"It was a massive carnival scene right outside our front door. I was on the second floor. You could look out the window and see all these people. It was like being in a bunker. You just didn't want to go outside," says Jared Dillian.

A former Wall Street trader, Dillian is speaking not of the Occupy Wall Street protests, but of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

At that time, Dillian had worked on Wall Street for eight drama-soaked years. That drama was external -- he witnessed firsthand the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- and it was also internal, directly personal for Dillian as well.

Stressed out from his high-stakes ETF trading role, drinking heavily and suffering from undiagnosed bipolar disorder, in 2006, he suffered a nervous breakdown that led him to spend weeks in a psych ward. When he emerged from the mental hospital, it was only to witness Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy, with reporters massing on the street outside and eagerly confronting the banks' employees.

The Human Side of Wall Street

Dillian recounts his experiences in a gripping and admirably candid memoir, Street Freak, just published by Touchstone. As an insider's look at the workings of a storied investment bank, the memoir is similar to Michael Lewis' classic Liar's Poker. But it's also grittier and more emotional, supplying a human face for an opaque and powerful institution at a time when Americans' frustration with Wall Street may be at an all-time high.

"Wall Street people don't do a very good job of humanizing themselves," says Dillian, "but I'm not into the whole invincibility thing."

A Horatio Alger Tale

A "freakishly ambitious" guy, Dillian wasn't born to a Wall Street dynasty. Growing up in a middle class family, he played the organ at a church as a part-time job. He attended the Coast Guard Academy, double-majoring in math and computer science. After graduating, he served five years in the Coast Guard.

While stationed in a small town in Washington state, he happened into a used bookstore and read Burton Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street, which inspired him to get an MBA in finance.

Bootstrapping his way into the job at Lehman Brothers, Dillian nonetheless found himself out of his league in another sense: He wore cheap suits from Men's Wearhouse, while his colleagues sported designer clothes. Even though he'd achieved insider status, he was still an outsider.

His story goes straight to the heart of a cherished American ideal: a deserving smart kid, without undue advantages, working his way up to the top, overcoming whatever obstacles he encounters along the way. And yet, it begs the question: How much can we identify and sympathize with someone who made almost $1 million a year?

"Some people have read the book and told me that's an unbelievable amount of money. Others have told me I was being underpaid," says Dillian, who discloses in Street Freak how much money he made each year. In his final year at Lehman, he made $850,000.

Economic Rewards, Outsized Salaries

Warren Buffett has said that ours is "an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions."

But as Dillian puts it, "People who work on Wall Street are just people. My story is not an uncommon story." And he would know, having lived to tell it.

What's your take, DailyFinance reader? Is it right for our society to reward "those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions"? Is $850,000 a year worth a stay in a mental ward? Share your opinions in the comments section below.

Motley Fool contributor Catherine Baab-Muguira has no financial interest in any of the companies mentioned.

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gpgh67

There is no rhyme or reason to the way people get paid in this country. Teachers barely make enough to live on, while CEO's make millions while their companies go downhill. There is a growing resentment in this country because people are tired of hearing about fat bonuses for the top 1% while the rank and file are getting pink slips.There has always been inequality in this country, but it has really gotten out of hand in the last few years. One word: Greed!

November 09 2011 at 2:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gmydogbud

The People in Washington, D.C., are the ones to blame for all this. Due to their relationship, with BIG BUSINESS, they let all our jobs go off shore. What did they think, would become of their TAX BASE? If the American people, are not working, their is no money to run this country, let alone to give away the HUNDRED Of BILLIONS - they give and have given to countries and people who HATE, US & Wish us DEAD & Who DANCED IN THE STREETS ON - 09-11-01, In CELEBRATION - OF - THREE - THOUSAND - DEAD - AMERICANS! Our Government, which is run by the HIGHLY - EDUCATED - IVY - LEAGUE - PROFESSORIAL - TYPES - BORROWS - TRILLIONS - FROM - CHINA - IN - ORDER - TO - THEN - GIVE - MILLIONS - IN - FORIEGN - AID, TO- CHINA - & HUNDREDS - OF - BILLIONS - TO - OTHER - COUNTRIES! Yet, we hear on radio and television about all the American Citizens NOW - LIVING - IN - POVERTY! !

