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Billion Dollar Whale

The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World

By Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
18-minute read
Audio available
Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope

Billion Dollar Whale (2018) is the definitive account of how a quick-witted and calculating Malaysian social climber called Jho Low defrauded a national investment fund and pulled off one of the twenty-first century’s most audacious heists. The fruit of years of painstaking research by two of America’s top investigative journalists, it sheds light on the shadowy workings of a globe-spanning network of swindlers, crooks and hustlers.

  • True-life story fanatics who love a rip-roaring yarn
  • Would-be detectives with a feel for finance 
  • Number-crunchers, bankers and accountants 

Tom Wright is a Wall Street Journal reporter best known for his coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden and the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. Wright regularly reports from Malaysia was named 2016 Journalist of the Year by the Society of Publishers in Asia. 

Bradley Hope is a financial journalist and an expert on fraud, corruption and malfeasance. Now based in London and New York, Hope spent many years covering the Arab Spring uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of Last Days of the Pharaoh, an account of the downfall of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak.

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Billion Dollar Whale

The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World

By Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
Synopsis

Billion Dollar Whale (2018) is the definitive account of how a quick-witted and calculating Malaysian social climber called Jho Low defrauded a national investment fund and pulled off one of the twenty-first century’s most audacious heists. The fruit of years of painstaking research by two of America’s top investigative journalists, it sheds light on the shadowy workings of a globe-spanning network of swindlers, crooks and hustlers.

Key idea 1 of 11

Jho Low learned the art of deception at school while trying to keep up with his wealthy peers.

This is a story of financial fraud, dodgy deals and deception. But it doesn’t start on a Wall Street trading floor. It begins in a leafy borough in northwest London in 1998, the year a pudgy and shy 17-year-old boy from Malaysia called Jho Low started his first term at one of England’s most storied private schools.

Founded in 1572, Harrow School charges just under $16,000 a term to educate the children of the world’s elite. Its alumni include seven British prime ministers, an Indian prime minister and six Middle Eastern monarchs. When Low arrived, he found himself rubbing shoulders with the heirs to the thrones of Brunei and Kuwait. 

Now, Low wasn’t exactly poor himself; he was the son of a Chinese-Malaysian businessman who had made his fortune in the garment industry in the 1990s. His family was worth around $15 million and lived in a palm-tree-fringed modernist mansion in Penang, Malaysia. Their wealth was impressive, but Harrow was different. In comparison to his classmates, Low was small fry, and he knew it. 

The only way he could keep up appearances was to lie. When his new school pals visited him in Penang in 1999, he rented a local billionaire’s holiday home and yacht and replaced the real owner’s family photographs with snaps of his own parents and siblings. The ruse worked. Soon enough, his friends were referring to him as the “prince of Malaysia.” Low, who had no aristocratic pedigree whatsoever, didn’t correct them. 

Eager to boost his credentials, Low began taking greater risks. In his final year, he bluffed his way into an exclusive London nightclub with a note written on a letterhead from Brunei’s embassy and spent the night partying with Premier League soccer players and models. 

But Low’s behavior wasn’t merely opportunistic; it was a direct outgrowth of the morally relativistic worldview he was developing under the influence of his classmates. One of them, Riza Aziz, was the stepson of Malaysia's infamously corrupt defense minister, Najib Razak. 

Low was fascinated by what his friend told him about Najib, especially his habit of granting licenses in exchange for kickbacks. It was a revelation – if everyone was on the take, why shouldn't he get his cut too? He’d already learned that power and prestige, however fake, opened doors. All he needed now was an opportunity. After graduating in 2000, Low headed to the United States to find one.

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