Sunday, June 30, 2013

Street Freak: Money and Madness at Lehman Brothers

by Jared Dillian

An account of the author’s experiences as a trader and, to a lesser degree, the bipolar disorder that got him hospitalized and, ultimately, drove him to leave the industry to become a writer of market reports. Fresh out of the Coast Guard, wearing the wrong clothes and a graduate of the wrong school, Dillian was a fish out of water but soon started getting the respect of his peers with his manic trading, even as his fits of temper and rookie mistakes continue to draw unwanted attention. His account is both brutally honest about his own faults and mental health, as well as a scathing depiction of trader culture. From the mountains of wasted takeout food to the flop sweat and flatulence on the floor, Dillian brings it all to life: the extreme meritocracy where employees are given free rein to do nearly anything to make money, which leads to a shallow culture where dollar amounts are the only standard by which to measure a person’s value, and those with the most money take the least risk.

Dillian has a way with a descriptive line and wry wit: a chief trader is “a walking molecule of testosterone,” the mass exodus to the Hamptons is a useless exercise in sitting through traffic just to “hang around with the same douchebags that I saw at work every day.” Still, to me, by far the most interesting part of the book is Dillian’s account of his stay in a mental hospital after a mental breakdown and attempted suicide. It is only here, taking a break from the endless oceans of trader jargon (which, frustratingly, he never explains), Dillian shows his true self: confused, craving something real, becoming inspired. For most of the rest of the book, Dillian may think he’s lampooning Wall Street, but to me, his misogynistic, egotistical prose shows he’s part of the problem, no different from those testosterone molecules looking down on everyone making less than he does.

four stars

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