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A Man for All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market Hardcover – January 24, 2017
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“In A Man for All Markets, [Thorp] delightfully recounts his progress (if that is the word) from college teacher to gambler to hedge-fund manager. Along the way we learn important lessons about the functioning of markets and the logic of investment.”—The Wall Street Journal
“So entertaining . . . pretty wonderful . . . Thorp’s manner of thinking and doing . . . is an inspiration in these confused times.”—Bloomberg.com
“[Thorp] gives a biological summation (think Richard Feynman’s Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!) of his quest to prove the aphorism ‘the house always wins’ is flawed. . . . Illuminating for the mathematically inclined, and cautionary for would-be gamblers and day traders”—
“[A Man for All Markets is] the kind of thing any would-be investor, to say nothing of casino cowboy, ought to read. Thorp’s in-the-trenches account of gaming the system(s) is a pleasure—and instructive, too.”—Kirkus Reviews
“An amazing book by a true icon . . . Edward O. Thorp launched revolutions in Vegas and on Wall Street by turning math into magic, and here he weaves his own life lessons into a page-turner as hot as a deck full of aces. Loved it!”—Ben Mezrich, New York Times bestselling author of Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires
“Whether you are an aspiring professional player, a casual gambler, or an occasional visitor to Las Vegas, you can feel the impact of Edward O. Thorp’s intellect on that desert city. In 1962, Thorp published the classic book Beat the Dealer. The text was based on Thorp’s original research that stemmed from his curiosity about the game of 21 and was billed as a how-to book for the layperson to beat the casinos at blackjack. Simply stated, it changed everything. A Man for All Markets chronicles Thorp’s personal journey in navigating the unexpected and sometimes dangerous obstacles that come along with challenging the status quo of a wealthy corporate adversary.”—Nicholas G. Colon, professional advantage gambler and managing director, Alea Consulting Group
“What a CV! Figure out how to win at blackjack using card counting? Check. Build the world’s first wearable computer? Check. Find the formula for valuing financial options but use it to make money rather than win a Nobel Prize? Check. This book is in part the gripping story of how one man’s genius and dedication has solved so many problems in diverse fields. But more important, it’s a fascinating insight into the thought processes of someone with little interest in fame, who has mostly stayed under the radar, yet who has followed his inquisitive mind wherever it has led him, and reaped the resulting rewards. There is nothing more important than knowing how to think clearly. Read this book and learn from a master.”—Paul Wilmott, founder, Wilmott magazine
About the Author
Edward O. Thorp is the author of the bestseller Beat the Dealer, which transformed the game of blackjack. His subsequent book, Beat the Market, co-authored with Sheen T. Kassouf, influenced securities markets around the globe. Thorp is one of the world’s best blackjack players and investors, and his hedge funds were profitable every year for twenty-nine years. He lives in Newport Beach, California.
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The book is basically four parts:
First, a relatively uninteresting account of Thorp's early years, which were mainly spent reading and experimenting.
Second, the stories of his successful card counting, roulette, and baccarat adventures, which were more interestingly told in "Beat the Dealer" and several other accounts.
Third, his investment management career, which was so consistently successful until it came to a screeching halt on federal charges against members of the east coast branch of his firm (Thorp does appear to have been completely uninvolved and unaware). Most of his success appears to have turned on what would today be considered fairly simple options arbitrage, albeit only simple because Thorp himself devised much of the foundational work on which options pricing rests today.
Fourth, and longest, a 120+ page meditation on the recent past, including a handful of successful investment ideas that have been discussed ad nauseam elsewhere (thrift conversions, the Palm/3Com arbitrage trade, statistical arb) and long ruminations on compound interest, personal finance, the hedge fund industry, personal fitness, time, and his interesting but fairly tangential interactions with Warren Buffett, among other things.
