The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Marketsby Emily Lambert
In The Futures, Emily Lambert, senior writer at Forbes magazine, tells us the rich and dramatic history of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the original (and eventually, largest) futures market. She details the emergence of the Merc as a kind of meeting place for gamblers and farmers and its subsequent transformation into a sophisticated electronic/i>/i>
In The Futures, Emily Lambert, senior writer at Forbes magazine, tells us the rich and dramatic history of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the original (and eventually, largest) futures market. She details the emergence of the Merc as a kind of meeting place for gamblers and farmers and its subsequent transformation into a sophisticated electronic market where commodities are traded at lightening-fast speeds. Lambert also details the disastrous effects of Wall Street’s adoption of the Merc’s technological advances without the close-knit social bonds that had made Chicago work so well. Ultimately Lambert argues that, far from being mere parasites, speculators serve a useful economic and social function by smoothing prices and making commodities flow. The Chicago Merc, she explains, because of its cultural limits, can serve as a useful example for how exchanges ought to work and become a tonic for our current financial ills.
Forbessenior writer Lambert delivers a history of the birth and evolution of Chicago's swashbuckling futures market.
The buying and selling of futures contracts—agreements to receive at a future date a specific quality and quantity of a given commodity for a fixed price—had its origins elsewhere, but the practice took hold in post–Civil War Chicago, the prairie city built for trade. The Irish-dominated Board of Trade opened with a focus on grain; an early version of what became the Jewish-dominated Mercantile Exchange followed in 1874, specializing in butter and eggs. Hedgers used futures to minimize risk; speculators sought profits in the interstices of fluctuating prices. Their maneuvering served a useful purpose, marking the direction of prices based on the current market conditions, but from the beginning farmers and merchants saw the traders as "unscrupulous gamblers," rogues staffing a "filching machine." Over time the futures market would grow well beyond its humble origins, expanding from exclusively agricultural products—soybeans, corn, cattle and pork bellies—to more esoteric goods and articles like foreign currencies, stock options and carbon credits. Although Chicago's now-merged and much-copied exchange handles billions of dollars, the whiff of disrepute persists. Lambert charts this market's many colorful twists and turns, the scandals and the triumphs, and devotes loving attention to a parade of outrageous risk-takers. She follows the market's migration from the brawling trading pits to the computer age, from its status as a mere stockyard adjunct to today's stand-alone, glass-tower imperiousness. Although she provides lucid explanations of how the market works and how the various money-making strategies collide, the charm of her fast-paced, informal history comes from the book's animating insight: "Finance is like biology: Everything is intertwined." Drawing from interviews, newspaper clippings and various histories, the author demonstrates that geography, past-practice and, above all, individual personalities matter mightily in the shaping of markets. The futures market appears to have been invented to prove her thesis.
For the general reader, a full-blooded introduction to an arcane world.
Frank Partnoy, author of The Match King
“Most people know about the derivatives that nearly brought down the financial system. Less known, but even more intriguing, are the futures and options traded on exchanges, especially in Chicago. The Futures is a window into that market and its gripping history, with rough-and-tumble locker room trading floors, loud colorful characters, rumpled shirts, cigars, and — most important — lots of money. The book is a front row seat on a massive gambling operation that has been surprisingly stable for a century and a half, and remains closely connected to the very real worlds of farming and food. If subprime mortgage derivatives had been traded openly in a Chicago pit, instead of secretly among Wall Street banks, we wouldn't have had the recent financial crisis.”
“The Futures is delivered as a flat midwestern yarn — as if told by a Chi-town native, holding forth on a barstool over beers.... By the close of the story, the color and the craziness is clearly fading, the pushers and shovers in brightly colored jackets being replaced by the quiet hum of computers. Gone are the days of frantic hand signals, spontaneous fist fights, and drug-using clerks wearing goggles to protect their eyes against paper cuts. As Chicago modernized itself, trading in stockyards for towers of steel and glass, so too has the futures industry. The future is electronic, and global. That makes it all the more fun, though, to revisit the fast, amusing tale of how the exchanges grew up with the city, and the gritty roots of how it all came about.”
The National (Abu Dhabi)
“In writing this book Emily Lambert conducted hundreds of interviews, pored over archives in Chicago's Public Library and Museum and fell a little bit in love with her subject. That affection informs this meticulous history of Chicago's commodity exchanges. It's not an emotion commonly associated with things financial - especially traders. But as Lambert tells the story of the Board of Trade's first “pit,” literally stamped out in the 19th century by the men who gambled on the prices of corn, soybeans, and eggs, that's what comes through.”
“How Chicago's trading pits were transformed from parochial gambling dens in the wake of the great fire of Chicago in 1871 to the electronic trading powerhouses they are today is Emily Lambert's lively narrative, told with a sharp eye for the characters involved.”
Bloomberg News“A bouncy historical jaunt through the city's trading pits.... In brisk yet lyrical prose, Lambert describes how pits pulsating with sweaty guys trading their own dough gave way to computer networks of institutions laying wagers with other people's money. The book is timely. With commodities at two-year highs and record food prices sparking riots, regulators are seeking to curb speculation. Yet the trading explosion reflects innovations that the watchdogs themselves condoned.”
“While tracking the futures racket from the ‘brawling trading pits' of the 19th century to the ‘glass-tower imperiousness' of today, Lambert heaps plenty of love on the industry's most outrageous risk takers and rogues. Their stories matter, we learn, because past practice shapes even today's markets, making history's heroes and swindlers part of the industry's DNA.”
Dennis Kneale, CNBC Media and Technology Editor
“With a passion for pork bellies, Emily Lambert takes us on an unexpectedly entertaining tour of the most volatile gambling pit in the world. Frenzied and fully wired on caffeine and fiber-optics, the exchange shapes food prices and influences global trade, yet it remains obtuse and impenetrable. Not after reading this fine book.”
Justin Fox, author ofThe Myth of the Rational Market
“A highly readable, informative and — here's the most amazing part — downright charming account of where the Chicago derivatives exchanges came from and where they're going.”
Liaquat Ahamed, author ofLords of Finance
“The Futures tells the rich and colorful story of the Chicago futures exchanges — once the homes of trading in grains, eggs and pork bellies, which then went on to remake themselves into the world's central marketplace for financial futures — and the generations of traders and speculators and financial entrepreneurs who ran them. It is not only a book about a transformative episode in financial history, it is also a wonderfully vivid portrait of an important slice of Chicago life."
Wall Street Journal
“In The Futures, Emily Lambert addresses the subject with as much affection as is ever likely to be stirred by the pork-belly business. She's a believer: ‘With futures, traders were more than gamblers. Gamblers created risk to bet on. They threw dice that didn't have to be thrown. But in the futures business, men bet on risks that already existed. The corn crop could fail'.... [P]icaresque tales enliven what could have been a dry subject.”
“[Lambert] devotes loving attention to a parade of outrageous risk-takers.... Although she provides lucid explanations of how the market works and how the various money-making strategies collide, the charm of her fast-paced, informal history comes from the book's animating insight: ‘Finance is like biology: Everything is intertwined.' For the general reader, a full-blooded introduction to an arcane world.”
“[A] colorful history.... Lambert, a senior writer for Forbes magazine, keeps the story moving with a surprising litany of legendary traders you probably never heard of until now.”
- Basic Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 9.52(w) x 11.34(h) x 0.84(d)
- Age Range:
- 13 - 18 Years
Meet the Author
Emily Lambert is senior writer for Forbes magazine, where she covers finance and trading. She has also written for the New York Post and currently lives in Chicago.
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