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My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance Paperback – December 21, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (December 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470192739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470192733
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"There are few "gentlemen bankers" left these days. Nor is there much room in the great financial houses for anything that smacks of the amateur spirit. That is why Emanuel Derman's memoirs are so compelling…Derman's wry humour and sense of irony are apparent throughout the book."- Financial Times

"That sense of being an intruder in outlaw territory lends an intriguing mood to Derman's My Life As a Quant, a literate and entertaining memoir."-Business Week

"engaging"--(CFO Europe, October 2005)

"Not only a delightful memoir, but one full of information, both about people and their enterprise. I never thought that I would be interested in quantitative financial analysis, but reading this book has been a fascinating education."–Jeremy Bernstein, author of Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma

"This wonderful autobiography takes place in that special time when scientists discovered Wall Street and Wall Street discovered them. It is elegantly written by a gifted observer who was a pioneering member of the new profession of financial engineering, with an evident affection both for finance as a science and for the scientists who practice it. Derman’s portrait of how the academics brought their new financial science to the world of business and forever changed it and, especially, his descriptions of the late and extraordinary genius Fischer Black who became his mentor, reveal a surprising humanity where it might be least expected. Who should read this book? Anyone with a serious interest in finance and everyone who simply wants to enjoy a good read."–Stephen Ross, Franco Modigliani Professor of Finance and Economics, Sloan School, MIT

From the Inside Flap

Wall Street is no longer the old-fashioned business it once was. In recent years, investment banks and hedge funds have increasingly turned to quantitative trading strategies and derivative securities for their profits, and have raided academia for PhDs to model these volatile products and manage their risk. Nowadays, the fortunes of firms and the stability of markets often rest on mathematical models. "Quants"–the scientifically trained practitioners of quantitative finance who build these models–have become key players on the Wall Street stage.

And no Wall Street quant is better known than Emanuel Derman. One of the first high-energy particle physicists to migrate to Wall Street, he spent seventeen years in the business, eventually becoming managing director and head of the renowned Quantitative Strategies group at Goldman, Sachs & Co. There he coauthored some of today’s most widely used and influential financial models.

Physics and quantitative finance look deceptively similar. But, writes Derman, "When you do physics you’re playing against God; in finance, you’re playing against God’s creatures." How can one justify using the precise methods of physics in the frenzied world of financial markets? Is it reasonable to treat the economy and its markets as a complex machine? Or is quantitative finance merely flawed thinking masquerading as science, a brave whistling in the dark?

My Life as a Quant is Derman’s entertaining and candid account of his search for answers as he undergoes his transformation from ambitious young scientist to managing director. His book is simultaneously wide-ranging and personal. He tells the story of his passage between two worlds; he recounts his adventures with physicists, quants, options traders, and other highfliers on Wall Street; he analyzes the incompatible personas of traders and quants; and he meditates on the dissimilar natures of knowledge in physics and finance. Throughout his tale, he reflects on the appropriate way to apply the refined methods of physics to the hurly-burly world of markets.

My Life as a Quant is a unique first-person story and a perceptive and revealing exploration of the quantitative side of Wall Street. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


More About the Author

EMANUEL DERMAN is Head of Risk at Prisma Capital Partners and a professor at Columbia University, where he directs their program in financial engineering. He is the author of My Life As A Quant, one of Business Week's top ten books of the year, in which he introduced the quant world to a wide audience. His latest book is Models.Behaving.Badly: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to Disasters,On Wall Street and in Life.

He was born in South Africa but has lived most of his professional life in Manhattan in New York City, where he has made contributions to several fields. He started out as a theoretical physicist, doing research on unified theories of elementary particle interactions. At AT&T Bell Laboratories in the 1980s he developed programming languages for business modeling. From 1985 to 2002 he worked on Wall Street, running quantitative strategies research groups in fixed income, equities and risk management, and was appointed a managing director at Goldman Sachs & Co. in 1997. The financial models he developed there, the Black-Derman-Toy interest rate model and the Derman-Kani local volatility model, have become widely used industry standards.

In his 1996 article Model Risk Derman pointed out the dangers that inevitably accompany the use of models, a theme he developed in My Life as a Quant. Among his many awards and honors, he was named the SunGard/IAFE Financial Engineer of the Year in 2000. He has a PhD in theoretical physics from Columbia University and is the author of numerous articles in elementary particle physics, computer science, and finance.

