Book review: Exquisite piece of wordcraft

“Devil take the Hindmost: A history of financial speculation” by Edward Chancellor

Tragic, exuberant and somewhat unchanged; there are probably no other place where history often repeated itself, other than the financial market. And in “Devil Take the Hindmost”, the history of financial market speculation is being brought back to life, through Edward Chancellor’s exquisite writing.

Written in the pages of the book, there were once a Publicani in the Roman Empire era on 2nd century B.C., the primitive form of financial market in Hotel Des Bourses in 16th century Antwerp, and the Tulip Mania in 1630s Netherlands. There were also the eras of Stockjobbing in London’s Exchange Alley, the infamous South Sea Bubble of 1720 where Sir Isaac Newton lost a fortune, and the famous 1929 Great Depression. And there were of course the Masters of the Universe and the Big Swinging Dicks of the 1980s, the Asian Crisis in 1997 and the astounding story of Long Term Capital Management.

With stories from Europe to US, from Japan to Nicaragua, from Indonesia to Mongolia, the book also describes the political and economic complexity of each era, and the irrational human behaviour that has never really changed since the beginning of time. But most significantly now than ever, when it was written in 1998, the book pointed out the root causes of what 10 years later would be known as the Global Financial Crisis. Bottom line, it’s a must read book, especially for market practitioners.

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