Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It

    By Scott Patterson
"Beware of geeks bearing formulas."
--Warren Buffett
In March of 2006, the world's richest men sipped champagne in an opulent New York hotel. They were preparing to compete in a poker tournament with million-dollar stakes, but those numbers meant nothing to them. They were accustomed to risking "billions."
At the card table that night was Peter Muller, an eccentric, whip-smart whiz kid who'd studied theoretical mathematics at Princeton and now managed a fabulously successful hedge fund called PDT...when he wasn't playing his keyboard for morning commuters on the New York subway. With him was Ken Griffin, who as an undergraduate trading convertible bonds out of his Harvard dorm room had outsmarted the Wall Street pros and made money in one of the worst bear markets of all time. Now he was the tough-as-nails head of Citadel Investment Group, one of the most powerful money machines on earth. There too were Cliff Asness, the sharp-tongued, mercurial founder of the hedge fund AQR, a man as famous for his computer-smashing rages as for his brilliance, and Boaz Weinstein, chess life-master and king of the credit default swap, who while juggling $30 billion worth of positions for Deutsche Bank found time for frequent visits to Las Vegas with the famed MIT card-counting team.
On that night in 2006, these four men and their cohorts were the new kings of Wall Street. Muller, Griffin, Asness, and Weinstein were among the best and brightest of a new breed, the "quants." Over the prior twenty years, this species of math whiz --technocrats who make billions not with gut calls or fundamental analysis but with formulas and high-speed computers-- had usurped the testosterone-fueled, kill-or-be-killed risk-takers who'd long been the alpha males the world's largest casino. The quants believed that a dizzying, indecipherable-to-mere-mortals cocktail of differential calculus, quantum physics, and advanced geometry held the key to reaping riches from the financial markets. And they helped create a digitized money-trading machine that could shift billions around the globe with the click of a mouse.
Few realized that night, though, that in creating this unprecedented machine, men like Muller, Griffin, Asness and Weinstein had sowed the seeds for history's greatest financial disaster.
Drawing on unprecedented access to these four number-crunching titans, "The Quants "tells the inside story of what they thought and felt in the days and weeks when they helplessly watched much of their net worth vaporize - and wondered just how their mind-bending formulas and genius-level IQ's had led them so wrong, so fast. Had their years of success been dumb luck, fool's gold, a good run that could come to an end on any given day? What if The Truth they sought -- the secret of the markets -- wasn't knowable? Worse, what if there wasn't any Truth?
In "The Quants," Scott Patterson tells the story not just of these men, but of Jim Simons, the reclusive founder of the most successful hedge fund in history; Aaron Brown, the quant who used his math skills to humiliate Wall Street's old guard at their trademark game of Liar's Poker, and years later found himself with a front-row seat to the rapid emergence of mortgage-backed securities; and gadflies and dissenters such as Paul Wilmott, Nassim Taleb, and Benoit Mandelbrot.
With the immediacy of today's NASDAQ close and the timeless power of a Greek tragedy, "The Quants" is at once a masterpiece of explanatory journalism, a gripping tale of ambition and hubris...and an ominous warning about Wall Street's future.
    RELATED ARTICLES

STAFF PICKS: Models Behaving Badly

Posted March 22, 2012, 9:10 PM with category of General Business
Models Behaving Badly has nothing to do with TMZ or a Harlequin novel. The models at the heart of this book are not beautiful people that fashion designers drape their creations over, but financial models that financiers and money managers try to drape reality over in order to make predictions about the market—and, of course, gobs of money. The author, Emanuel Derman, is a former theoretical physicist and used to be the head quant (quantitative analyst) at Goldman Sachs, so this is not cheap or easy entertainment. Read more

STAFF PICKS: Bloomberg Picks 30

Posted November 19, 2010, 9:02 PM with category of General Business
Here's a list we missed late last month. Though the post is rather cryptically titled Hellhound Bites Citigroup, Schwarzman Finds Gold Mine: Top Business Books, Bloomberg's James Pressley explains exactly why they put the list together: With so many business books being published each month, we’re often asked for recommendations. Here are 30 of our favorite hardbacks published this year. Read more

NEWS: Books as Intellectual Assets in an Economic Discourse

Posted March 18, 2010, 1:30 PM with category of General Business
Michael Lewis's latest book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, was released this week to a lot of media attention and bestseller lists. We'll review the book more in depth on this site and elsewhere over the coming weeks, but its very release is what's giving me hope this week. You see, for all the doom-and-gloom surrounding publishing these days, publishers themselves have done a quietly masterful job of finding books that put the Great Recession, and what caused it, in focus over the last year and a half—Michael Lewis being but the latest (albeit one of the finest) voices in the choir that publishers have been directing. Read more

NEWS: The Quants

Posted February 26, 2010, 2:12 AM with category of General Business
I've not yet finished reading Scott Patterson's The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It, but I'd like to go on record now in disagreement with The Economist's review of the book. I do agree that Patterson's prose can get a bit "purple" in places, but I think his focus on the quantitative models developed and used on Wall Street over the last three decades is an important one. And the way he explores the topic—through the stories of the individuals who created those models—keeps the reader engaged in a tale that might otherwise turn too academic for most. Read more


    SHARE THIS
Embedicon
 
9780307453372
eBook

  Choose a format
  •   For use in United States   United-states-16

Your price: $11.99/ea

App required iOS or Google Play
DRM Yes
ISBN 9780307453396
Language English
Publish Date 02/01/2010
Publisher Crown Business

Interested in eBooks?Please read our brief introduction before purchasing.