He blogs at http://blogs.reuters.com/emanuelderman/
Website www.emanuelderman.com
Twitter @emanuelderman

Customer Reviews

All in all, this is a highly recommendable book!
Professor Joseph L. McCauley
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it was well written, informative, and fascinating.
Bryan Bader
It certainly makes the book very valuable and worth reading.
Yuri Turygin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Rico Blaser on September 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The book commences with a history of physics that is reminiscent of "The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene. From Newton to Maxwell to Einstein and beyond, Derman discovers the great theories of yesterday and finds himself in the middle of a seven year marathon to a PhD and the launch of his academic career.

The struggle for intellectual purity and the distain for applied work abound in Derman's academic environment and the pressures of achieving greatness are pronounced in a place where genius is a commodity.

In a leap of faith, Derman decides to return to New York to spend more time with his family and to surrender to what he considered a less dignified job.

Lost in the Dilbert-esque hierarchies of the Bell Labs, Derman discovers the joy of programming, while submerged in office politics. After numerous attempts of beating the currents, Derman finally reaches the shores of Wall Street and is relieved to find an avant-garde environment, where meritocracy is no longer a foreign word.

The initial period of awakening takes place at Goldman Sachs, where he is mentored by Fischer Black, one of the great financial practitioners of our time. Derman is immediately impressed by Black's pragmatic style and intuitive quest for simplicity.

Black's influence becomes evident in the lucid and accessible description of the famous Black-Derman-Toy interest rate model and the subsequent elaborations on local volatility models that are at the foundation of more exotic instruments (which cannot be accurately priced using the overly simplistic implied volatility provided by the Black-Scholes-Merton model).
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful By gilstrac on October 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It was an interesting read but not what I expected.

It is my own fault. I bought it because the title (Physics and Finance) caught my eye and the average rating and number of reviews was high. I would guess it is not a heavily embellished memoir. Emanuel appears to be an honest, practical and educated individual. I found myself in the beginning wondering when I would start to read something about his life as a Quant. I don't know the exact page but I was probably half way through the book before I got my first taste.

In the end I found it like most things I have not personally experienced, it is more romantic to dream than live. This is not to say he didn't do good things. It just means for every minute of success and enjoyment there are hundreds if not thousands of minutes of grind and perseverance. The grind is not always so well documented.

Due to my age, I did find myself identifying with Emanuel as he changed from a wide eyed youth ready to change the world to a more pragmatic successful adult. I still envy the enthusiasm lack of experience provides younger people.

I wouldn't recommend it to someone looking for insights in to physics or finance. I would recommend it to someone is in the field or aspires to be in the field.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Reader on December 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is not for those interested in learning quantitative finance. Rather, it is a memoir written by a physicist who came to finance relatively late in life.

There is some poignancy in Derman's transformation from theoretical physicist bent on a life in academia (where he hoped to make groundbreaking discoveries about elementary particles) to mid-level employee of one of the world's great financial institutions (Goldman Sachs). Although he was undoubtedly well paid for the skills he brought to the financial markets, Derman's story is tinged with sadness about the loss of an ideal.

The book is particularly valuable for the insights it provides about the inner workings of a major investment bank, and in particular about the role played by the "quants" in the development of new products and trading strategies. It also provides some perspective on the development of quantitative finance as a practical discipline; and it makes clear that quantitative skills, while important to a successful career in a major financial institution, generally take a back seat to salesmanship, practical trading skills, and internal politicking.

Those with a liking for pure mathematics will have to grin and bear Derman's critical comments about mathematical rigor and economic theory.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Vincent Poirier on November 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Quants, formerly called rocket scientists in the days when traders thought rocketry was the deepest and hardest science, are the new engineers of the financial world. I suppose the trader is the architect and thus a quant's job is to evaluate the trader's design for reliability, plausibility, and safety.

In many ways "My Life as a Quant" is a deceptively ho-hum book. Derman does whine a little and his life is somewhat ordinary, at least not that much more special than yours or mine. But this can endear him to readers as Derman is also humble and self-critical to a fault. Further, the book stands out of the crowd on two points: first, it is a timely account of the beginnings of financial engineering; second, Derman writes surprisingly graceful and elegant prose, worth reading even if you're not interested in finance.

While Derman trained and practiced as a professional physicist for many years before entering finance, he reminds his readers that financial analysis is not a precise science the way physics is. It is more of an art. Physicists, writes Derman, are reductionists, meaning they simplify the world to astonishingly successful models describing its behaviour. Quants on the other hand must never forget that all financial models are wrong and naive. The questions for them, writes Derman, are how wrong and how naive. The problems of finance are the problems of modeling human behaviour and so should not be reduced too far. In this light he his especially critical of VaR (Value-at-Risk) a single figure measure of the riskiness of a portfolio.

On personal matters, Derman shies away from invading his family's privacy. He mentions his relatives, his wife and children without describing them much.
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