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Book Review: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis
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Book Review: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis

When computers took over the buying and selling in America’s stock exchanges, they reduced what used to be a human interaction taking place in human time to a speed-of-light transaction taking place literally in the tiny fraction of a blink of an eye. With the speed of these machine-to-machine negotiations measured in microseconds, the actual prices of stock could fluctuate at a rate incomprehensible and undetectable to buyers and sellers looking at prices on computer screens.

In his latest book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (W.W. Norton & Co., 2014), Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball, The Blind Side, and The Big Short), explains how high-frequency traders took advantage of (and even causing) tiny, short-lived price movements on large orders of stock filled at multiple exchanges to make enormous amounts of money by inserting themselves into transactions, undetected and completely within the confines of the law. An order for a million shares of stock might partially be filled at one exchange, but before it could be completed at another just a few microseconds later, high-frequency traders with faster connections could race ahead, get there first, and sell for pennies more per share.

This is only one way Wall Street’s high-frequency traders took advantage of speed, uncomprehending investment banks, private “dark pools,” and increasingly complex stock order types that could hold, withdraw, delay, and cancel sales at speeds impossible to detect so that by the time a large trade was complete, buyers and sellers both received worse deals than they wanted while the high-frequency guys walked away with the difference, to the tune of billions of dollars per year.

Lewis is a gifted storyteller, creating a setting, defining characters, and even mapping out a plot that brings the characters together in their efforts to restore some semblance of integrity and fairness to a playing field where the opposing side isn’t even identifying itself. Readers are introduced to the Canadian stock trader who, working for a bank considered an afterthought on Wall Street, sees an injustice and tried to fix it by creating a new stock exchange, requiring participants to play nicely. We meet his eventual partner, an Irish immigrant telecom tech-guru with a talent for understanding complex systems, and several other players who contribute to the seemingly bizarre vision of an environment where people trying to make money agree to strive for fairness.

Add to this Lewis’s ability to explain complicated processes in technological and financial realms so that most readers (albeit with some effort and re-reading, in this reviewer’s case) can grasp the basic mechanisms, and one could almost forget that this is not a novel, but a fascinating, truthful breakdown of very recent events. It’s not hard to see how two of the author’s non-fiction books about issues related to business and finance became such heralded motion pictures.

Lewis, a rare talent, gets rock-star attention in this field not known for compelling must-reads, but also across all non-fiction fields, a crossover writer who appeals to multiple audiences, simplifying difficult material without dumbing it down. Flash Boys is a great read and highly recommended.

 

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Book Review: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis - Executive Leadership Articles

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