Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
some great chapters, some less great
on 14 December 2012
The author tells us how, after life as a Wall Street trader for 12 years, he retrained as a psychologist to try to prove or disprove a theory about what drives animal spirits in the market, that theory being that this is caused by high and increasing levels of testosterone. The nice thing about the book is in part that there's quite a lot of evidence now, some drawn from the author's own research with traders in the City of London, to support that theory. The more testosterone, the more risk you will take - and often the more you will gain. But just as in the world of animals excess testosterone leads to hubris and downfall (you take on more and more challenges, become more and more convinced you are invincible until you finally overdo it and die), so too in the markets, increased risk taking will eventually spiral out of control.
That is not the most interesting aspect of the book however. The best chapters, for me, were those in which the author defends the role of 'quick' or 'automatic' thinking in our lives. Often we can only hope to respond well to a situation, especially a threatening situation, if we respond pretty much instantaneously and on autopilot. We just don't have time for slow, rational, thinking. Even when we do, we may be better off relying on our gut instincts. If there's a pattern out there in the world our bodies, working on autopilot, will pick it up - and will do so and we will act on it, well before we can conceptualise it. (And traders do this; and we can track their increasing ability to do this through something called the Sharpe Index.) We can, and probably do, mostly read one another's very fleeting facial expressions without working this out. And indeed when it comes to our own feelings, our hormones follow the pattern of gains and losses in traders - but conceptualisations are all over the place about how they are feeling.
The least interesting chapters are some of the policy proposals: employ more women and older men (lower testosterone); harden yourself against novelty, uncertainty and uncontrollability (not clear, really, though sports people harden themselves by short but controlled bursts of intensive training).
Overall, though, a very stimulating rad.