Book Reviews
Book Review: To Save Everything Click Here

Has Internet liberated or chained us?

 

The Internet has fundamentally changed the way we communicate, store information and search. Many people check their Twitter and Facebook pages even before they brush their teeth in the morning. Internet enables families to keep in touch over long distances. Massive server farms enable corporations to store information on cloud and to quickly...

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Book Review: Beautiful Thing

Story of Mumbai’s dance bars, more gripping than a work of fiction

 

“My story is the best you will ever hear. The best, understand? Now come close.” No one has been able to walk away from Leela. The readers too, have no other option. The bar dancers of Mumbai have always been an object of curiosity, criticism and, in some cases, envy. From the cabarets of masala Bollywood movies to...

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The Buy Side: A Wall Street trader’s tale of spectacular excess

The atmosphere of the trading floor is well captured and many characters will stay with you after reading. There are no boundaries when it comes to milking a dollar

“The Buy Side” in Wall Street parlance refers to those who manage the money.  They are the ones who place the ‘buy’ orders with the brokerage houses, which are referred to as the ‘sell’ side. “The Buy Side” by Turney Duff, a Wall Street hedge fund trader is a fast paced read. By now, nothing of Wall Street excesses shock or surprise anyone.
 

This book is his story on Wall Street between 1994, when he started on the ‘sell’ side before moving on to the ‘buy’ side after three to four years. He came from a small place in the US to make his life as a journalist and ends up joining Wall Street, thanks to the clout of one of his uncles who has enough push to get him placed, irrespective of his total absence of interest, knowledge or background about investing and stocks.
 

To his credit, he picks up enough to graduate from a dealing room assistant to a partner in a hedge fund, investing money in hedge funds, where portfolios are churned on a minute-by-minute basis.
 

The book shows the cosy relationship between the ‘sell’ side and the ‘buy’ side. The sell side gets its commissions on the business done by the ‘buy’ side. The buy side gets its money from delivering returns and getting a fee on managing the money plus a share on the gains it delivers to its investors. So the ‘sell’ side has to offer every imaginable temptation ( booze, drugs, women, cruises, and every other form of entertainment or pandering required in order to get a higher share of business) and the ‘buy’ side has to ‘cultivate’ some special contacts who give them the edge of ‘early’ warnings about changes in events that will move the price of a stock in a big way. Without this, it is difficult for someone to deliver spectacular returns that will draw in yet more money under management.
 

Turney Duff acquires the skills needed to be a successful ‘buy’ side money manager. He makes no bones about the ruthlessness needed to overcome conscience bites when money is at stake. The book also shows the power that the ‘buy’ side has that makes the sell side grovel and eat a humble pie at every turn.
 

The book is a good chronicle of the excesses that the money management industry ails from. From excessive salaries and bonuses to lifestyles that make million dollar salaries seem inadequate, Wall Street gets a tick in the box for every known (and some unknown) ills. There are no boundaries when it comes to milking a dollar.
 

Turney Duff’s book is also a journey of the decline and fall in his personal life thanks to his dealing with temptations in the easier way—by succumbing to them. Drugs, booze and sex become so much a part of his life that they finally kill his career in a brutally short period.
 

Turney Duff worked for Morgan Stanley, Galleon (of the Rajarathinam insider trading fame), Argus and Kramer Berkowitz. The atmosphere of the trading floor is well captured and many characters will stay with you after reading.
 

The book is also a chronicle of the poor habits controlling and destroying a career and a person. His addiction to cocaine and the description of his binges makes one wonder how he could recall so many details. Addiction to drugs and booze combined with an extravagant lifestyle leaves someone poor at the end of nearly two decades on Wall Street.  And with many of those years giving seven and eight figure dollar salaries!  In an industry where the high paying jobs have no continuity beyond the day you finish your work surely needs a strong temperament to survive. Career spans are short because competition is on whom you know and when you know rather than what you know. Performances are ranked every day. Temptations thrown at you each moment and the ease at which one succumbs are perhaps directly in relation to the stay in the profession. An industry in whose dictionary the words morals, honesty and trust are missing. The dividing line between right and wrong is only evident if one is caught.
 

Turney Duff himself comes across as someone who oscillates between what is good and what he does to make his living, but not strong enough to keep off the grass and the glass. His “after- hours” became so big that it ruined his life.
 

This book may not be ‘news’ to those in the money management industry. It is not on par with something like “Bonfire of Vanities” or “Liar’s Poker” in terms of literary milestones. However, it is a breezy read and well written by a Wall Street insider who aspired to be a journalist. Don’t look for any inside or new financial scoops either.

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