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Binge Trading: The real inside story of cash, cocaine and corruption in the City Paperback – 7 May 2009
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'A surefire bet' The Observer 'The Hot Topic -- Penguin has snapped up ex-stockbroker Seth Freedman's expose of the Square Mile' thelondonpaper
About the Author
At 19, Seth Freedman ditched his university place to take a job at a City stockbrokers. It was 1999, the height of the dotcom boom, and within months he was handling millions of pounds of client orders. He dealt for Swiss banks, traded bonds in Geneva, then left to take his client base to a London brokerage. He got out before the 2008 crash and wrote a series of articles for the Guardian, which generated a massive reaction from readers.
Top customer reviews
I'll explain. Michael Lewis (Liars' Poker) was a Wall Street insider. He was a relatively senior associate at Salomon Brothers during its glory days. Frank Partnoy (F.I.A.S.C.O) was a Wall Street insider too, which is why his book caused such a furore. Philip Augur, is a City insider, having headed the research functions at several investment banks. I think even `City Boy' qualifies as a City insider. That's what allowed them all to blow the lid on sharp practices and high living, or offer thoughtful analyses of the structural problems, depending on their whim. Seth Freedman was a private client broker - he traded equities for rich people. It's clear from the book that he and several of the people he interviews (more on this later) are happy if they end the day £50,000 up. Real insiders are working for leading investment banks and taking positions worth many millions. Plus he only did it for six years before he saw the light and emigrated to Israel. As the credit crunch unfolded, he wasn't even in the country. The proof is in the book - Lewis or Partnoy spin out their own experiences over 300 pages. Freedman's experience barely fills a chapter, after which he's forced to rely on other peoples' accounts.
As for his writing, Freedman, isn't a proper writer. He went to work for the IDF (the Israeli Army) and was sent on a tour of duty to the West Bank. Unsurprisingly, the Guardian was happy to take a few articles on his experiences there. But his style is practically unreadable. He has a serious case of adjectivitis, favours long-winded, passive sentences, and never allows a line to go buy without slipping in at least one cliché. Unlike a real journalist, he hasn't the confidence to clear up or paraphrase interviews, so these read like accounts of verbatim speech - which are often gloriously repetitive and incoherent. All in all it's a mess. Throw in Freedman's cod psychology and the result is like reading an extended sociology essay by a not-overly-promising undergraduate.
Sadly, he fails in his own terms too. He claims that his book was intended to do two things - to explain to the person in the street how the City works and to demonstrate something of the psychology of the people working in it, showing that they're not all monsters. However, anyone going to the book for explanations of the sort of financial instruments that brought down Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers will be disappointed. Freedman wasn't responsible for putting together CDOs, CLOs, SIVs, RAVs etc and says little or nothing about them. He doesn't even offer explanations of most of the terms he does use, so someone coming to this book with no knowledge of the City will leave none the wiser. As for his aim to show us something of the inner workings of the trader's mind, the things that stick out from his account are that (a) traders take a lot of drugs (b) they earn a lot of money (c) there's a lot of bullying (d) they're often very arrogant but in a depressed, screwed up way, and (e) if they have ethical concerns they're usually happy to sweep them under the carpet. In comparison, Freedman's quibbles and explanations just aren't memorable, so his book will probably add to the demonisation of City workers, not improve understanding.
Despite the above, I don't want to damn him too much. He's a young man, so his writing has plenty of time to improve. He clearly did a number of interviews, and some of what some of them have to say is quite interesting - the chapter on Simon Cawkwell, for example. And he clearly has the wisdom to get out before he got sucked in, and the honesty to own up to some of what he got up to while he was there. But the bottom line is, this is a bad book and would never have been published at any other time. The sorry truth is, somewhere a commisioning editor has seen the words `City memoir' and pound signs have sprung into his or her eyes. Some things never change.
Seth Freedman's own experience by his own admission is limited to the 6 years he spent in the city, and this is reflected in the fact that only a small portion of the book talks about his own real experience. The language and style of writing is refreshingly informal at the start but it gets boring and monotonous after a while. The story is generally disjointed and is made worse by the greater portion of the book being quotes from his "insiders". I find this terribly disappointing as I was expecting more about this guy and how involved he was in the city; unfortunately there was very little of this throughout the book. There was a reasonable amount of contradiction and inconsistency (e.g. with cocaine use affecting trading - he admits that no one does this at the trading terminal, whereas this was touted as a core selling story of the book).
In fairness, there was a moment of excitement when he addresses Gordon Brown's dealing of the credit crisis, offering a honest and candid opinion on the approach by the government. Just too many quotes and not even a well-constructed paraphrasing effort when he interviews all his insiders.
I only finished this book due to a long layover during flights and also actually seeing whether it improves; unfortunately it doesn't, which was disappointing. Well-written and promising cover summary, not what I found inside the book unfortunately.
I think the book struggles due to a lack of 'inside' knowledge.As a result, the descriptions of trading floor banter and general behaviour is poor.This , i think, is very well done in other books.The descriptions of the symbiotic relationship between brokers & dealers could have been explored with greater depth.I'm not entrirely sure why it wasn't but everything has a unsubtantial feel about it.It almost feels like you're reading short story in a sunday supplement.
After Liars Poker, I would recommend City Boy; Nick Leesons Rogue Trader (surprisingly still very interesting), Predators Ball (Michael Milken and the Dexel Burnham)
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It tells you that no-one had anything good to say about this dull tome.Read more