“Beware of geeks bearing formulas.”
In March of 2006, the world’s richest men sipped champagne in an opulent New York hotel. They were preparing to compete in a poker tournament with million-dollar stakes, but those numbers meant nothing to them. They were accustomed to risking billions.
At the card table that night was Peter Muller, an eccentric, whip-smart whiz kid who’d studied theoretical mathematics at Princeton and now managed a fabulously successful hedge fund called PDT…when he wasn’t playing his keyboard for morning commuters on the New York subway. With him was Ken Griffin, who as an undergraduate trading convertible bonds out of his Harvard dorm room had outsmarted the Wall Street pros and made money in one of the worst bear markets of all time. Now he was the tough-as-nails head of Citadel Investment Group, one of the most powerful money machines on earth. There too were Cliff Asness, the sharp-tongued, mercurial founder of the hedge fund AQR, a man as famous for his computer-smashing rages as for his brilliance, and Boaz Weinstein, chess life-master and king of the credit default swap, who while juggling $30 billion worth of positions for Deutsche Bank found time for frequent visits to Las Vegas with the famed MIT card-counting team.
On that night in 2006, these four men and their cohorts were the new kings of Wall Street. Muller, Griffin, Asness, and Weinstein were among the best and brightest of a new breed, the quants. Over the prior twenty years, this species of math whiz --technocrats who make billions not with gut calls or fundamental analysis but with formulas and high-speed computers-- had usurped the testosterone-fueled, kill-or-be-killed risk-takers who’d long been the alpha males the world’s largest casino. The quants believed that a dizzying, indecipherable-to-mere-mortals cocktail of differential calculus, quantum physics, and advanced geometry held the key to reaping riches from the financial markets. And they helped create a digitized money-trading machine that could shift billions around the globe with the click of a mouse.
Few realized that night, though, that in creating this unprecedented machine, men like Muller, Griffin, Asness and Weinstein had sowed the seeds for history’s greatest financial disaster.
Drawing on unprecedented access to these four number-crunching titans, The Quants tells the inside story of what they thought and felt in the days and weeks when they helplessly watched much of their net worth vaporize – and wondered just how their mind-bending formulas and genius-level IQ’s had led them so wrong, so fast. Had their years of success been dumb luck, fool’s gold, a good run that could come to an end on any given day? What if The Truth they sought -- the secret of the markets -- wasn’t knowable? Worse, what if there wasn’t any Truth?
In The Quants, Scott Patterson tells the story not just of these men, but of Jim Simons, the reclusive founder of the most successful hedge fund in history; Aaron Brown, the quant who used his math skills to humiliate Wall Street’s old guard at their trademark game of Liar’s Poker, and years later found himself with a front-row seat to the rapid emergence of mortgage-backed securities; and gadflies and dissenters such as Paul Wilmott, Nassim Taleb, and Benoit Mandelbrot.
With the immediacy of today’s NASDAQ close and the timeless power of a Greek tragedy, The Quants is at once a masterpiece of explanatory journalism, a gripping tale of ambition and hubris…and an ominous warning about Wall Street’s future.
About the Author
SCOTT PATTERSON is a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal covering the latest cutting-edge technological advances on Wall Street. This is his first book.
“Scott Patterson has the ability to see things you and I don’t notice. In The Quants he does an admirable job of debunking the myths of black box traders and provides a very entertaining narrative in the process.”
--Nassim Nicholas Taleb, New York Times bestselling author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan
“Fascinating and deeply disturbing…Patterson gives faces and personalities to the quants, making their saga accessible and intriguing…[he’s] onto a big story that begs follow-up.”
--New York Times
“Valuable…makes [the quants’] secretive world comprehensible…the story radiates with hubris, high stakes and expensive toys.”
“A riveting account…there are many dramatic moments and a good dose of schadenfreude in Scott Patterson’s THE QUANTS.”
“Read this book if you want to understand how the collapse of the global financial system was at its core a failure of modern financial theory and its most ardent disciples. Patterson is able to gracefully explain the complex ideas underpinning our financial system through an extraordinarily engaging and insightful story.”
--Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody’s Economy.com and author of Financial Shock
"Enlightening and enjoyable...Patterson masterfully recounts how brilliant mathematicians and technologists ignored the human element...If you're serious about understanding the financial meltdown, you need to read this book."
--David Vise, Pulitzer Prize Winner, author of The Google Story, and Senior Advisor, New Mountain Capital
"A compelling tale of greed and conceit, The Quants tells the inside story of the Wall Street rocket scientists who could couldn’t resist playing with numbers and nearly blew themselves up.”
--Michael J. Panzner, author of Financial Armageddon and When Giants Fail
"The Quants will keep hedge fund managers on the edge of their Aeron chairs, while the rest of us read in horror about their greed and their impact on the wider economy. A gripping tale right until the last page...but I fear this is perhaps not yet the end of the story."
--Paul Wilmott, Oxford Ph.D., founding partner of Caissa Capital, and author of Paul Wilmott Introduces Quantitative Finance
“A character-rich tale of how quirky geniuses cut their teeth on gambling, then moved on to the biggest casino of all, Wall Street. From blackjack to black swans, The Quants tells how we got where we are today.”
--William Poundstone, author of Fortune’s Formula