Whenever I have the time, there’s nothing I love more than wondering through a good bookstore, seeing what’s new in the market. I guess spending a lifetime writing has had that effect on me. About a week ago, I was waiting for a family member to arrive at the airport, so I went into a big Barnes & Noble. It was there I saw a book I hadn’t heard about, The Man Who Solved the Market, which was about famed money manager Jim Simons.
I bought the book and have been reading it with great interest. I wanted to share a few thoughts I have about it, in no particular order.
- It’s an easy, breezy read. That was evident to me within one second of glancing at the first page. You can just tell it’s meant as an enjoyable trade book for anyone, certainly not those well-versed in trading.
- The author, who is no novice to bookwriting, has some writing habits that I find kind of annoying. For example, he has a penchant for what I would described as the Riveting First Sentence. He seems to start every blessed chapter that way. This isn’t really what he wrote, but it would be something like “Jim Simons had never been so terrified in his life.” And that would be the first paragraph, supposedly having served its purpose of elevating your pulse rate and making you eager to read more. It’s OK to use once, but good grief, man, not every single time.
- Similarly, and to me more humorously, the author has this weird fascination with people’s heights. He first did it when he mentioned some guy who “stood at almost 5’10” to which I thought: so what? And he kept bringing it up. This guy was 5’11”. This other fellow was 6’2″. And the poor chap over there was just 5’6″. I mean, if he wrote something like “At 7’3″, Jim Simons was immediately noticeable in the seminar he was holding at Beijing University”, sure, that would make sense in that context. But I honestly don’t need to know the height of every character, nor their shoe size or weight.
- The most troublesome aspect to me of all is what I would call The Unexplained Resolution. A good example is the description of the year 2000, in which the NASDAQ fell to pieces. As the chapter is going along, the author describes in darker and darker terms how badly the fund is doing, how they are losing tens of millions, and then hundreds of millions, of dollars, and how their system just kept blindly buying more stocks, which worked great in the late 1990s but was now destroying them. And then the very next sentences declares that 2000 was a record year for the fund, a 98% gain. No explanation. No denouement. Nothing we can learn. Just……….bang! Everything was great!
In spite of all these gripes, I still enjoyed the book, although I definitely wouldn’t read it more than once. There’s absolutely nothing to learn about trading from it, and God knows you’re not going to get one scintilla of insight about how Jim Simons made his many billions. It’s really more of a story about a bunch of characters who are sort of, kind of, loosely tied together and, over a period of decades, built up an incredible money-making machine.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d probably give the book about a 6, and I confess part of my pleasure is derived from the fact that I’ve been mixed up in historical financial data for a very long time, and I got particular enjoyment out of the morsels in the book related to that field. Besides that, though, it’s just a mildly interesting book to read about a very successful business.