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Barbarians at the Gate

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Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
First edition
AuthorBryan Burrough and John Helyar
PublisherHarper & Row
Publication date
Media typePaperback
338.8/3664/00973 20
LC ClassHD2796.R57 B87 1990

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco is a 1989 book about the leveraged buyout (LBO) of RJR Nabisco, written by investigative journalists Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. The book is based upon a series of articles written by the authors for The Wall Street Journal.[1] The book was made into a 1993 made-for-TV movie by HBO, also called Barbarians at the Gate. The book centers on F. Ross Johnson, the CEO of RJR Nabisco, who planned to buy out the rest of the Nabisco shareholders.


Those opposed to Johnson's bid for the company, Henry Kravis and his cousin George R. Roberts, were among the pioneers of the leveraged buyout (LBO). Kravis was the first person Johnson had talked to about doing the LBO and felt betrayed after learning that Johnson wanted to do the deal with another firm, American Express's former Shearson Lehman Hutton division. Ted Forstmann and his Forstmann Little buyout firm also played a prominent role.

After Kravis and Johnson were unable to reconcile their differences, a bidding war took place which Johnson would eventually lose. The side effect of the augmented buyout price to the shareholders was the creation of a high level of debt for the company.

The title of the book comes from a statement by Forstmann, in which he called Kravis' money "phoney junk bond crap" and declares him and his cousin as "real people with real money," also stating that to stop raiders like Kravis: "We need to push the barbarians back from the city gates."

Important personalities[edit]

Film adaptation[edit]

The book was adapted by Larry Gelbart for a 1993 television movie of the same name directed by Glenn Jordan.

Publishing information and reception[edit]

In 2008, HarperCollins re-released Barbarians to mark the two-decade anniversary of the RJR deal. Media columnist Jon Friedman at MarketWatch opined on the occasion that it was "the best business book ever." Friedman spoke with the authors about the two-decade history of the book and of their ensuing careers (the two undertook no further joint projects).[2] Business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times wrote in his book Too Big to Fail that this is his favourite business book of all time.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ O'Toole, Patricia (January 21, 1990). "The Granddaddy of All Takeovers". The New York Times – via NYTimes.com.
  2. ^ "'Barbarians at the Gate' authors reflect" by Jon Friedman, MarketWatch, 11-21-08. Retrieved 12-8-22.