A young journalist breaks into the mostly male world of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and learns a life lesson: “It always surprises me how greedy I really am.”
So, it seems, are the blazer-clad players on the floor of the Merc, where antacids are mother’s milk and stress-induced heart attacks are as common as colds. The floor is the province of men, even if women traders are not so rare as they once were; says one of the veterans, “being a woman, you really are alone and independent here. If you have no one to talk to, it’s this very, very heavy load to be carrying around.” Not discouraged, Lynn buys her seat on the exchange—a transaction, we learn, that is fraught with all kinds of hidden financial perils when markets turn south, which is often. She fearlessly sets to work, discovering along the way that tenacity counts more than smarts and that it’s dangerous to analyze things too closely in the world of business, where the herd instinct runs strong: first impulse, best impulse. One mentor tells her, in this regard, “The one thing you can count on at the Merc . . . is that there is always someone more stupid than you.” Lynn performs valiantly, but the pleasure here is not in watching her grow as a trader but learning the ins and outs and occult jargon of the trading floor: the secret sign language of the “arb,” for instance—“If Paine Webber has just dropped a large order, you start rubbing your neck, like a pain. . . . If I start scratching my nose before the order, it means do the opposite—so if I’m saying buy, I really mean sell)—and the complexities of covering a bet by working both sides of the transaction, the “legging the spread” of the title.
A Plimptonesque revel, and one of the most entertaining business books to come around in a long while.