 4:38 PM

It was just another day the first time I bumped into the mob. Just another day in a calm suburban bubble, where the gentle summer breezes whispered through leafy elms, "We're safe here."

Our village was a mile-and-a-half square, a small tangle of conventional lives where neighbors discussed kids, house...

Read Post

The Worst Credit Card Story of All Time

(2) Comments | Posted January 24, 2013 | 8:40 AM

"Do you know where I am?"

"It's three in the morning," croaks Son, his voice raspy from sleep.

"I make it ... twenty-two minutes after three ... London time." Dad is calm, his voice commanding. His accent hints of a childhood down south. He is standing outside on the street...

Read Post

The Worst Interview of All Time

(5) Comments | Posted October 17, 2012 | 6:11 PM

The other day I was meeting with a book club, and a woman asked me, "How do you write oh-sh** moments? You know what I mean. When a character suddenly realizes everything is about to hit the fan."

"It helps if you've lived through thousands of them."

I know I...

Read Post

Ten Reasons Facebook May Not Be Worth $50 Billion

(28) Comments | Posted January 10, 2011 | 1:00 PM

1. Lemming portfolio theory. The consensus is always wrong. Facebook is a media love orgy right now.

2. Private valuations are opinion, not science. A few years ago, the Winklevoss twins used Microsoft's $15 billion valuation to settle their lawsuit. Meanwhile, Facebook's board appraised the company...

Read Post

Insider Trading: 'Tis the Season

(0) Comments | Posted December 5, 2010 | 12:17 PM

After returning from three strip malls, Phoebe Jenkins kicked off her shoes first thing. Right there in front of the kitchen sink. She was exhausted from the holiday crowds — all the pushing and shoving, the occasional hip check or two. Her swollen dogs were screaming for...

Read Post

The Mulligans of Hedgistan

(2) Comments | Posted October 1, 2010 | 1:59 PM

With the Dow trading over 10,700 again, the crisis of 2008 is growing long of tooth. Investors are growing short of memory. And many hedgies, who shuttered their funds due to performance, are making a comeback.

Here's an example of what the The New York Times had to say in...

Read Post

The Giving Pledge: What Do We Want From the Wealthy?

(25) Comments | Posted August 19, 2010 | 6:05 PM

I've been thinking about the "Giving Pledge," a campaign championed by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They're asking fellow members of the uber rich to pledge 50+ percent of their fortunes to charities--more money to philanthropy and less to family. Among the billionaires who have taken the "pledge" are Larry...

Read Post

Darth Goldman: The Enterprise Value Strikes Back

(0) Comments | Posted July 16, 2010 | 11:40 AM

Yesterday, Goldman Sachs settled fraud charges associated with Abacus CDOs for $550 million. Not surprisingly, the settlement excluded Fabrice P. Tourre, who will no doubt be hung out to dry as the Tourre de Toxic winds to a close.

Personally, I think the government just got...

Read Post

Tweet Andy Warhol's 15 Minutes

(1) Comments | Posted July 14, 2010 | 10:34 AM

Andy Warhol is on my mind, specifically his famous quote:

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

It's too bad Warhol isn't around today. I'd like to read his updates on Twitter or Facebook. I bet we'd see quirky videos, like the one of him eating a...

Read Post

Madoff: "Screw the Victims"

(5) Comments | Posted June 30, 2010 | 11:09 AM

I just returned from Nino's in Manhattan, where the authors of The Club No One Wanted to Join gathered to discuss their book. They are a group of twenty-nine investors in Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Their book describes the change in their lives since the shattering confession on December...

Read Post

Does Orrin Hatch Want to Bail Out the Hamptons?

(4) Comments | Posted May 21, 2010 | 3:13 PM

In today's New York Times, Andrew Sorkin describes the sweetheart taxes for hedge-fund and private-equity partners as follows:

General partners at private equity funds, who take a cut of the investment gains they earn for their investors in the form of "carried interest," have been paying federal taxes...
Read Post

Financial Reform and the Fungus Five

(2) Comments | Posted May 20, 2010 | 6:05 PM

Recently, I described financial reform as a "petri dish" of pending legislation. The government is tackling too many issues at the same time. Without constants--we don't know how markets will react to all the moving pieces.

It gets worse. Last night The Wall Street Journal profiled...

Read Post

Financial Reform: What Crawls Out of the Petri Dish?

(8) Comments | Posted May 10, 2010 | 2:07 PM

I believe in financial reform. Let's lose synthetic CDOs, credit default swaps, and other weapons of money destruction. Let's cut the leverage and focus on systemic risks to our economic order. But let's be smart.

In the wake of last Thursday, it appears our government is tackling too many issues...

Read Post

Financial Reform: Who's the Fox in the Henhouse?

(2) Comments | Posted May 3, 2010 | 1:01 PM

From Hill to hedge funds' hired guns

Check out today's post on Politico. The author asserts that financial reform is uneven, that pending Congressional legislation has modest impact on hedge funds.

Wall Street has taken its lumps in Washington recently and Goldman Sachs has become everyone's whipping boy,...
Read Post

Goldman Sachs, Goldfish Eat Their Young

(6) Comments | Posted April 27, 2010 | 4:57 PM

Is paranoia necessary to survive on Wall Street?

In one sense, Goldman Sachs is no different from other investment banks. Junior employees are expendable. Like goldfish, investment banks eat their young when brand-protection and self-interest make cannibalism seem rationale.

Smart guys, rainmakers, anybody in the trenches--they're all vulnerable. Case in...

Read Post

Goldman Sachs and the Tourre de Toxic

(8) Comments | Posted April 19, 2010 | 5:31 PM

Who hasn't seen the news? The SEC accused Goldman Sachs of fraud, alleging it misrepresented an Abacus CDO. Banks lost $1 billion on the trade. And John Paulson, one of the gods of Greenwich, pocketed that $1 billion through his fund.

Here's what I don't get:

  1. Goldman made...
Read Post

Book Review: The Big Short

(0) Comments | Posted April 7, 2010 | 4:20 PM

Michael Lewis has done it again. The Big Short is a must read, even if you don't know anything about finance. With his trademark ability to identify unlikely heroes, he chronicles the lives of people who bet against subprime mortgages. The prose are lucid. The explanations make sense. And Lewis...

Read Post

Travel Advisory: The Cats of Amsterdam

(0) Comments | Posted April 7, 2010 | 1:09 PM

Here's what happened three weeks ago to the day -- March 17, 2010. The signs were all there. I should have seen it coming. It was a Wednesday, a Worst Case Wednesday.

I landed in Amsterdam around 11 a.m., about twenty-four hours before speaking at NRC Focus' seminar...

Read Post

Euro Cop: Playing With a Hedge Fund Near You

(1) Comments | Posted March 18, 2010 | 12:06 PM

The E.U. is getting tough with member nations according to The New York Times. Strong warnings to Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. Get your budget deficits in order, or else ... excuse me if I don't buy it. Here are three things you must know about...

Read Post

China's New Export: Too Big To Fail

(6) Comments | Posted March 10, 2010 | 11:59 AM

Market Defies Fear of Real Estate Bubble in China

A real estate bubble, fueled by bad loans and too much leverage, explains much of our stock market's turmoil since 2008. So today's article from The New York Times about the Chinese version, caught my attention. Here are a...

Read Post