• Wed. Apr 24th, 2024

Book Review: ‘The Trading Game,’ by Gary Stevenson

His secret is understanding that interest rates will be close to zero forever, because the world is hopelessly unequal, the economy will always be in crisis and the rich will get richer. Most people seem to be impressed; but then they would be — it is, after all, Stevenson’s book.

Along the way, Stevenson acquires and breaks up with a girlfriend, nicknamed Wizard, who is not impressed, and keeps telling Stevenson that if he doesn’t like his job he should quit. He can’t quite get himself to take that advice, and having conquered London FX swaps, Stevenson is sent to the backwater of the Tokyo office, and buried under layers of managers. It’s frankly a hard-to-explain transition for a kid who is supposed to have been, as Stevenson claims, Citi’s “most profitable trader” (an unverifiable and eyebrow-raising assertion) and makes the reader wonder what might have been skipped over.

Speaking of omissions, there are some. Notably, right around the time that Stevenson worked at Citi, major banks were involved in a scandal around the manipulation of esoteric but crucial interest rates (Libor, for the “London Interbank Offer Rate,” and the less well-known Isdafix). These were exactly the kind of rates that are central to the working of the STIRT desk. Unpacking that might better help explain the extraordinary profits that Stevenson raked in — more than his broad-brush theory of global inequality.

Should Stevenson have gone there? Let’s be real: The ins and outs of interest rates hold many eye-glazing possibilities. The best books about finance navigate this tricky equation and manage to make that kind of thing gripping. Novels about Wall Street, on the other hand, skip the details entirely.

“The Trading Game” falls somewhere in the middle. As a novel, it wouldn’t quite cut it: The dialogue is frequently too on the nose. And the denouement of the book, in which the action switches from the trading floor to the H.R. office and Stevenson’s efforts to walk away from Citi with his $2 million-something in bonuses intact, isn’t exactly a nail-biter.

I suspect that if Stevenson had told H.R. to shove it and left the money on the table, he might have been able to write a juicier exposé. But there’s a reason that those are exceedingly rare. When the game is done, the insiders tend to have a choice of getting the money, or the story. And the money usually wins out.

THE TRADING GAME: A Confession | By Gary Stevenson | Crown Currency | 329 pp. | $28

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