There's little systematic perspective on the economic utility of commodity futures and options markets--nor even much...


THE NEW GATSBYS: Fortunes and Misfortunes of Commodity Traders

There's little systematic perspective on the economic utility of commodity futures and options markets--nor even much explanation as to how they work--in this fast-paced survey. But Tamarkin spins some grand close-up tales about the mavericks who trade there, mainly for their own accounts. Chicago-based, the author concentrates his attention on local winners and sinners. The semi-skewed coverage causes no real problems since the Second City ranks first in futures (over 80 percent of the domestic action), and the tragedies as well as triumphs that routinely occur there can achieve mythic proportions. At the pre-eminent Chicago Board of Trade, for example, the pseudonymous Paul Rosen, an up-from-the-streets gambler, lost a sizable fortune going long and wrong on soybeans; his thorazine-soothed crack-up lends credence, Tamarkin concludes, to the adage that a speculator who dies rich goes before his time. By the author's account, a few over-reachers do die young--victims of the pressure or less frequently ""acute cocaine toxicity."" Drugs, he comments, are as much a part of the New Gatsbys' life style as a Mercedes 450SL. More typical, though, are those who lose their voices as a result of trying to make themselves heard on crowded exchange floors where prices are established to open outcry of bids and offers. High rollers are not the only players in the high-stakes zero-sum game. Tamarkin tells of order fillers like the Mercantile Exchange's Harry ""the Hat"" Lowrance, who grinds out $2,800 or more per day with $2 tickets. Now that inflation is at least partially under control, new-breed traders in pursuit of a fast buck have switched from agricultural and precious-metals contracts to so-called soft commodities like interest-rate or stock-index futures. When trading activity quickens in ""pinstripe pork bellies,"" he implies, public orders can get lost in the shuffle; floor brokers may be more intent in getting themselves or their buddies out of jams than in canvassing the turbulent pits for a best execution. Tamarkin is not, however, preoccupied with providing cautionary counsel; his chronicle focuses on the many ways in which renegade capitalists fight themselves and others for commodity market killings. This lovingly detailed, if sometimes rueful, reportage on the New Gatsbys, whose escapades are ""an intensified parody of the American dream,"" could earn Tamarkin an audience beyond financial circles.

Pub Date: June 18, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1985