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The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets Hardcover – December 28, 2010

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In the late 1800s, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was completed, creating the only shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system. As Chicago became a major trading hub, a group of businessmen formed an organization called the Chicago Board of Trade that would centralize the trading of wheat, corn, and other grains. To minimize the risk of fluctuating grain prices, farmers used the exchange to lock in a price for a promise to deliver the crop at a future date, and the futures contract was born. In 1898, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange opened to trade in perishables such as butter, eggs, and onions. Lambert tells the colorful history of these commodity markets, which were designed to hedge risk for farmers but became hotbeds for speculators, fast-deal makers, and shrewd manipulators. The chapters are organized chronologically by the commodities that were added to the “pits,” such as pork bellies, currencies, stock options, oil, and bonds. Lambert, a senior writer for Forbes magazine, keeps the story moving with a surprising litany of legendary traders you probably never heard of until now. --David Siegfried


Wall Street Journal
“In The Futures, Emily Lambert addresses the subject with as much affection as is ever likely to be stirred by the pork-belly business. She’s a believer: ‘With futures, traders were more than gamblers. Gamblers created risk to bet on. They threw dice that didn’t have to be thrown. But in the futures business, men bet on risks that already existed. The corn crop could fail’. . . . [P]icaresque tales enliven what could have been a dry subject.”

“[Lambert] devotes loving attention to a parade of outrageous risk-takers. . . . Although she provides lucid explanations of how the market works and how the various money-making strategies collide, the charm of her fast-paced, informal history comes from the book’s animating insight: ‘Finance is like biology: Everything is intertwined.’  For the general reader, a full-blooded introduction to an arcane world.”
“[A] colorful history… Lambert, a senior writer for Forbes magazine, keeps the story moving with a surprising litany of legendary traders you probably never heard of until now.”
Library Journal
“Lambert includes numerous colorful anecdotes about the exchanges and their traders, also touching briefly on the 2008 financial crisis. VERDICT: For readers interested in the Chicago exchanges’ history, Lambert’s book will be satisfying.”
Frank Partnoy, author of The Match King
“Most people know about the derivatives that nearly brought down the financial system. Less known, but even more intriguing, are the futures and options traded on exchanges, especially in Chicago. The Futures is a window into that market and its gripping history, with rough-and-tumble locker room trading floors, loud colorful characters, rumpled shirts, cigars, and – most important – lots of money. The book is a front row seat on a massive gambling operation that has been surprisingly stable for a century and a half, and remains closely connected to the very real worlds of farming and food. If subprime mortgage derivatives had been traded openly in a Chicago pit, instead of secretly among Wall Street banks, we wouldn’t have had the recent financial crisis.”
Dennis Kneale, CNBC Media and Technology Editor
“With a passion for pork bellies, Emily Lambert takes us on an unexpectedly entertaining tour of the most volatile gambling pit in the world. Frenzied and fully wired on caffeine and fiber-optics, the exchange shapes food prices and influences global trade, yet it remains obtuse and impenetrable. Not after reading this fine book.”
Justin Fox, author ofThe Myth of the Rational Market
“A highly readable, informative and—here’s the most amazing part—downright charming account of where the Chicago derivatives exchanges came from and where they’re going.”
Liaquat Ahamed, author ofLords of Finance
The Futures tells the rich and colorful story of the  Chicago futures exchanges—once the homes of trading in grains, eggs and pork bellies, which then went on to remake themselves into the world’s central marketplace for financial futures—and the generations of traders and speculators and financial entrepreneurs who ran them. It is not only a book about a transformative episode in financial history, it is also a wonderfully vivid portrait of an important slice of Chicago life."
Financial Times
“How Chicago’s trading pits were transformed from parochial gambling dens in the wake of the great fire of Chicago in 1871 to the electronic trading powerhouses they are today is Emily Lambert’s lively narrative, told with a sharp eye for the characters involved.”
Bloomberg News
“A bouncy historical jaunt through the city’s trading pits. . . . In brisk yet lyrical prose, Lambert describes how pits pulsating with sweaty guys trading their own dough gave way to computer networks of institutions laying wagers with other people’s money. The book is timely. With commodities at two-year highs and record food prices sparking riots, regulators are seeking to curb speculation. Yet the trading explosion reflects innovations that the watchdogs themselves condoned.”
The Week
“While tracking the futures racket from the ‘brawling trading pits’ of the 19th century to the ‘glass-tower imperiousness’ of today, Lambert heaps plenty of love on the industry’s most outrageous risk takers and rogues. Their stories matter, we learn, because past practice shapes even today’s markets, making history’s heroes and swindlers part of the industry’s DNA.”
The Futures is delivered as a flat midwestern yarn—as if told by a Chi-town native, holding forth on a barstool over beers. . . . By the close of the story, the color and the craziness is clearly fading, the pushers and shovers in brightly colored jackets being replaced by the quiet hum of computers. Gone are the days of frantic hand signals, spontaneous fist fights, and drug-using clerks wearing goggles to protect their eyes against paper cuts. As Chicago modernized itself, trading in stockyards for towers of steel and glass, so too has the futures industry. The future is electronic, and global. That makes it all the more fun, though, to revisit the fast, amusing tale of how the exchanges grew up with the city, and the gritty roots of how it all came about.”
The National (Abu Dhabi)
“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.”


