It has a guy Brad who is my hero. It reads like a John Grisham novel, but it’s a true story about stock exchanges, high frequency traders, and dark pools. The author is great at explaining complicated technical subjects and telling a good story around them. In the middle of the book I was so angry at the rip-off of investors, I was thinking of writing letters. But by the end of the book, I didn’t have to. Some good things happened. And now, various government agencies are investigating the problems described in the book - SEC, FBI, CFTC, FINRA, NY attorney general, and US attorney general.
The audiobook narrator Dylan Baker was excellent.
Genre: financial nonfiction
The author researched and interviewed people and then wrote several stories with some interpretation at the end. Most of the stories are internet related and happened more than ten years ago. Three of the stories I hadn’t heard of, and I was fascinated. I was laughing out loud with the first two stories, hearing conversations with parents and other adults. The book is worthwhile for those three stories. For me, on hindsight, I’d skip the rest.
1. Jonathan Labed began playing the stock market at age 13. He learned about the markets watching TV and the internet. He bought stocks, then wrote and published his comments about the stocks on the web. He made a lot of money. The SEC punished him for things that brokerage firms and analysts did on a regular basis without being punished. I laughed at conversations with SEC personnel, Jonathan’s parents, Jonathan’s friends, and Jonathan himself. Jonathan sounded so much more intellectual and knowledgeable than the adults. The chairman of the SEC appeared incompetent because he didn’t understand what Jonathan did and was unable to explain what law Jonathan broke.
2. Marcus Arnold was 15 years old. He learned about the law from TV shows like Judge Judy. As a volunteer he began answering legal questions for people through Ask com (or AskMe com). He became the Ask com #1 legal expert, based on the number of questions he answered and favorable votes given to him. When lawyers learned his age, they began attacking him on Ask com. I laughed at a number of things in his story as well.
3. In 2000 people were getting free music through Napster and similar software. There was a lot of controversy about the future of the music industry and who would survive in this environment. What happened with the British music group Marillion surprised and delighted me. They had no money for a tour. There was an online fan club that took up a collection. They raised $60,000 and the group was able to do a North American tour. A while later, the group needed 100,000 pounds to make a record. The recording company wasn’t interested. So again, the fans raised the money for the group. With this, the group went to the recording company and set their own terms for rights, royalties, etc. They made the record. I was fascinated with fans paying for the group to do things.
Other stories in the book were interesting but not as funny or as fascinating. They included music sharing software, TIVO and Replay TV boxes, TV advertising, marketing surveys, and a clock to last 10,000 years.
NARRATOR: The author narrated his own book. It was ok, but I’d prefer he use an actor. The author has a southern accent which was distracting. It made me think of “him” instead of his material. I guess I‘m spoiled with (or used to) all the generic TV anchor-speak out there.
GENRE: computer industry nonfiction.
I’m very happy to have this eye-opening knowledge. The entertainment value is the strange incompetence and stupidity of people. But it is also depressing. Terrible things are happening to ordinary people. I loved hearing it as an audiobook, educating me while I was doing other things. Reading this as a physical book might be less desirable for me. In the book the author describes himself as a “financial disaster tourist.” He travels to and writes about five areas: Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany, and California. He’s an excellent writer. He makes nonfiction interesting. An example of his thinking follows. In Ireland homeowners can’t walk away from their homes like in the U.S. If the bank forecloses and takes the property, the homeowner still owes the money. He can’t declare bankruptcy to get away from debt. I liked the author’s phrase “In their rush to freedom, the Irish built their own prisons.”
I would have liked more thoughts about the future - possibly having different experts give opinions. I wanted more about “what might happen.” The Vallejo, California, story was an excellent example of what can happen, but parts of that were not clear enough. For example, he states “the city had 1,013 claimants with half a billion dollars in claims but only $6 million to dole out to them.” “In August 2011, a judge approved the bankruptcy plan for Vallejo. Vallejo’s creditors ended up with 5 cents on the dollar, public employees with something like 20 and 30 cents on the dollar.” I have a question. Assuming Vallejo dispersed all the money at once today (for example the $6 million) how much will go to “retired workers” (police, firefighters, teachers, and others)? Assume a retired person has $30,000 coming to them each year for the rest of their life. Assume that has a present value of $500,000. Do they get $100,000 today (I’m using 20%) and nothing else? Or is the $100,000 put into an annuity somewhere which would pay them $6,000 per year? Or do they get $6,000 every year from the city as long as there is money? I wish the author would have clarified that.
I understand this entire book was published in a series of articles for Vanity Fair magazine. All but the Iceland portion is available to read free online - at this time.
NARRATOR: Dylan Baker was excellent.
GENRE: financial nonfiction.