This section also contains a jarring discussion of Thorp having extensively vetted Bernie Madoff’s fund in 1991 and then conclusively proving that it was a fraud. Then, shockingly, other than telling an investor client to withdraw his funds, he sat on this information for 17 years despite having located investors who had entrusted at least $500m to Madoff, and likely being aware of far more. The SEC ignored Harry Markopolous, but it seems much more likely that they would have taken Thorp, a distinguished academic and well-connected public figure, seriously. It is hard to take Thorp’s moralizing on much smaller issues seriously when he seemingly sat on information that could have saved hundreds of investors their life savings. Thorp then describes a similar situation with a smaller $200m Ponzi scheme in 1982. Many of us may have failed to speak up as well, but Thorp devotes no time to the ramifications of his failure to act.
I came away very disappointed in this book - Thorp is a brilliant, brilliant individual who has contributed significantly to numerous fields - but most of these stories have already been told in classic works by Thorp himself, Klarman, Greenblatt, Poundstone, etc. The book feels padded with wise but fairly generic advice, and notably lacking in discussion of his family life and how he coped with the abrupt end of Princeton Newport, with a nearly two-decade skip between Chapter 16 and Chapter 17. I would still recommend this to almost anyone interested in gambling or finance (especially both!), and remain a fan of his, but I came away from this very disappointed.
What people sometimes overlook is how outstanding these three men are. Of course Warren Buffett was more successful than any other stock investor, but while only a few other managers managed to beat the average stock over extended periods of time, Buffett's results are better than the best stock of any with at least a 30 year track record since 1926. John Bogle built the company that delivered extraordinary results for investors, and changed the entire retail investment industry from one that made managers wealthy while subtracting value from investors (after taxes, fees, expenses, inflation and a regrettable investor tendency to get into the market after upswings and out after downswings) to one with a wide variety of sensible investment products (still not the majority, alas); and he gave the management company away to fund investors rather than keeping it to make himself a billionaire.
Buffett is the kind of investment manager economists love, he created trillions of dollars of economic value by shrewdly directing capital to better uses. Bogle is beloved of finance professors, he exploited the efficiency of financial markets to tilt the playing field in favor of retail investors instead of against them. Thorp is revered by scientists, he studied the inner workings of financial markets from an outsider's perspective and created an extraordinary statistical track record. He didn't create the economic value Buffett did, or help as many investors as Bogle did, but he did it essentially without ever losing money (he did have a very few months with small losses, but no longer periods). Buffett has had some brutal downswings along the way, as have investors in Bogle's index funds.
But it's not the track record alone that makes Thorp unique, there are other statistically overwhelming track records out there (many people would vote for James Simons' track record as better, although it was for a shorter period than Thorp's, it was done with far more money and higher total returns). The other scientists who used similar mathematical techniques to eliminate the losses from investments before 1990--people like David Shaw, Peter Muller and Ken Griffin--are fanatically secretive. Thorp has described all his secrets (well, he did hold back a few technical details from time to time, but never the basic ideas that would allow any quant to exploit the same principles) in books, articles, interviews and presentations.
Despite Thorp's long-term record of transparency, only about 20% of this book covers material from earlier books and articles. It does describe Thorp's adventures in beating blackjack, baccarat and roulette, as well as the convertible arbitrage strategy detailed in Beat the Market, but in fairly quick overviews. What's new is a comprehensive autobiography, from mad scientist kid growing up during the Great Depression, to humble, sensible, older rich guy enjoying life, with a lot of interesting stops along the way.
There are also trenchant discussions of financial markets, people, politics and life. It's hard to overstate how insightful these are. Thorp is a top professional mathematician who brings a logical rigor to all his topics, but he's also a guy who actually tried his ideas and learned many lessons along the way. He tried as an outsider without preconceptions or connections, which makes it much easier to relate to his experiences than to an author who worked his or her way up through established institutions. There's no obfuscating jargon or excuses for the corrupt and dishonest aspects of Las Vegas, Wall Street and Washington. There's also little anger. Thorp has an engineer's honesty: this is what works, this is what doesn't work and why, if you can't face the truth don't ask me the question. Thorp will tell you want to do and how to do it, but he's not going to do it for you.
The book is written clearly and stylishly, enough to entertain even readers with no interest in mathematics or gambling (whether in casinos or with securities). Although it covers a vast range of topics, it all hangs together naturally on the personality of the author. There's only one Edward O. Thorp, and everyone can profit from getting to know him better.
Most recent customer reviews
Wish I read this in high school.