An anecdotal overview of international investment banking--by a British novelist/biographer/financial writer. Though scrupulously detailed, Ferris' unfocused report will be old news to most insiders and of marginal interest or use to passersby. Investment bankers have been shaken-up, he notes, by advances in transportation and telecommunications that permit round-the-clock/round-the-world operation and by the inclination of both clients and investors ""to seek better, crueler bargains."" Among those best fitted to survive in this tougher environment (where ""social connections are a wasting asset"") are such Wall Street biggies as First Boston, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Salomon Brothers, and Shearson Lehman/American Express. They have the capacity to underwrite, trade, and distribute (to retail or institutional accounts) on a global basis, plus the resources to bid on really big deals. Japanese firms (Daiwa, Nomura, Yamaichi, etc.) are evolving in the same way, to achieve economies of scale; but Tokyo is still hamstrung as an offshore financial center by withholding taxes, exchange controls, and related restrictions. London's gentlemanly merchant banks have been hard-pressed to compete, Ferris points out, since the UK securities business remains split up among underwriters, brokers, and market-making jobbers. But the big money accruing from the Thatcher government's return of state-owned enterprises to the private sector, together with deregulation, may provide the likes of Kleinwort Benson, Morgan Grenfell, N.M. Rothschild, Schroder, and S.G. Warburg the means to integrate and vie on more even terms with the new colossi. The episodic text includes a lot of oft-told tales--the Lehman breakup (largely from friction between bankers and traders), First Boston's flamboyant Joe Perella (source of merger and acquisitions millions), Merrill Lynch's short-run woes with Hong-Kong-based Sun Hung Kai, Paribas' fruitless campaign to stave off Mitterand-nationalization. Beyond speculating that investment banking may be getting more bureaucratic (and less entrepreneurial), Ferris ventures few prognostications. Interim intelligence, then, without large import.