Aspen Times Weekly Book Review: ‘Flash Boys’
‘Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt’
W.W. Norton & Company, 2014
Most of the time, books that pull back the curtain on the Wall Street of the 21st century aim to infuriate with muckraking tales of materialist excess and moral deficiency. Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt” is one of those books. Except when it’s not.
His revelatory account of high-frequency trading will no doubt infuriate you, as it details how a privileged few investors and big Wall Street banks essentially rigged the system. The technology that replaced the stock market of ticker tape and screaming brokers allowed those with access to faster technology to make trades milliseconds ahead of everyone else and bred a shady system of kickbacks.
But it will also give you some hope, if not for Wall Street, then for human nature. The book focuses on a handful of men who actually choose to do the right thing. They attempt to even the playing field for all traders, though the system in which they work provides them no incentive to do so.
Among them is Bradley Katsuyama, who immersed himself in high-frequency trading while at the Royal Bank of Canada, and Rob Park, who teamed with Katsuyama to learn how traders exploited technology. They first create a tool — called “Thor” — that made large stock orders immune to the predatory practices of high-frequency traders. Then they founded their own stock exchange, IEX, which gives banks and traders a place to do business without the dirty tricks.
Much of the book is devoted to explaining how high-frequency trading works and stock exchanges have decentralized. Lewis has a rare skill for translating the impenetrable jargon- and acronym-heavy world of finance into plain English, as he did previously in “The Big Short” and “Liar’s Poker.” This gripping narrative opens with the construction of a secretive new cable line from Chicago to New Jersey. It is a testament to Lewis’ skills as a writer that he can turn this ditch-digging, and the often mystifying world of finance, into page-turning reading.
Michael Lewis will speak at Winter Words on Thursday, March 12 at Paepcke Auditorium. The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Tickets and more info at ww.aspenwords.com.
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