Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Quants

Math and Wall Street: two subjects I know very little about. They also happen to be the subjects of Scott Patterson’s book The Quants. The Quants follows the professional lives (and a tad of the personal sides) of math geniuses that used their knowledge to develop trading strategies on Wall Street. These strategies made the Quants (the collective name for these math whizzes) oodles of money—that is, until they led to the near collapse of the market.

Patterson, a reporter for the Wall Street journal, writes like a journalist (no surprises there), saying what happened without attaching much commentary. His writing is clear and straightforward, which is a good thing because, despite having taken Econ 101 last term, I was confused by a lot of the economic stuff. Patterson did explain various theories and processes, and I probably could have understood The Quants better if I had taken the time to think about his explanations and taken notes to reference when the theories came up again. But I didn’t. So I spent a decent amount of time not really understanding what I was reading.

Another confusing aspect of the book was keeping track of the vast number of Quants that Patterson chronicled. It was easy to mix the different men up, even though a list of “the players” was given at the beginning of the book.

All things considered, I give The Quants a 3/5. It was a well written book, but one that sometimes bored and confused me due to my lack of prior knowledge. However, I would definitely recommend it to my econ major friends (yes, all three of you) or to anyone who wants to have more insight on how the United States got into our current economic state.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Scott Patterson

Buy the Book

And now, I must share two things that don’t really belong in a review, but have to do with The Quants. First, the author shares a name with an actor. On the three days that led up to the Daily Show interview, the Daily Show’s website promoted the interview with a picture of the actor, rather than one of the author (it was fixed the day of the interview). I love to imagine the person in charge of finding a photography thinking, “Who knew that Scott Patterson of Gilmore Girls fame knew so much about the economy?

Secondly, at one point in his book, Patterson was describing the lavish wedding of one of the Quants. He used the sentence “Guests dangled from helium balloons” and did not go on to explain it. How is that possible? Don’t you want to dangle from helium balloons at every wedding you go to?

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