Book Corner 2019.23


A Man for All Markets by Edward O. Thorp **

I liked when Thorp told his life story – I love memoirs.  I liked his writing voice.  I looked forward to learning a bit about how he beat the casinos and then the stock market, fully prepared that it would likely be all above my head.

And yeah it was.  Thorp was a young prodigy mathematician.  He figured out how to win big at blackjack.  It involved counting cards, and memorizing strategies for 500 or so possible deals he might be faced with, and betting larger or smaller depending on where he was in the deck.

Then the casinos got wise to him, made some rule changes about betting, started shuffling the deck on him every other deal, and just plain started cheating, too.  He claims it was the cheating that made him give up gambling and turn to investing.

He then devised a hedging approach to investing, which had to do with plotting stock prices an buying certain ones while simultaneously selling them short – I understood this even less than I understood the blackjack, frankly.  I tried to get the gist of everything I was reading, but it did go on and on, and I kept wanting more life story.

The book itself felt like it would never end.  He gives a chapter of thoroughly boilerplate explanation of the 2008 financial crisis, which sheds absolutely no new light on anything.  He gives a chapter of investment advice which likewise fails to shatter the earth.  Finally he talks a bit about his own philanthropic outlays – endowing a mathematics chair at UC Irvine, and helping stem cell research.  Thorp is still alive, in his 80s.

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