Futures Magazine
“The book does a good job of introducing people completely unfamiliar with the futures markets to their early origins. Lambert particularly shines as she recounts early attempts to corner different markets and it is evident she did her research.  The book is written in an easy-to-approach style with very little technical jargon. What little jargon there is, Lambert clearly explains, making the book even more accessible to those new to the futures world.”

Chicago Life Magazine
“This book could well be titled ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Stock Market and Were Not Afraid to Ask’… The Futures is a remarkable book, hard to put down, and made to order for those interested in finance, people, history, psychology, movers and shakers.”



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465018432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465018437
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mercenary Trader on January 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Futures" is delivered as a flat midwestern yarn -- as if told by a Chi-town native, holding forth on a barstool over beers. (PBR of course.)

The story begins with Chicago's founding in the early 1800s. We find out how the futures business, originally built around grains, was a byproduct of Chicago weather: When the canal and river froze, farmers were forced to store their crops, thus creating gluts in the spring -- and the need to lock in sale prices in advance. By the mid-1860s, the first prototype of the U.S. futures contract had arrived.

There is a saying, "I went to a fight the other day and wound up trading futures in Chicago." The history, and the business itself, is built around colorful characters with descriptive nicknames like "Old Hutch," "Vince the Prince," and "Harry the Hat."

In further example, when one well-liked floor trader expired in the pit, the others kept on trading around him... and later expressed the opinion that "that's the way go."

To be clear, Lambert's book is not a primer on trading. Instead it is a series of narratives, tracing the beginnings of futures trading (and the Chicago exchanges themselves) to the present day.

Having cut my teeth as a commodity broker in the late 1990s, "The Futures" brought back memories. (There is nothing quite like arguing at the top of your lungs with a runner named Sol about a bad fill in the S&P pit, with three phone lines lighting up and the market moving away from your partially executed order.)

One of the characters Lambert touches on is Ray E. Friedman, the founder of REFCO (the firm that cleared our accounts). It turns out old Ray had done a prison stretch for selling grade B chickens as grade A to the army in the Korean War.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Donald E. L. Johnson on November 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
During the 60s and 70s I wrote hundreds of stories and columns about the futures markets, the Chicago Board of Trade, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Options Exchange and several of the characters mentioned in "The Futures, the rise of the speculator and the origins of the world's biggest markets," by Emilly Lambert, a Chicago-based reporter for Forbes.

I give the book only two stars for several reasons:

1. It's useless and barely entertaining for history buffs and Chicago traders.
2. It's shallow. Statistics tell stories. There are no charts nor tables in this book.
3. It slams Leo Melamed, who I was the first to profile in depth while I was a business reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. He isn't quoted in the book, which means his enemies told his story for him, and he refused to comment, angering the author.
4. The book profiles members of the exchanges as families and tribes. They were much more than that.
5. Lambert is unable to profile an exchange floor trader in a way that shows what kind of person succeeds as a floor trader or as an off-floor speculator.
6. Retail customers are almost totally ignored.
7. The folks who run commercial hedging operations for Cargill and other companies aren't profiled, described in any detail or given much credit for all of the committee work and time they put into exchange politics and development.
8. Descriptions of farmers who hedge or those who don't are missing. The book really down plays the huge role futures prices play in the lives of farmers, agribusinesses, banks, currency traders, petroleum company managers and the U.S. and world economies.
9. Where are the commission brokers?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ChacoKevy on May 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I agree with a lot of what has been already said in both praise and detraction for this book. As a story recounting the origins and growth of the futures markets, the book is immensely satisfying. The story-telling is clear and easily approachable with the one exception that there is too much name dropping. A casual reader will not be able to keep track of who is important through the development of the story versus who is being mentioned as a comical aside of spending excess.

That being said, this book does not give me what I was after. I was hoping for more, well, charts and graphs. For instance, one development that the author points out is the banning of onions from futures trading during the Ike administration. The obvious question the wonks have is "Did the role of onion futures actually have a mitigating effect on the price of onions? Are onions more or less volataile relative to other similar commodoties since their ban from the futures markets?" To this question, and others like it, the reader will not even be superficially engaged. This book is about men, ego, power and politics. Nerds need not bother.

Still, this was not the author's focus of the novel, so it falls on me to know what I was getting into before hand. Caveat emptor, right? Just like in the exchanges...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. Kurz on March 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Just finished The Futures and thoroughly enjoyed every page. There is no doubt that it is a page-turning, well documented history of the CBOT, CME and other derivatives exchanges. You should read this book if you have any interest in the history of futures, options, forwards, commodities, etc.

I was disappointed that there was so little discussion of the role (or lack of role) that commodities markets and derivatives have on economic development. Perhaps this was not the intent of the book, but I had hoped to hear a discussion of the role that centralize markets for commodities has played. Overall, do these exchanges increase growth and smooth economic cycles? Does having a liquid marketplace to transfer risk have a net benefit to society? This book doesn't get into these questions.

A must read, but a little light for someone who was hoping for more commentary.
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