The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the World's Oil Market

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Overview

They were a band of outsiders unable to get jobs with New York's gilded financial establishment. They would go on to corner the world's multitrillion-dollar oil market, reaping unimaginable riches while bringing the economy to its knees.

Meet the self-anointed kings of the New York Mercantile Exchange. In some ways, they are everything you would expect them to be: a secretive, members-only club of men and women who live lavish lifestyles; cavort with politicians, strippers, and ...

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The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the World's Oil Market

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Overview

They were a band of outsiders unable to get jobs with New York's gilded financial establishment. They would go on to corner the world's multitrillion-dollar oil market, reaping unimaginable riches while bringing the economy to its knees.

Meet the self-anointed kings of the New York Mercantile Exchange. In some ways, they are everything you would expect them to be: a secretive, members-only club of men and women who live lavish lifestyles; cavort with politicians, strippers, and celebrities; and blissfully jacked up oil prices to nearly $150 a barrel while profiting off the misery of the working class. In other ways, they are nothing you can imagine: many come from working-class families themselves. The progeny of Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants who escaped war-torn Europe, they take pride in flagrantly spurning Wall Street.

Under the thumb of an all-powerful international oil cartel, the energy market had long eluded the grasp of America's hungry capitalists. Neither the oil royalty of Houston nor the titans of Wall Street had ever succeeded in fully wresting away control. But facing extinction, the rough-and-tumble traders of Nymex—led by the reluctant son of a producemerchant—went after this Goliath and won, creating the world's first free oil market and minting billions in the process. Their stunning journey from poverty to prosperity belies the brutal and violent history that is their legacy.

For the first time, The Asylum unmasks the oil market's self-described "inmates" in all their unscripted and dysfunctional glory: the happily married father from Long Island whose lust for money and power was exceeded only by his taste for cruel pranks; the Italian kung fu–fighting gasoline trader whose ferocity in the trading pits earned him countless millions; the cheerful Nazi hunter who traded quietly by day and ambushed Nazi sympathizers by night; and the Irish-born femme fatale who outsmarted all but one of the exchange's chairmen—the Hungarian emigre who, try as he might, could do nothing to rein in the oil market's unruly inhabitants.

From the treacherous boardroom schemes to the hookers and blow of the trading pits; from the repeat terrorist attacks and FBI stings to the grand alliances and outrageous fortunes that brought the global economy to the brink, The Asylum ventures deep into the belly of the beast, revealing how raw ambition and the endless quest for wealth can change the very nature of both man and market.

Showcasing seven years of research and hundreds of hours of interviews, Leah McGrath Goodman reveals what really happened behind the scenes as oil prices topped out and what choice the traders ultimately made when forced to choose between their longtime brotherhood and their precious oil monopoly.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What should be a quasi-public utility—the market exchange where oil and gas are traded—is actually a madhouse of vice, vendettas, and corrupt crypto-capitalism, according to this breathless account of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Finance journalist Goodman traces NYMEX's transformation since the 1960s from an obscure market specializing in potato futures to a colossus with a stranglehold on the sale of the world's energy. Goodman explores the lurid culture of NYMEX traders, scruffy hustlers who shriek and swear and pummel each other over deals, and bring guns, drugs, and hookers right into the trading pit. It's an entertaining scene, but Goodman's account is hobbled by the strictures of the business epic, which require her to devote inordinate space to NYMEX's boardroom politics and the posturing of its chairmen. This is one of the year's most colorful business histories, but the larger importance of NYMEX remains elusive; the author paints it sometimes as a force for price transparency and stability, sometimes as a dangerously ill-regulated cesspool of speculative scams and occult market manipulations that are more insinuated than demonstrated. Photos. (Mar.)
Booklist
“Goodman reveals a rough-and-tumble group with little formal education, who dress down, answer to no one, and are tougher than marines. Activities at the exchange are rife with cheating and overindulgence in drugs, prostitutes, and illegal gambling…Biting and infuriating, with even a ‘Deep Throat’ in the scoop.”
Huffington Post
“A seriously informative and amusing look into the oil trading pits.”
Reuters
“In the complex world of the energy markets where pit trading is a blue-collar profession, Goodman captures the grit and spirit of the floor and the personalities in the board room... Her depiction of the players and the place to ring true.”
National Resources Defense Council
“A rollicking, fast-paced, decades-long tale of a marketplace that sprang out of a potato futures market...When the instability of supply and relentless demand drives up price levels and volatility, these traders do very well indeed. And when that happens, the partying really kicks into high gear.”
AR (Absolute Return + Alpha)
“Welcome to a bet-on-anything, testosterone-drenched world…written with tremendous verve and insight.”
BusinessWeek
“A riveting tale of greed gone mad. Goodman nails the culture... A great ride for market fans…”
Tom Kloza
“Goodman’s book ultimately concludes that the price of oil is determined less by OPEC, and more by a few hundred speculators in Manhattan who are exempted from regulation by means of several loopholes.”
Reuters
“In the complex world of the energy markets where pit trading is a blue-collar profession, Goodman captures the grit and spirit of the floor and the personalities in the board room... Her depiction of the players and the place to ring true.”
Booklist
“Goodman reveals a rough-and-tumble group with little formal education, who dress down, answer to no one, and are tougher than marines. Activities at the exchange are rife with cheating and overindulgence in drugs, prostitutes, and illegal gambling…Biting and infuriating, with even a ‘Deep Throat’ in the scoop.”
BusinessWeek
“A riveting tale of greed gone mad. Goodman nails the culture... A great ride for market fans…”
Huffington Post
“A seriously informative and amusing look into the oil trading pits.”
National Resources Defense Council
“A rollicking, fast-paced, decades-long tale of a marketplace that sprang out of a potato futures market...When the instability of supply and relentless demand drives up price levels and volatility, these traders do very well indeed. And when that happens, the partying really kicks into high gear.”
AR (Absolute Return + Alpha)
“Welcome to a bet-on-anything, testosterone-drenched world…written with tremendous verve and insight.”
Kirkus Reviews

