x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Book Review: A financial romance

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.

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.

She bestows on her traders the swagger of a Raymond Chandler protagonist. These are macho whisky-swillers in a permanent fug of cigar smoke. They suffer from "Irish Alzheimer's" - forgetting everything but a grudge. One drops dead in "the egg pit" and trade continues over his corpse.

The closer Futures creeps to the present the less tangible the commodities become. Onions give way to options and it's hard to care as much. For the most part, though this is an engaging read and Lambert succeeds in demystifying the market. But while the reader may well catch her enthusiasm for her subject, her love is another matter.