THE ASYLUM by Leah McGrath Goodman


The Renegades Who Hijacked the World's Oil Market
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A journalist specializing in finance examines the obscure but influential New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex).

Goodman wrote about Nymex for many years for the Wall Street Journal and other publications before expanding her knowledge into a book. The takeaway is supposed to be that the rough-and-tumble Nymex traders have exercised a powerful influence on domestic and global oil prices for decades. Although the author developed remarkable access to the key players, her hypothesis is sourced more by assertion than by hard evidence. The repeated assertion that the Nymex traders influence oil prices more than oil-producing nations or national governments suggests that Goodman is inflating the importance of her subject. Still, the inside look at a mostly closed institution is enlightening. The traders cut deals on all types of commodities—potatoes dominated until the late ’70s—but oil and other energy sources, including natural gas, interest Goodman the most. Her cast of characters at the beginning of the book numbers nearly 40 individuals, and less-omnipresent characters bring the total to at least 100. Unfortunately, that number is too high for the author to maintain a coherent narrative. The readability of the book is also harmed by Goodman’s valiant but only partially successful attempts to explain the complex world of futures contracts, arbitrage, hedging, short selling and other artifices intended to make Nymex traders wealthy. The traders are almost all male and almost all macho, many without education beyond high school and many on the trading floor while under the influence of illegal narcotics, alcohol and tobacco. Only a handful of characters are even remotely sympathetic. Goodman's details about the infighting within the Nymex membership are astounding, mainly because the members do not seem to realize they are destroying their path to wealth. An epilogue brings readers up to date about many of the characters.

An earnest but flawed investigative report.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-176627-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2010


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