November 09 2011 at 1:34 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Morris Cantonitis

The NOSE DUSTING, sodomizing Red PIGGS, American Wall Alley MM NYSE PIGGS, US regulatory factions and the media are ripe for a NUKE.
Mr. President – Test ALL of them for narcotics like other businesses as MANDATORY.
Again, OVERNIGHT SHORTING of Americas savings by the PIGGS over ……………………………..
The Wall Alley PIGGS are a part of EVIL Man. Judas to Christ and America.
The PIGGS play maliciously against American & world portfolios and its cost basis to STEAL WEALTH throughout the world.
NYC GETS NUKED. Satan conjures U PIGGS.
Homeland Insecurity: Where are those shrooms?
China, Russia – just like America fighting terrorism in Iraq, U must fight terrorism in NYC that affects YOUR LIvelyhoods. These are American PUNKS, mafiosa. Take them down to meet Adolph.
The number 1 terrorist PIGGS in the world are the US Media, Financials, NON Regulatories and NYSE MM PIGGS.
AMERICA IS A PIGG run by GREEDY RED PIGGS and SICK Wall Alley PIGGS feeding themselves and Satan.
The PIGGS DROP the Markets first when their PIGGS belly are filled with Americans savings, and then react with fictitious media to sweep up the investments and savings.
The PIGGS MARK Good Man and Satan MARKS THE BEASTS.
Pre-meditated directed charts.
U are SOOOO obvious Wall Alley PIGGS.
300,000,000 OCCUPY THE WALL ALLEY PIGG and will DESTROY THE PIGGS.
FBI – AMERICA WANTS A LOT MORE PIGGS Meat. U are only into the APPETIZERS. The Markets are STILL BEING RUNNED CORRUPTLY and WE WANT THE PIGGS. USE YOUR WEAPONS on these PIGGS and we do not need to know. WE WILL KNOW WHEN THE MARKET PIGGS ARE DEAD and GONE.
Do U like it Mr. President, how the Red PIGG and Wall Alley PIGGS deny Americans and the world their savings by STEALING IT and trying to steal YOUR Presidency which will NEVER happen. Not even in Red PIGG, Wall Alley PIGGS America.
Parasitic leeches of the World in NYC.
NYC GETS NUKED.

November 09 2011 at 10:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rogsuehull

I say if you can not beat them then join em. I think sports stars are way overpaid and most could not earn a living in a real job.

November 09 2011 at 9:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dorado38

If you drive a Japanese or Korean car do not blame others for outsourcing.

November 09 2011 at 6:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jose Dejesus

OUTSOURCING THE JOBS IS ANTI AMERICA-----CRIMINAL...IF WE DON'T STOP OUTSOURCING-----I BELIEVE THAT AMERICA IS DOOMED...TOO MANY PEOPLE AND NO JOBS SPELLS CHAOS --VIOLENCE --AND MAYBE A BLOODY REVOLUTION ???

November 08 2011 at 6:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jose Dejesus's comment
gmydogbud

In my opnion, you are so right - however this is nothing new. Outsourcing began in the 1960's and we been like the Frog in water that is heated a little at a time, till the Frog is DEAD! The highly educated, ivy league, professorial types, both in the White House and in the Congress over the years have taken money from "Big Business" and Looked the other way. You know - I hear nothing - I see nothing - I know nothing! Away went the American Peoples Jobs. No Jobs = No Money = No Purchases = No Savings = Americans Going Hungry, while those in power live high on the Hog and the American People even get to pay for a DOG, to have it's own plane for travel! What a country. It is kinda of like Marie of France saying - "Let Them Eat Cake" and we all know how that turned out!

November 08 2011 at 6:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
savemycountry911

evan loves to jump from one alias to another to low rate sensible comments and high rate the stupid ones.

November 08 2011 at 3:35 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to savemycountry911's comment
savemycountry911

Sounded so nice I posted it twice.

November 08 2011 at 3:36 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
savemycountry911

evan loves to jump from one alias to another ito low rate the sensible comments and high rate the stupid ones.

November 08 2011 at 3:33 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
savemycountry911

Wall Street protestors crap on the American flag (there is a pic of it if you care to look and it sin't on FOX) and libs love it. They have proven themselves to be anti-American.

November 08 2011 at 3:32 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to savemycountry911's comment
Jose Dejesus

I'M A U.S. MARINE I'M GETTING TO THE POINT WHERE THE AMERICAN FLAG DOESN'T MEAN MUCH ANYMORE... THE TOP 25 % WHO HAVE ALL THE WEALTH SHOULD BE THE ONES TO CARE A LOT ABOUT THE AMERICAN FLAG AND THEY DO NOT.... OUTSOURCING THE JOB IA ANTI AMERICA.

November 08 2011 at 6:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jose Dejesus's comment
frankiespeaking

I'm a disable Navy Vet and I say ...it's not the flag's fault Now is when you should love it more and fight "them" and you know exactly who "they" are.

Do Not Be Fooled...little by little the rights our flag represents are being taken away...and you're busy being angry at an inanament object .Ya gotta focus, Marine!

When you joined the Corps you vowed ...Honor and Country....You are a Marine until you die...not former, not used to be or retired ....You are a Marine!

If you ditch the flag now...what will we have raise when we win this, again? The choice is yours!

Semper Fi

November 09 2011 at 12:36 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
savemycountry911

I'm evan crazy / idiot / mess.
For the record I must confess.
Forget the lie of change and hope.
I am just Obama's dope.

November 08 2011 at 2:41 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply