Book Review: The Futures
Book Review: Emily Lambert’s The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World’s Biggest Markets
By Jessica Titlebaum
The cigar smoke, the bar that serves doubles as single drinks and the intensity of the financial community are all accurately portrayed in Emily Lambert’s book, The Futures. As an outsider, Lambert is originally from Oregon, she is able to provide an inside glimpse into how the city of Chicago rose from the ashes of Catherine O’Leary’s fire to become a mammoth player in the financial markets. Using light humor, Lambert tells a story not only about how the ongoing on LaSalle Street grew to compete with New York’s Wall Street, but about the families that grew up in the industry and the roots on which Chicago is built.
Lambert’s soft humor is prevalent in much of the book. For example, she updates us on Maury Kravitz, Leo Melamed’s former law firm partner known in the book as the king of gold futures. She explains that now "Kravitz is obsessed" with finding Genghis Khan’s tomb in Mongolia. She also shows light wit when discussing Bernie Carey, a 1940’s member of the Chicago Board of Trade whose family had been in the business. She says that "he flew 25 daylight bombing raids over Germany in the Second World War, came back and became a bean trader." The juxtaposition of a war pilot and a bean trader is accurate yet almost a contradiction. The statement is humorous at first but also points out the strength of the industry’s people.
Lambert also chronicles interesting facts about the futures industry and the city upon which it was built. She traces Chicago’s corrupt political system back farther then Rod Blagojevich, to when then Governor Daniel Walker came to the Chicago Board Options Exchange’s first day of trading in April 1973. Later, Walker was convicted of savings and loan fraud. Lambert also talks about George Seals, the defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears, and the first African American member of the Chicago Board of Trade in 1973. She also talks about the first female trader, Carol ‘Mickey’ Norton, who bought a membership to the CBOT after some convincing from Leo Melamed with whom she played Bridge.
Lambert categorizes her book by commodities, beginning with grains, moving on to the juicy stories about onion futures, the egg freezers on Fulton Street and then, the birth of the options contract. She describes the options exchange as a "project that everyone worked on together." She talked about the derivatives industry as a family business. Bonds of brothers, fathers and uncles made the roots of the industry.
The Futures is told like a story a friend would tell you over coffee. The Chicago setting is intricately described and the characters are introduced in a way that makes you feel like you know them, as they build the world’s largest markets.