Lewis J. Borsellino with Patricia Commins, The Day Trader: From the Pit to the PC, John Wiley & Sons, 1999, 239 pages, $29.95
Hey, I admit it. I love Chicago traders.
Born on the South Side of Chicago, I went on to become a rookie options trader at the
Philadelphia Stock Exchange
, where I found all sorts of traders, from all around the country. But I could always tell the traders from Chicago: They had all of the moxie and bravado of their New York counterparts, but with more substance and less bluster.
Part of it was that a Chicago options trader might give you a $100 bill to go pick up lunch and not ask for change. Another part was due to the fact that the Chicagoans made time for young traders and answered their often-moronic questions. But most of all, it was because the Chicago guys invariably had a deeper reservoir of will than the other guys.
You could always tell when the New York traders lost big money: They would blow off steam by blaming their bad trades on the trading assistants. But the Chicago guys kept their poker faces intact when the pits turned ugly, and never let on that they were a few trades away from potentially blowing out for good. The Chicago guys never wasted time pointing fingers. They stayed focused and disciplined, and thus thrived under pressure.
Why am I telling you all this? Because one of the best Chicago traders,
, has written a book about his life as a top
futures trader. It's called
The Day Trader: From the Pit to the PC
and it's a great read. In it the author takes a contemplative look at how he succeeded in the often bloody S&P futures pit of the 1980s, how he later turned into an equally effective off-the-floor online trader, and became a money manager.
It's a pretty wild ride, and not just in a trading sense. Sure, Borsellino's fortunes skyrocketed -- he made $5 million trading on his own account in 1987 -- but they also dived, as he made only $200,000 during the next two years after some big contracts didn't pan out.
But the real meat 'n' potatoes is in the author's vivid account of his tight relationship with his mobster dad, culminating with the elder Borsellino being murdered, his body dumped by mob enemies on a lonesome Indiana backroad. Barely a paragraph goes by when the author's father isn't mentioned in some context; a piece of advice, an anecdote, a sense of the old man being there for some of Borsellino's greatest moments in the pits. A damp blanket of wistfulness and despair covers much of the proceedings, but strangely not in a negative way. Every dollar made and lost, and every gem of trading wisdom the author passes on to his readers, invariably arises from the author's bond with his father.
Borsellino's book avoids the machine-gun tempo that characterizes so many of the current crop of day-trading books. It's much more contemplative, with equal flashes of paranoia, testosterone and sadness (like when Borsellino compares the loss of his kids in a bitter divorce to an unreconciled trade). There's plenty of good stuff about the markets -- the Crash of '87, the
investigation into the
Chicago Mercantile Exchange
, and a compelling, if pedantic, chapter on the evils of online trading for amateurs. The requisite tips on what makes a good trader are also in deep supply -- stay focused, stay in synch with the market, stay away if you have a weak resolve -- but the best parts of the book are the father/son saga.
Try as you might, you can't pull yourself away from the family passages. So go with the flow. Think of it as a
Tuesdays with Morrie
for the trading set ... with a healthy dose of Chicago-style attitude thrown in for good measure.
Brian O'Connell is a Framingham, Mass.-based freelance writer who has contributed to the Boston Herald, Worth, Communications Week and many other publications. He was senior editor at DEC Professional magazine and contributing writer at LAN Computing magazine from 1989 to 1994. Previously he had worked at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange in the 1980s and as a bond trader on the fixed-income trading desk of Delaware Funds.
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