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Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street Hardcover – October 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Wickedly original, one of the most fascinating accounts I have ever seen. A rollicking and highly opinionated read." (Risk Professional, October 2011)

“No one who reads Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street will ever again regard risk management as a necessary but unproductive appendage of the financial industry. Other authors have chronicled how quantitative finance influenced investment management, but Aaron Brown has made a compelling case for a far more profound economic impact. . . If Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street dealt with nothing more than the inadequacy of models used in highly important activities, it would represent a valuable contribution to financial economics. Brown’s book, however, covers a great deal more than econometric malpractice. Probably no other book offers as much insight into the process with so little resort to mathematical notation. Especially valuable are Brown’s discussions of middle-office risk management and value at risk, comparatively recent innovations that are essential to understanding modern financial institutions. Readers of Red-Blooded Risk should be prepared to have many of their assumptions challenged. Red-Blooded Risk is one of the most original and thought-provoking books reviewed in these pages in the past 20 years. No one who reads it will ever again regard risk management as a necessary but unproductive appendage of the financial industry. Other authors have chronicled how quantitative finance influenced investment management, but Aaron Brown has made a compelling case for a far more profound economic impact.”
Martin S. Fridson, CFA Institute Publications Book Reviews

“Red-Blooded Risk
mixes risk history and philosophy nimbly and provides a perspective that can be both refreshing and challenging (often on the same page). While the book is not without weaknesses, it is also brimming with original perspectives and controversial opinions. Those who work in risk management or quantitative finance will enjoy Brown’s story-telling and expert perspectives, even if they do not share his views, while non-quants will find his insights and confessions to be a useful glimpse into the psyche and ethos of an influential group of early quantitative risk takers.
Roger M. Stein, Research and Academic Relations, Moody’s Corporation, as reviewed in Quantitative Finance (August 6, 2012)

From the Inside Flap

Everyone talks about risk, but few people give serious thought to what risk is. It's hard to describe it without expressing an opinion—we like things that are innovative, daring, creative, and bold; but those are exactly the same things that are reckless, speculative, risky, and irresponsible.

This book is the story of a group of young math whizzes who unleashed a revolution—one that reshaped our financial system and continues to echo through the halls of government, universities, and corporations today. In the 1970s, disillusioned with the sorry state of quantitative analysis, these young mathematicians (soon to be known as "quants") invented a new way of looking at probability and set out to prove it in the ultimate testing ground of odds-making: Las Vegas.

Once there, the quants turned conventional wisdom about gambling on its head. People said you can't beat the house, yet the quants managed to beat blackjack and other casino games. People said you needed a lifetime to learn poker, yet the quants' aggressive mathematical tactics swept the table against the best players in the world. Then the quants turned to sports betting, overturning the business model and squeezing out local bookies with a global organization that matched bets without taking risk.

Armed with their theories and experience, the quants raised their sights and headed to Wall Street, determined to replicate their success. Finance was a tougher challenge than gambling, but by the mid-1990s, the quants had remade Wall Street as thoroughly as they had remade Las Vegas. That transformation went unnoticed by the bond salesmen and investment bankers who ran Wall Street, as well as by academics, regulators, journalists, and investors; yet these changes caused both the greatest wealth creation event in the history of the world, and also to the financial disasters we have witnessed in its wake.

There's more here than just a lesson in recent financial history, however. Brown's story goes beyond the headlines to explore basic questions of economics, like the meaning of property and the nature of exchange. Along the way, it reveals secrets about the building of the pyramids, the glory of ancient Athens, the forcethat built the Roman Empire, a world-changing invention from medieval Italy, a secret in a mysterious letter written in 1654 and not decoded until the 1990s, and an essential aspect of the American Revolution left out of history books.

This book will change the way you think about everything from history, risk, and money to vampires, zombies, and tulips. It offers a fascinating and thrilling account of great events that have never before been described in an easily accessible form. There are bold ideas, colorful characters, and, most important, the keys to understanding the modern financial world and how its inner workings affect our daily lives.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118043863
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118043868
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I'm the author of "Red-Blooded Risk" and "The Poker Face of Wall Street," and a co-author of "A World of Chance." My day job is working for AQR Capital Management. I also am a columnist for Wilmott and Quantum magazines, and write for a lot of finance and poker periodicals; as well as teach classes and speak at conferences. I serve on the Editorial Board of the Global Association of Risk Professionals and am a member of the National Book Critics Circle. In past lives I've been a professional poker player, trader, finance professor, portfolio manager and head of mortgage securities.