A journalist specializing in finance examines the obscure but influential New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex).

Goodman wrote about Nymex for many years for the Wall Street Journal and other publications before expanding her knowledge into a book. The takeaway is supposed to be that the rough-and-tumble Nymex traders have exercised a powerful influence on domestic and global oil prices for decades. Although the author developed remarkable access to the key players, her hypothesis is sourced more by assertion than by hard evidence. The repeated assertion that the Nymex traders influence oil prices more than oil-producing nations or national governments suggests that Goodman is inflating the importance of her subject.Still, the inside look at a mostly closed institution is enlightening. The traders cut deals on all types of commodities—potatoes dominated until the late '70s—but oil and other energy sources, including natural gas, interest Goodman the most. Her cast of characters at the beginning of the book numbers nearly 40 individuals, and less-omnipresent characters bring the total to at least 100. Unfortunately, that number is too high for the author to maintain a coherent narrative. The readability of the book is also harmed by Goodman's valiant but only partially successful attempts to explain the complex world of futures contracts, arbitrage, hedging, short selling and other artifices intended to make Nymex traders wealthy. The traders are almost all male and almost all macho, many without education beyond high school and many on the trading floor while under the influence of illegal narcotics, alcohol and tobacco. Only a handful of characters are even remotely sympathetic. Goodman's details about the infighting within the Nymex membership are astounding, mainly because the members do not seem to realize they are destroying their path to wealth. An epilogue brings readers upto date about many of the characters.

An earnest but flawed investigative report.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061766275
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/15/2011
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

An award-winning investigative journalist, Leah McGrath Goodman has written for Forbes, Fortune, Financial Times, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, and Barron's in New York and London. A member of The London Speaker Bureau and writer-at-large for Institutional Investor, she splits her time between New York, the U.K., and her home in Brattleboro, Vermont, where she is a contributor for The Commons.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2011

    Completely accurate - in fact a generous portrayal of a very corrupt and incometent group of individuals.

    Beware the folks who claim this book is innacurate..they are the ones seeking to hide the ridiculous reality that was the NYMEX during this period in time.

    Author has superior access and researched the book for many years.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2011

    The Sopranos of Wall Street

    I found Ms.Goodman's book to be an excellent introduction into the world of trading - specifically the NYMEX oil market. As a novice to the Market, I found her book to be appealing and understandable to this layman. Since it is a work of nonfiction with names and situations delineated, the author would be hard pressed to fictionalize any of her story. The Sopranos do indeed exist as Wall Street traders!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2011

    Complete Nonsense

    Seems that the author really wanted to be apart of the world she is condemning in the book. Accounts of activities are severely misconstrued or outright false. The sources the author uses seem to be just as bitter and jealous as the author.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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