Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a quick-reading tale about trying to fight the High Frequency Trader (HFT) powers that be, which have succeeded in doing the seemingly impossible: made Wall Street more unfair. If you’ve seen Kevin Slavin’s TED talk on how algorithms literally shape our world (http://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_slavin…), then you know part of the story already. Where Michael Lewis takes it is a thorough play-by-play history of how IEX (Investory’s Exchange) set about creating a stock exchange that controlled for the speed advantage that HFT have to re-empower investors to make trades when and how they wanted to without being outrun and priced up by HFT. It’s a story of personalities, brusque Wall Street types and technologists, who are tried of people getting screwed by the new system.
It’s a pretty eye-opening read with regard to how Wall Street now works. I was thoroughly disillusioned as someone counting on the stock market to help finance my retirement. I couldn’t believe how many ways there were of extracting value from my money, without creating any actual value, that were built into the system. This form of capitalism as actually anti-capitalistic; it’s perverse. What was even more gobsmacking was the story of Serge Aleynikov. A programmer who ends up convicted of corporate espionage for saving open source code repositories that he worked with while at Goldman Sachs. For anyone connected to the open source software community, the story of how Goldman Sachs regularly strips off the open source licenses of code that they add to their own codebase and then refuse to let programmers contribute back to the OSS projects modifications or even save any of that code themselves is horrendous.
If you take away one thing, it’s that Wall Street might be the most paranoid and cutthroat corporate environment to work in. The money is attractive but the culture is hostile; it’s a miracle that IEX was created in the first place, let alone still exists! Michael Lewis does an amazing job of keeping the pages turning quickly with lots of dialogue from a cast of colorful characters. Definitely a fun and informative and depressing read.