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The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street Hardcover – June 9, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060598999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060598990
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #457,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At the core of the current financial crisis has been the widely held assumption that markets behave rationally. Fox, Time magazine editor-at-large, isn't the first to bring scrutiny—or censure—to the conceit, but his analysis is singularly compelling, and the rare business history that reads like a thriller. Fox leads us on a chronological journey of modern economic theory, featuring the cast of scholars who constructed the 20th- and 21st-century financial landscape, from Irving Fisher to such post-WWII figures as Milton Friedman, Harry Markowitz, Franco Modigliani and Merton Miller, Jack Treynor and William Sharpe. Fox offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at academia's finest, complete with amusing anecdotes about the players and their theories, and illustrates how our economic behaviors and markets have been shaped by a gradually refined theory holding that the stock market prices are both random and perfectly rational. A must-read for anyone interested in the markets, our economy or government, this dense but spellbinding work brings modern finance and economics to life. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“Do we really need yet another book about the financial crisis? Yes, we do — because this one is different. Fox’s book is not an idle exercise in intellectual history, which makes it a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the mess we’re in.” (Paul Krugman, New York Times Book Review)

“Justin Fox is a truly insightful fellow who can see things with his own eyes—a rare, very rare attribute.” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan)

“A fascinating historical narrative.” (Roger Lowenstein, The Washington Post)

“This wise and witty book is must reading for anyone who wonders what makes financial markets tick. Even those who have wrestled with this question for years will be glad to have read Fox’s compelling history.” (Peter Bernstein, author of Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk)

“His analysis is singularly compelling, and the rare business history that reads like a thriller... A must-read for anyone interested in the markets, our economy or government, this dense but spellbinding work brings modern finance and economics to life.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A lucid, lively and learned account.” (Barron's)

“Fox makes business history thrilling.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“Impressively broad and richly researched.” (Financial Times)

“...a rich history of the world’s most seductive investing idea...the book chronicles the rise of rational market theory over the decades and captures the sizzle and pop of the intellectual debate ...” (Bloomberg)

“Good wonky fun.” (Barry Ritholz, The Big Picture blog)

“An intellectual tour-de-force...” (The Economist)

“Superbly accurate and readable... Clearly the result of many years of research and reading,... it is a model of what the popularization of social science can be, but too rarely is, and it will continue to be read when the current crisis is many years behind us.” (American Scientist)

“A tough, tasty steak of a book.” (Dan Neil, Los Angeles Times)

“A thoughtful, often fascinating, always illuminating history of the idea of market rationality.” (Cory Doctorow, boingboing.net)

More About the Author

Justin Fox is editorial director of the Harvard Business Review Group. He writes a blog for hbr.org (http://blogs.hbr.org/fox/) and a monthly column for Time magazine. From 2007 through 2009 he was an editor at large at Time, writing a weekly column for the magazine and the Curious Capitalist blog for Time.com. Before that Fox spent more than a decade at Fortune magazine, where he covered a wide variety of topics related to economics, finance, and international business. In 2000 and 2001, he was the magazine's Europe editor, based in London.

Prior to joining Fortune, Fox worked at several newspapers, including American Banker and The Birmingham (Alabama) News. He has a degree in international affairs from Princeton University, studied political science at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, and speaks Dutch and German. Fox is married and has a son. He lives in Manhattan.

His first book, 'The Myth of the Rational Market,' is a history of the rise and fall of the efficient market hypothesis -- the influential academic theory that financial markets are nearly perfectly rational and correct. It was the Amazon.com editors' choice as the Best Business Book of 2009 and was a New York Times Notable Book of 2009.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

122 of 129 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on July 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A few years ago business and economics journalist Justin Fox went to the University of Chicago to talk to Efficient Markets guru Eugene Fama and behavioral economist Richard Thaler. He then went back to New York and wrote an article entitled "Is the Market Rational?" The headline for the article read "No, say the experts. But neither are you---so don't go thinking you can outsmart it." Out of this encounter came this pretty mammoth, extremely informative, and lively written narrative of modern financial economics. If you read this book and take its arguments seriously, you can avoid the major pitfalls that doom some investors to penury. On the other hand, if you think you can beat the market through personal testosterone and shrewdness, don't bother buying the book. Save your money. You'll be on the bread line soon enough.

Saying that people are irrational and the market is irrational is of course now all the rage. But, if you think you can romp your way to financial security by taming your animal spirits and feeding off the market's irrationality, I assure you, and Justin Fox assures you, that such is not the case. "While behaviorists and other critics have poked a lot of holes in the edifice of rational market finance, they haven't been willing to abandon that edifice." (p. 301). The reason is that the edifice is usually correct, although it can experience spectacular failures. The problem is that we don't know when it will experience these failures. We do know, or at least I strongly believe, that the failures are due to herd behavior of investors, which undermines the applicability of the normal statistical distribution, the mainstay of traditional financial theory.

The theory that financial markets are rational is called the Efficient Markets theory. It has two parts.
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104 of 110 people found the following review helpful By Samuel J. Sharp on June 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Overall, Fox has written a very good book which covers a remarkable amount of material in only 322 pages. The problem is that this book, if properly done, should run around 600+ pages. Granted, Fox is a journalist, not an academic, so his audience might not have an appetite for a book that takes a month to read, but the topic is interesting and important enough to warrant a more detailed discussion.

Fox's book is organized primarily by ideas and then chronologically. This can lead to jarring jumps between time periods within chapters and the reader suspects that important topics are being missed. The twelve-page epilogue for example begins in 1833 and is in the 1960's by the turn of the page.

The mathematics discussed in the book is not terribly complicated but the reader is given no formulas, no graphs, no applications of the quantitative theories. Yes, everyone knows what normal distribution looks like but the power laws discussed deserve a chart. Mandelbrot's fractal theories need a diagram. Fox would also support his argument more strongly if he included the formulas which were eventually altered by the behavioralists. Without these, the reader is forced to blindly trust what Fox is telling him.

Despite these minor criticisms, the book is definitely worth reading. I am guessing that the title attracts many readers who hope financial-economics moves beyond the Chicago School efficient-markets framework. If this is what readers want, I recommend Beinhocker's "The Origin of Wealth." If you want a quick tour of academic financial thought, read Fox.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful By A. Kennedy on November 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was intrigued when my Finance professor assigned The Myth of the Rational Market (TMRM) to our class as a supplement to the textbook. I'm something of a history buff and thought it might make for interesting reading. I was disappointed. The book has a bit of an identity crisis. It's likely a little too light for serious students of the subject, yet a little too technical for entertaining reading. Just as I would get familiar with (and interested in) a subject, Fox would move on to a new person. It became a little frustrating and I don't think I could recommend it to the casual reader. TMRM became the book I made myself read at least a little of each week, and that is unusual.

This isn't to say there weren't entertaining and educational parts. Justin Fox does a nice job in bringing the complex topics of efficient market theory, option-pricing models and CAPMs down to a layman's level. His research is impeccable and he highlights all the major players; Black, Fisher, Friedman, Keynes, Modigliani and Buffett, as well as a large cast of supporting players. Fox does a much better job, in my opinion however, with more "modern" economic figures than with the "founding fathers". His discussion of Mac McQuown's work at Wells Fargo to develop index-based mutual funds helped shed light for me on modern banking methods, and I now understand Michael Milken and the concept of junk bonds much better than before.

In both the "Early Days" section and the "Rise of the Rational Market" section, I felt like I was trying to drink from Niagara Falls with the deluge of names, places and theories. Without some kind of a personal reference to dates and eras, I felt all of the information simply washed over me.
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