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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt

Michael Lewis's Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt came to me through one of my Goodwill ventures. 

In the early aughts, stockbrokers were gaming the system in a new way, through high frequency trading and software that gave them a split millisecond notice of others' trades. Gaming the system was nothing new -- in fact, research done by those fascinated with the process found that almost every single regulation on the books not only came because of someone finding a loophole, but also that every new regulation created some new loophole that traders learned to slip through. It's a rabbit hole of you have ever seen one. 

So this current examination of flash trading and the people behind it examines what was going on in terms of high frequency trading, the stock market prices going wacky within moments, dark pools that traders use, and some superheroes out to build a new stock market that plays fair. All in 300 or so pages. 

This is what makes Michael Lewis a genius. He takes these crazy complicated concepts that are difficult for the general public to understand and he weaves them into a narrative that explains the work and is compelling to boot. Who on earth would have ever thought that microsecond trading by a bunch of greedy asshats would be so riveting that you ignore your husband talking to you to soak up all the details? No one, except my financial adviser because it's her favorite book. Lewis crafts a non-fiction narrative like no other, and it makes me dive in headfirst every time I open one of his books. 

This one was fascinating because of its simplicity in explaining a complicated topic, but also because of what felt to me like a classic hero-villain arc. It's clear who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. The back stories of the characters are also fascinating, as many of them revolve around 9/11, which isn't surprising as the book is about Wall Street. I also doing it particular relatable because I happen to work across the street from the NYSE. It was so interesting to put the location into context when talking about something as mundane as fiber optic cables. 

I'm looking forward to picking up more of Lewis's work, as there's a lot I haven't read. This one definitely ranks high on my list of great Lewis reads. 

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