This is not a book I would normally pick up as the setting is Wall Street. I recently watched The Big Short and as a result felt confident I’d understand the content of the book. In fact I felt downright smart!
One of my favorite things to do is browse the library shelves. I typically pull books randomly and read the first page. If I’m not lured in by the words on the first page, I usually replace the book. It’s a treasure hunt and I’ve found some really good books this way.
Needless, if not a bit arrogant, to say Douglas Brunt’s writing style drew me in from the first page and kept me interested throughout. His somewhat self-loathing main character, Nick Farmer, is likable though calloused and imperfect. We see how money corrupts people and also how corrupt people make money.
It’s the kind of book one should read with a notebook to write down quotes. For instance, Brunt references a symbolic character to make the deeper point that “he probably had affairs he just never had the guts to be honest with himself, to go the whole distance and set everyone free” (page 206). This quote embodies what some of us may sense about others but simply cannot put into words. At least I never could. But Brunt does it several times through Nick and I regret not writing more down in my quote diary. (Yes, I have a quote diary. I’m this dorky.) I have since returned the book to the library so I cannot write anymore quotes down.
The story provides a glimpse into the trading world, a world entirely mysterious to me. I enjoyed this insight and realized my naiveté at the same time. The world of drugs and hookers enjoyed by graduated frat boys living secret lives. The older guys who encourage the hollow lifestyle though it’s destroying quality of life. Brunt also reveals the beginning of the financial collapse thanks to bundling of baseless mortgages. The whistleblowers are not brave heroes who save the day. They are rejected heroes never quite get the credit they deserve.
The author also peers into the deterioration of a marriage with such depth and sincerity it left me teary eyed and nodding profusely. “Show me who you love and I’ll show you who you are” (page 206). Nod. Nod. Nod. The deterioration is not the fault of anyone, in fact, it’s so realistic and relatable that I almost felt like Brunt read my journal, not my quote diary.
The most unique thing about this book is that every character is very human. There is no bad guy and the main character doesn’t necessarily burst from the last page in a white cape to show us all how wonderful he can be. Instead, each character may remind the reader of someone they actually know or have known. Every character has dimensions, some tend toward good, some toward bad. The reviewed struggles are universal and Douglas Brunt has a way of putting what is often impossible to say into nearly poetic words.
Nick Farmer’s moral struggle begins in a world where morality is obviously expendable. His ignorance of the process of his own loss of love and youth replaced with security and routine is such a common occurrence. I actually found myself wondering if Nick had not taken the job as a trader, would he have struggled so much? I wondered how many other people, regardless of industry, are becoming ghosts in life. Through this book, we see how easily life can become meaningless when it’s masked by implied success and too much easy money. Or simply because we forget to participate in it with the people we love.
I recommend this book highly and look forward to reading Douglas Brunt’s other book, The Means, very soon.
I also want to note that the author, Douglas Brunt, left his own successful career on Wall Street to write for a living. That’s reason enough to read this book! (And ladies, he’s cute so check out the back cover for your daily eye candy.)