I live on the upper west side of New York City with my wife. I have a son who is an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, and a daughter in high school.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Gordon on December 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was impressed by the 5 stars of this book and bought it on my kindle. I realized the book is not as great as I have expected for the following reasons:

1. Interesting story made boring.
The author has many interesting little facts, academic experiment results and logic. I believe they will make him an interesting person to chat with, or an interesting presentation in a conference or seminar. However they become boring in text mainly because of the book's prolixity and disorganized article structure.

2. Misleading titles:
Both the book title and the chapter titles provide misleading information to what the content will tell you. For the most obvious example, you can hardly expect too much history on the wall-street on the "secret history of wall street". You will expect to be traced back history as far as stone age about how ancient people (and even animals) react to risk. (Probably "the history that made wall-street"?)

3. Lengthy introductions before making a point:
Whenever the author tried to put forth an idea, the author will trace all the way to its origin, and the origin of the origin. You often find yourself reading something like this: "before we talk about C, let's talk about B first.". Then it will follow "before we talk about B, let's talk about A." The author believe the origin of his knowledge is very important and he would like you to be equaly fascinated by the evolution of his ideas. This is understandable perhaps given his math background as he would just felt inclined to proof every result. However I just find myself lost within the process like I got lost in a math class.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Brandon G. Adams on October 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Aaron is the quant's quant --- a god on Internet forums on topics ranging from quantitative finance to applied probability to poker. He left academics a long time ago to become rich (he's currently the head risk manager at the hedge fund AQR), and, in the process, he picked up some hard-won lessons about the realities of risk. This is not an academic book --- it's a quick-reading guide to thinking about risk in an intuitive way.

Aaron is good friends with Nassim Taleb and they share similar views about risk. As compared to Taleb's Black Swan, this book is a faster, more entertaining read. It's less conceptually dense, but it probably packs more of a punch. This is the book to learn from. The practical philosophy about speculation presented by both books is that one should spend much of one's energy playing defense; one should be constantly paranoid about unlikely events that might decimate one's portfolio.

Red-Blooded Risk contains the best intuitive explanation of the Kelly Criterion contained in any book that I've read. It also has innovative material about the powerful role of exponential growth in economics and investing. Aaron lays out a convincing case for the idea that investors should spend much of their time looking for attractively priced "lottery tickets" (potential exponential growth that is underpriced by the market).

This book is about more than investing. Red-Blooded Risk is really a comprehensive guide to thinking about risk in life, and it's probably the best guide of this sort currently on the market.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dimitri Shvorob on November 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I envy Mr. Brown's gift for networking and self-promotion - two highlights are the book-cover endorsements by his associates, and use of "we" when (constantly) referring to an unidentified group of heroic ancient (PhD-toting) "rocket scientists" to which the author (dissonantly, with a master's) presumably belonged, without spelling out his individual contribution - but his writing is a different matter. Outsiders will be impressed, entertained and, yes, educated, but should notice that some things aren't actually explained - take the mysterious, profound, heterodox (but actually quite trivial) Kelly criterion - and will not notice when sound second-hand advice is mixed with the author's much less sound additions and interpretations. (On page 87, a finance ABD writes that "MPT tells us the relative prices that assets should have" - it doesn't, and we are talking about basics here - Brown's theory of the Dutch tulipmania on page 113 is, ahem, intriguing, and page 146's Story of the Disappearing Dollar is downright crazy-person stuff). You may enjoy Aaron Brown's Reminiscences, Philosophical Musings and Erudite Observations, which fill page after page - or you may consider it padding. "Red-blooded risk" is not a sloppy book - resident Grammar Nazi readied his M-40 when the very first paragraph of Chapter 1 used "discretely" instead of "discreetly", but left without a scene - just a shallow one.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By EB on May 24, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book has some interesting topics but so much rant it's not worth time or money. Illustrations are hard to impossible to read on kindle and not very revealing or interesting even if you manage to do it. Instead, a brief summary of each chapter would make the book more valuable in my opinion. The logic is often very hard to follow because the author jumps from one thing to second and then to third and back. I had to reread some parts several times just to understand what the author was trying to say (and I can't say I always succeeded). Reading description and reviews on Amazon I was quite excited to get this book but my expectations got lower after each chapter. To summarize, I don't think I've learned too much about finance, trading, or risk that I didn't know before or that could possibly be learned from the book (and didn't sound like conspiracy theory), and the historical chapters weren't very interesting or revealed secrets (but they were a bit self-promoting). I am puzzled and disappointed, partly because I've seen comments made by the author on various forums and his reviews of other books on Amazon and I always found them good.
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