Friday, April 18, 2014
Emily Lambert’s “The Futures, the rise of the speculator. . .” is disappointing
During the 60s and 70s I wrote hundreds of stories and weekly columns about the futures markets, the Chicago Board of Trade, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Options Exchange and several of the characters mentioned in "The Futures, the rise of the speculator and the origins of the world's biggest markets," by Emilly Lambert, a Chicago-based reporter for Forbes.
I give the book only two stars for several reasons:
1. It's useless and barely entertaining for history buffs and Chicago traders.
2. It's shallow. There's not a chart or table in the book. Volume, open interest and other stats tell interesting stories.
3. It slams Leo Melamed, who I was the first to profile in depth while I was a business reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. He isn't quoted in the book, which means his enemies told his story for him, and he refused to comment, angering the author.
4. The book profiles members of the exchanges as members of families and tribes. They were much more than that.
5. Lambert is unable to profile an exchange floor trader in a way that shows what kind of person succeeds as a floor trader or as an off-floor speculator.
6. Retail customers are almost totally ignored.
7. The folks who run commercial hedging operations for Cargill and other companies aren't profiled, described in any detail or given much credit for all of the committee work and time they put into exchange politics and development.
8. Descriptions of farmers who hedge or those who don't are missing. The book really down plays the huge role futures prices play in the lives of farmers, agribusinesses, banks, currency traders, petroleum company managers and the U.S. and world economies.
9. Where are the commission brokers? They played huge roles in helping hedgers and speculators lose money while they and the floor brokers did very well.
10. This is one of the most poorly written and structured business and history books I"ve read in a long time. Some people are meant to write articles and columns, and some are meant to write books. Lambert is the former, not the latter. While the author cites her library research, her book looks like the work of a reporter who prefers to talk to people and suck up to some while slamming others. Most of the history of futures exchanges that you get from this book is in the introductory chapters of many books about trading futures.
I don't and never have traded futures, but I do trade options and covered Joe Sullivan as he worked on the development of the CBOE. As a reporter and columnist, I saw how dangerous and risky futures markets are for retail speculators, and they're even riskier today than they were 35 to 47 years ago.