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The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed Itby Scott Patterson
Synopses & Reviews
After the economic meltdown of 2008, Warren Buffett famously warned, and#8220;beware of geeks bearing formulas.and#8221; But as James Weatherall demonstrates, not all geeks are created equal. While many of the mathematicians and software engineers on Wall Street failed when their abstractions turned ugly in practice, a special breed of physicists has a much deeper history of revolutionizing finance. Taking us from fin-de-siand#232;cle Paris to Rat Pack-era Las Vegas, from wartime government labs to Yippie communes on the Pacific coast, Weatherall shows how physicists successfully brought their science to bear on some of the thorniest problems in economics, from options pricing to bubbles.
The crisis was partly a failure of mathematical modeling. But even more, it was a failure of some very sophisticated financial institutions to think like physicists. Modelsand#8212;whether in science or financeand#8212;have limitations; they break down under certain conditions. And in 2008, sophisticated models fell into the hands of people who didnand#8217;t understand their purpose, and didnand#8217;t care. It was a catastrophic misuse of science.
The solution, however, is not to give up on models; it's to make them better. Weatherall reveals the people and ideas on the cusp of a new era in finance. We see a geophysicist use a model designed for earthquakes to predict a massive stock market crash. We discover a physicist-run hedge fund that earned 2,478.6% over the course of the 1990s. And we see how an obscure idea from quantum theory might soon be used to create a far more accurate Consumer Price Index.
Both persuasive and accessible, The Physics of Wall Street is riveting history that will change how we think about our economic future.
A young scholar tells the story of the physicists and mathematicians who created the models that have become the basis of modern finance and argues that these models are the solution toand#8212;not the source ofand#8212;our current economic woes.
andldquo;Weatherall probes an epochal shift in financial strategizing with lucidity, explaining how it occurred and what it means for modern finance.andrdquo;andmdash;Peter Galison, author of Einsteinandrsquo;s Clocks, Poincareandrsquo;s Maps
After the economic meltdown of 2008, many pundits placed the blame on andldquo;complex financial instrumentsandrdquo; and the physicists and mathematicians who dreamed them up. But how is it that physicists came to drive Wall Street? And were their ideas really the cause of the collapse?
In The Physics of Wall Street, the physicist James Weatherall answers both of these questions. He tells the story of how physicists first moved to finance, bringing science to bear on some of the thorniest problems in economics, from bubbles to options pricing. The problem isnandrsquo;t simply that economic models have limitations and can break down under certain conditions, but that at the time of the meltdown those models were in the hands of people who either didnandrsquo;t understand their purpose or didnandrsquo;t care. It was a catastrophic misuse of science. However, Weatherall argues that the solution is not to give up on the models but to make them better. Both persuasive and accessible, The Physics of Wall Street is riveting history that will change how we think about our economic 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Of Quants and Other Demonsand#8194;1
From Coastlines to Cotton Pricesand#8194;49
Beating the Dealerand#8194;76
Physics Hits the Streetand#8194;105
The Prediction Companyand#8194;130
Tyranny of the Dragon Kingand#8194;159
A New Manhattan Projectand#8194;181
Epilogue: Send Physics, Math, and Money!and#8194;205
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