I've just finished reading the book. I have not seen the film. The tale of Jordan Belfort, an entry-level employee at a Wall Street brokerage who went on to make millions and run his own firm, has had a fair bit of publicity since the film was released. But how is the book?
It's okay. It's problematic: Belfort's rise from the bottom (“lower than pond life”, his employer first describes him) to managing director level is strangely skipped over. The story involves maths, stock, business management and money-laundering- all things that aren't particularly tangible unless you have that kind of brain. I found it difficult to follow for that reason, although others may not have that problem. Belfort plunders his way through more and more money, spending it at an absurd rate.
Throughout all of this, though, Belfort himself isn't a likable character. He's too self-aware, too self-obsessed, too proud of his own downfall. We do not need him to explain in detail how absurd it is for his employees to be discussing health and safety policies for in-office dwarf-tossing competitions. Belfort never lets us assume things for ourselves. He's come from the Steven King school of writing: if you can explain it perfectly in 10 words, say it again in another different 10 words just to mindlessly hammer the message home. Hence, the 500-page book would have been perfect at 250.
I think the main problem is that Belfort has a maths brain- and a particularly good one, given his career. No matter how good that makes you at handling money, it doesn't necessarily mean you have the right type of brain to write creatively. Most people who are good at one might not be particularly good at the other.
Tedious, over-written and self absorbed but the story would have been superb as a biography.