In March 2011, some six months into their new jobs at a Wall Street bank, two young, overworked and stressed-out financial analysts -- fresh out of college – were having their second beers and discussing the best ways to kill themselves at work. Clearly, their initial excitement about getting jobs after the 2008 financial crisis had worn off.

“If the goal is, like, how do I inflict maximum psychological damage,” one says, “then I think just going up to your desk and blowing your brains out in the middle of the day would be the best.”

“Nah,” the other replies. “You know what would happen? All the analysts would get an e-mail from the associates saying, ‘Can you guys clean this up?’ And everyone would go back to work.”

That bit of gallows humor is told by Kevin Roose in his book, Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits, which details the changes brought to both Wall Street and the people who work there.

Roose is a former staff writer for the New York Times and is a business and technology writer for New York magazine. He is also the author of the book The Unlikely Disciple and has written for GQ, Esquire and ESPN: The Magazine.

Starting in 2010, Roose began relationships with eight recent college graduates who signed on as entry-level financial analysts with Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and other “too big to fail” banks on Wall Street.

His three-year study gave him a rare glimpse of the inside world of finance. If the banks had known their new recruits were talking to Roose, the analysts probably would have been fired.

Apart from being a good read, the book offers financial professionals something they may not have a chance to see – the nuts and bolts of how Wall Street banks function. The book is well-researched and includes 20 pages of notes and reference materials.

Eight budding “Masters of the Universe,” a phrase coined by author Tom Wolfe in the 1980s and used by Roose, were all graduates of mostly Ivy League schools, and were recruited by the banks as entry-level analysts in their “two-years-and-out” programs.

The two-year programs were sort of a Wall Street boot camp, where the recent grads were subjected to the physically and mentally grueling system that created a mindset that put the banks’ interests first.

“We’re not here to save the world. We exist to make money,” one of the young analysts was told.

This system was used for years by banks and attracted the best and brightest who sought both money and power. After two years, recruits were either promoted in the bank or left to go to other institutions, hedge funds and private equity groups, and, later, to the tech field or startups.

Roose writes about the 100-hour workweeks (16 hours a day Monday through Friday – but only 10 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday) and how the recruits fared.

The young analysts were well-compensated for their labors ($70,000 a year starting salary and bonuses of up to $70,000 a year). Not bad money for 22-year-old men and women fresh out of college (although one of the recruits did the math and the compensation package worked out to $16 per hour pay after taxes).

The work was both exciting -- with million-dollar deals -- and tedious, producing spreadsheets and “pitch books” used to pitch a particular company or strategy to investors.

But much of it was last-minute, panicked and, at times, under the supervision of a managing director or an associate who was incompetent, insecure or possibly insane.

Some of the young analysts did well. Others didn’t. The book describes the drug and alcohol use and abuse by the recruits, as well as the moral dilemmas and the physical and mental stress they endured.

Roose also outlines the changes that Wall Street experienced during the three years after the meltdown: More government regulation, lower profits, lower bonuses and layoffs.

The days of old Wall Street, as one bank’s managing director noted, with “bosses doing lines of cocaine off a stripper’s ass, don’t exist any more.”

In 2012, Roose notes, U.S. banks reported $141.3 billion in net income, their best year since 2006. But of the 28,000 jobs lost during the financial crisis, only 30 percent had come back to Wall Street by 2013.

Other changes that rippled through the system included reduced college recruiting and a drop in the total numbers of students entering the financial/business programs at universities. And there have been changes in college programs themselves.

Some Wall Street banks have done away with the two-years-and-out system and are at least considering how to make the professional lives of new hires better by reducing 100-hour work weeks -- and possibly giving recent recruits weekends off.

The book describes not only the sad tales of the young Masters of the Universe, but also has a few laugh-out-loud moments: At a “fashion meets finance” mixer at a local tavern, young fashionistas meet equally young financiers with possible mergers as an end result.

Not so funny was what Roose saw and heard when he crashed a gathering of Kappa Beta Phi, the 80-year-old once secret Wall Street society composed of the actual Masters of the Universe. Roose was outraged at the satirical songs and sketches, and the homophobic and anti-Hillary Clinton jokes.

He said they mocked the poor and bragged of business conquests at Main Street’s expense. They enjoyed a rack-of-lamb dinner after receiving billions in a taxpayer-funded bailout. This was as most of the country had to deal with the fallout of the crisis – lost jobs, billions in savings wiped out and sometimes even families ripped apart.

“Young Money:  Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits”
 by Kevin Roose. Grand Central Publishing. February 2014; 320 pages.

William L. Haacker is an award-winning journalist and editor who has worked for various New Jersey newspapers, including Gannett New Jersey.