RIDING THE BULL by Paul Stiles


My Year in the Madness at Merrill Lynch
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 Here's another entry in the list of books about big, bad businesses. In this, the once credulous author takes a wrong turn on Wall Street, lands on a frenetic Merrill Lynch trading floor, and runs into a cabal of wheeler-dealers he calls a Latin Mafia. After a year, there's the inevitable exit interview. It's a story of job dissatisfaction in the extreme. With Harvard and the Navy on his rÇsumÇ, Stiles, of the Free State of Maryland, sought his fortune in the heady world of finance. That meant the capital of capitalism, New York. For him, specifically, it meant Merrill's emerging-markets group dealing in esoteric Third World debt instruments, and he had no notion of what they were. The world of high finance is one of young autodidacts. Rational training is rare; education depends on a skeptical attitude and a little reconnaissance. The reader can learn, along with the author, what a Brady bond is and how leverage on derivatives squeezed Orange County, Calif. Those with little interest in such arcana will nevertheless find entertainment in the cautionary tale of a young man's discovery of the hubris and naked mendacity emblematic of the warriors of Wall Street. Added to the cultural misfit at work, life in the Big Apple (Brooklyn, to be exact) was a disaster for Stiles, his loyal spouse, and his little dog, too. The big bucks didn't go very far and the Stileses were, in a funny set piece, manhandled in small claims court. Ultimately, though, it was a question of morals. Was the possibility of a seven-figure take-home worth all the compromises? In somewhat overwrought terms, the author, like a Boomer Hamlet, wrestled with the question. The answer came easily. He was fired. Stiles's view of the marketplace is fundamentally true, of course. Nicely written latter-day muckraking in a slick and entertaining debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8129-2789-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998