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Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco is a 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[citation needed]. The book was later made into a 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.

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
Author Bryan Burrough and John Helyar
Language English
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Harper & Row
Publication date
Media type Paperback
Pages 592
ISBN 0-06-016172-8
OCLC 20491096
338.8/3664/00973 20
LC Class HD2796.R57 B87 1990



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 talked to about doing the LBO and feels betrayed after learning that Johnson wants 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 are unable to reconcile their differences, a bidding war takes place which Johnson will eventually lose. The unfortunate side effect of the augmented buyout price to the shareholders is the creation of a worrying level of debt for the company.

The title of the book comes from a statement by Forstmann, in which he calls 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 personalitiesEdit

Film adaptationEdit

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

Publishing information and receptionEdit

In 2008, Harper Collins 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).[1] 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.


  1. ^ "'Barbarians at the Gate' authors reflect" by Jon Friedman, MarketWatch, 11-21-08. Retrieved 2-7-09.