Michael Lewis is now one of my favorite authors. His style reads like water flowing freely from the Icelandic glaciers, which essentially means that I can binge read one of his books in a couple of days and feel like that I didn’t got enough of that sight. His latest effort, which I came to be aware of, originally via this article in the New York Times Magazine, a couple of years ago, is truly amazing. I believe you really need to stand out as a non fiction writer to be able to deliver this level of novel like experience to an otherwise FinTech tale. I bet if I was going to tell you the story you’d drift off into some unicorn infested land after the first thirty seconds. Instead, I’ll just state a couple of main points to draw you in.
Michael Lewis comes at this story in his fast paced style grabbing you very quickly with his rogue Brad Katsuyama, the unlikely Canadian hero that brought the high frequency trading world to the public eye. By positioning our hero as an innocent bystander that happens to walk into a broad daylight robbery in action by some shady characters, seeing himself being dragged in to the plot, even though there’s no real desire on his part to be a part of it. It’s a great premise which delivers all the way to the end with a few twists and interesting revelations in the middle.
If you’re anything like me, you are also craving good stories that have some element of software engineering on it. While Neal Stephenson and William Gibson provide some good alternatives, it feels like there’s nothing really out there apart from cyberpunk and sci-fi tales to cover for it. It’s refreshing then to see a non fiction tale that uses a few characters, real world people, that really do put technology in front, despite the dollar signs to do otherwise. I’m referring of course to Sergey Aleynikov, one of the central figures of the story and a very interesting one at that. The fact that you can actually learn something from such a good story like this one in this sense it was a surprise. The explanation of all the different types of orders and puzzles that our high frequency traders unravel was particularly interesting. It’s also interesting to note that the complexity that governs financial markets today eclipses whatever 99% of the world thinks its happening at any moment in time. Think about it this way: if you think that calculating your taxes is something that only your math wiz cousin really can do, imagining him telling you that really only his math wiz PhD third degree cousin/acquaintance who also holds a dual degree in Genetic Engineering and Statistics has some idea of, should do the trick.
Overall, you’ll feel you’re not only one step closer to understanding our world after reading this book, you’ll probably feel like you understand even less, which is fine too. If it leaves a few burning questions on your head than that’s worth your time.
One final scary thought. The book was published back in 2014, which means that whatever is happening now should be changing a lot faster and be a tidy bit more complex.