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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Onions and Eggs
"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...
Published on January 19, 2011 by Mercenary Trader

versus
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Chicagoans will like The Futures; a waste for others
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...
Published on November 28, 2012 by Donald E. L. Johnson


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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Onions and Eggs, January 19, 2011
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This review is from: The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets (Hardcover)
"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. His corner-cutting habit must have infiltrated the culture of the business. REFCO, after growing to $4 billion in customer assets, collapsed in a fraud scandal in 2005.

"The Futures" is also largely the story of onions and eggs -- the original commodities of the "Merc" or Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Lambert recounts how the CBOT was predominantly Irish and the CME Jewish: If your last name was Murray you were Board of Trade, but if your first name was Murray you went to the Merc. The onion trade was eventually banned by congressional order (at the request of angry onion farmers), while the egg trade revolved around the "butter and egg men" of Fulton Street.

Unlike onions, the egg trade was done in by modernization: Eventually chickens were laying eggs year round, which took the seasonality out. But by the time eggs went away, the bigger businesses -- currencies, indices and interest rates -- were just getting going.

There is very much a "right place, right time" aspect to the later explosive growth of the exchanges. Interest rate futures came into their own as the Volcker Fed wrestled with inflation in the early 1980s, causing bond prices to fluctuate wildly. Currency futures had started in time to take full advantage of the post-Bretton Woods era. And the big daddy of them all, stock index futures, got rolling with the help of a tax advantage at the start of the long-running bull market.

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, going from stockyards to towers of steel and glass, so too did the futures industry. The new era is electronic, and global.

That makes it all the more fun, though, to revisit this fast, amusing tale of how the exchanges grew up with the Windy City, and the gritty roots of how it all came about.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Chicagoans will like The Futures; a waste for others, November 28, 2012
This review is from: The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets (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? They played huge roles in helping hedgers and speculators lose money while they and the floor brokers did very well.
10. This is one of the most poorly written and structured business and history books I"ve read in a long time. Some people are meant to write articles and columns, and some are meant to write books. Lambert is the former, not the latter. While the author cites her library research, her book looks like the work of a reporter who prefers to talk to people and suck up to some while slamming others. Most of the history of futures exchanges that you get from this book is in the introductory chapters of many books about trading futures.

I don't and never have traded futures, but I do trade options and covered Joe Sullivan as he worked on the development of the CBOE. As a reporter and columnist, I saw how dangerous and risky futures markets are for retail speculators, and they're even riskier today than they were 35 to 47 years ago.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent narrative, but wonks will be disappointed, May 31, 2011
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This review is from: The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets (Hardcover)
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb, interesting history but light on the legacy/economic role of markets, March 15, 2011
By 
J. Kurz (Philadelphia, PA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun, Informative, and Beautifully Written, January 29, 2011
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This review is from: The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets (Hardcover)
Let me start off by saying that I'm an avid reader of non-fiction, especially when it pertains to business, economics, and finance. I saw a review for "The Futures" in the Wall Street Journal, and having recently moved to Chicago, decided to buy the book. This book is a quick read, and I found it to be so enjoyable. Emily Lambert has a talent for writing that makes me wish she could've been one of my finance lecturers back in college! I loved the way that she describes the whole feel of the Mercantile Exchange and the Board of Trade back in the day. She writes with a passion that makes you want to be there on the trading floors, even if just to watch all these traders with their strange quirks.

If you're searching for a book that describes how to get rich trading futures, then this is not for you. "The Futures" is much more of a history book, that describes the evolution of futures trading, and most importantly, how these markets affected Chicago. The back flap mentions that Lambert lives in Chicago, and her passion for the city comes through with her writing. I was impressed, learned a lot, and I'd recommend this to anyone interested in finance and economic history. I'd especially recommend this to anyone who lives in Chicago or just plain loves the city.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Laundry list of futures, March 10, 2011
This review is from: The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets (Hardcover)
If you are looking for a book on analysis of futures and their role in the our economy then you will be disappointed with this book. Trading futures is a zero sum game. The book lacks discussion of who the winners and losers are and what makes them so. Futures can be argued have an important role in the economy for hedgers. There are companies who legitimately need to lock in prices of commodities. Speculators make the market more efficient presumably. I don't know much about this stuff and am disappointed that this book did not teach me more. I was hoping the book would delve deeper into these issues but unfortunately it turned out to be a shallow history of the futures traded in Chicago. The sources of the book, as the author states, are mostly interviews with hundreds of people which made it flimsy. As the author states herself, the stories the interviewees told her often contradicted each others. There is very little to no trading strategies. Lots of characters appear in the pages but the reader does not get to know anyone deeply. Perhaps more depth and less breadth would have improved this book. People who work in this industry may find the book a lot more interesting since they can relate to it, but average readers will find it boring and uninteresting.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 7 Stars, December 21, 2010
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This review is from: The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets (Hardcover)
As an equity options professional, I must say this is hands down the best book ever written on the history of Chicago's storied futures markets. The way the author packs so many illuminating and tantalizing stories and characters, while also educating the reader in 200 pages is a testament to her genius.

It is evident the author has done her homework and presented all angles of famous trades and market corners. This book is an inspiration, and makes me proud to say that I'm a trader. In my mind, Emily Lambert has successfully cornered the market on the re-telling of the history of trading in Chicago.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets, February 1, 2011
This review is from: The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets (Hardcover)
I truly enjoyed reading "The Futures". Ms. Lambert captured the dawn of the commodity/futures markets in easily readable and understandable prose. She revealed the unusual governance of the exhanges and the unique cast of characters known as members.
I highly recommend the book for people who want to learn how the exhanges grew and why the various commodity futures contracts were created.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Succinct Futures Story, April 2, 2012
This is very good preliminary reading for those who wants to learn more about futures markets. The narrative is succinct and entertaining, without comprising the facts. Overall, a very good balance of history and anecdotes.

I particularly appreciated the way the author named each chapter by the type of contract she is focusing on- from primary agricultural commodities like onions to less tangible ones like stocks. I believe this serves to reveal the massive upheaval the definition of "commodity" underwent throughout the years (incidentally, the account of how commodities went from grains and onions to currencies, stocks and yes, even air, is well told in another book I read recently called Good Derivatives: A Story of Financial and Environmental Innovation by Richard Sandor).

Exchanges, like many other age-old institutions, resist change until competition is upon them. Then they must evolve according to "the survival of the fittest." Lambert approaches this aspect with a discerning eye of a journalist as well as the sensitivity of an effective writer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book, March 13, 2011
This review is from: The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World's Biggest Markets (Hardcover)
Call me a nerd, but I love history. Also, I love trading - I trade the foreign currency exchange (FOREX). This book combines those two topics. I couldn't put it down.

I would describe this book as a series of vignettes about the Chicago trading pits from 1820 to the present. While giving a survey of the history of the CBOT and CME, it includes many anecdotes and fun stories about individual traders and their exploits.

It is a very quick read. I read it in two afternoons at my local Starbucks.

If this is helpful, I would say that this doesn't require prior knowledge of how the modern trading markets work. I think anyone with an interest in trading, history, economics, markets, or current events could pick this up and love it.
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