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Rigged: The True Story of an Ivy League Kid Who Changed the World of Oil, from Wall Street to Dubai Hardcover – October 23, 2007
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After conquering the hallowed halls of Harvard Business School, an Italian-American kid from the streets of Brooklyn decides to take on the testosterone-fueled Merc Exchange in lower Manhattanâwhere billions of dollars in oil money trade hands every week and where fistfights are known to break out on the trading floor.
Soon our hero is living the good life in the gold-lined hotel palaces of Dubai and on private yachts in Monte Carlo, teeming with half-naked girls flown in by Saudi sheikhs, and making deals in the dangerous back alleys of Beijing. But that's only the beginning. Taken under the wing of another young gun and partnering with a mysterious young Muslim, the kid embarks on a dangerous adventure to revolutionize the oil trading industryâand, along with it, the world.
This is a true story.
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Ben mentions in the beginning of the book that initially he was going to pursue a tawdry story of the individual commodities traders in the NYMEX themselves. I really would have preferred to read those stories of ribaldry and prurience on the NYMEX and stories of oil traders on the MERC blowing out their accounts and fighting physically and literally for trades on the open outcry floor. Sadly since this last bastion of open outcry trading is no more that would have been a better story to tell and a more interesting read.
Unfortunately the story Ben presents is a insipid tale of getting a mercantile exchange in Dubai. He tries to spice it up with a few incidents of falling from a Beijing third floor hotel balcony onto a fire escape and kissing a beautiful women in Geneva but sorry this anecdote of setting up the Dubai oil exchange blows big time (pun intended)! Definitely not worth the time and effort to read. The ending is a little surprising but definitely not worth going through 270 some odd pages of dross to get to this denouement. Didn't really learn anything new about the commodities markets or oil in general. Don't buy it just like oil the last few years.
Several things about the book were not my cup of tea. I have absolutely no interest in, admiration for, envy of, or any respect for the "Harvard Grad". I, too, went to college (Berkeley) and also law school. So millions of people go to good colleges. Also, I was not raised in some Brooklyn ghetto and feel that I have to fight tooth and nail to prove myself. On the other hand, I don't have a billion dollars either...but I have a lot of self-respect, I enjoy life, and feel secure in who I am. I think if I had to read the concept "change the world" or any of its derivatives just one more time, I would have thrown the book into the fireplace. That is such a "Creating the Matrix" phrase, in my view.
The lead "hero" was somewhat sympathetic, but not gigantically. As a human being, his assets seemed to be that he was handsome, young, driven, and hardworking, every one of which are qualities of youth and, truth to tell, a youth that might sell very well in a modern day slave market. Interesting in how in some metaphorical way that was what this was all about, particularly since it involved the creation of a union of a MERCANTILE enterprise (all about "auctioning" energy) with a then and now "SLAVE TRADING CULTURE", the Middle East. Looks will fade, youth will quickly get old, one drives themselves to an early heart attack, and on their deathbed regret that they worked so hard for everybody else. All their money meant nothing to them when the end of life approached.
On a positive side, I was interested in the oil exchange and figured that it is something worth knowing about in some way. For example, it made me marvel at the idea of the hierarchy of players--you maybe could make money buying and selling stocks, or in this setting, commodities, but think of the money that the brokers can make who get a piece of your trades whether you make money or lose, but then think of the traders on the exchange floor who are making money on the bulk trades of the brokerage firms, but THEN think of those who are making money owning the EXCHANGE itself. Why were so many of us ignorant of that (or was it just me?). So even if Mezrich didn't fully explain the workings of it, he gave enough to make me want to investigate it further from other sources. Part of that investigation led me to buy a book that was providing a visual dictionary of all the (now obsolete due to computerized trading) buy and sell hand signals used to denote financial figures, deal spreads, brokerage houses, and so on, a whole trading sign language that had evolved on the trading room floor.
I think at the time this book was written (nearly a decade ago), Dubai was a much more exciting possibility than it is today. People have gone through their "hopes and dreams" slash "get me outta here" Dubai cycle by now. Just beyond the glitzy buildings are the neighborhoods of squalor, and beyond that, yep, just sand and heat. And I am not so sure how I would trust a "free" zone, myself. You can drink a beer in this district, but heaven help you if you try that over in that district. One might easily get lost and innocently commit some horrendous transgression. Do they flog visitors? (Yeah, I think, they do, for VISA VIOLATIONS.) And with a place seemingly ruled by an absolute power (moderated, perhaps, by another "absolute power", Sharia law), every person used to a measure of personal sovereignty is always vulnerable to a sudden change in the times. And witness what happened to laborers from India who had come to work on building all those glitzy skyscrapers. When Dubai's economy collapsed, their visas were instantly cancelled and they had something like 24 hours to get out of the Emirate. Dubai not only added proof to "the skyscraper economic index" (build the world's tallest skyscraper and the economy collapses), but also created a new one for the world, "the abandoned cars on the road to the airport index". So yeah, while I did get into that section of the book--I was genuinely excited when the Board arrived in Dubai--a horse race doesn't thrill me (and the EMIR was the winner, what does that show you?) so the excitement faded. Dubai sounds a bit more like North Korea than, say, Singapore.
But okay, the Exchange idea was successful, for all that it is (not all that much as far as I can tell except for those who own it). Is it fair to say that Dubai is more of a Las Vegas than it is a Hong Kong? So the book would have ended on a happy note, except, WHAT? What was all this stuff about the hero's Arab partner having the spy pictures of the momentary sexual transgressions and apparently the women the hero dallied with was actually one of the photographer/spies? What really was going on on the trader floor that night; all that was written too darkly for me to quite get it. I wish someone else who read the book would let me know their thoughts on this. My conclusion (which could be totally boneheaded) was that the Emir's nephew, whom the hero considered to be like a brother, was actually in league with an effort to RIG this whole enterprise by discovering the perfect American patsy who will work himself to the bone in order to get the Americans on board this particular deal, but meanwhile, were keeping him on a sort leash by getting him caught sexually so that they could control him (and destroy him) if they needed to. Once the deal was made, the blackmail-able photos were no longer needed and therefore were shredded. (I'm also curious about the "encryption" for cell phone calls. Is that something that we can have too?)
If my thoughts are true, then Mezrich wasn't so much on Dubai's side after all, or, I should say, had his doubts about them the whole time. And I think in reality, such doubts are justified. See what I meant when I said the Middle East is still slave-trading. Even though thanks to global pressure Dubai had to get rid of their kidnapped and enslaved Indian boy camel race jockeys and replace them with mechanical "jockeys", they still used India as their source of "all but" slave labor building up all those glitzy towers, and they weren't above enslaving the cerebral labors of a Harvard Business School graduate from Brooklyn desperate to prove himself, Yeah, it's all RIGGED, and that might actually be Mezrich's view after all. Okay, I will give him another star.