In 1981, four of the country's six largest brokerage houses were acquired by sizable enterprises that lacked previous stakes in the investment/securities business. At the time, these combinations seemed to promise one-stop Financial shopping for the general public. The informed audit here provided by Carrington (who covers the merger beat for The Wall Street Journal) suggests, however, that the odd couplings had as much to do with survival and self-interest as service. Among the companies that played leading roles were American Express (which took Shearson to its corporate bosom), Phibro (Salomon), Prudential (Bache), and Sears (Dean Witter). Carrington's narrative focuses on the three very different men directly involved in the Amex/Shearson get-together. In his book, the catalyst was Salim B. (Sandy) Lewis, a headstrong nonconformist who first saw the deal as a practicable possibility. Also at stage center were Sanford I. (Sandy) Weill, a brash but insecure opportunist who had made Shearson number two in its industry (behind Merrill Lynch) through a series of advantageous acquisitions, and James D. Robinson III, the outwardly noncommital establishment archetype who headed American Express. Neither Weill nor Robinson was in any great hurry to make the match proposed by Lewis, a second-generation Wall Streeter whose fledgling firm stood to make a name for itself--and earn a seven-figure fee. In fact, the two principals did not act until after Bache, in dire straits owing to its support of the Hunt Brothers' abortive attempt to corner the silver market, had joined forces with Prudential Insurance. Carrington provides behind-the-scenes detail on just how events of this sort can precipitate lemming-like responses among presumably rational capitalists. In addition, he offers wide-angle perspectives on the circumstances leading up to 1981's takeover binge and the uncertainties still facing the new partnerships; none has yet produced a substantive payoff, let alone proven that there's synergistic strength in union. In sum, an engrossing report on an unresolved break with the financial past.