Lifestyle

Book review – The Wrong Answer Faster

The inside story of computerization on Wall Street, from the man who made it happen.

CB_wrong

(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

THE WRONG ANSWER FASTER: The Inside Story of Making the Machine that Trades Trillions
(Wiley)
Michael Goodkin

A Bildungsroman, one jacket blurb calls this book—and sure, it’s a traditional coming-of-age tale. But the story itself is anything but conventional. Goodkin grew up in Chicago, a successful teenage gambler who started playing the market while still in high school. After getting a law degree from Northwestern, he landed in New York at the end of the 1960s. Frustrated with the limited data available to his first broker, and with chatter growing louder about a coming Information Age, “nobody had to tell me that Wall Street, with its polished brass spittoons, was a technological backwater,” writes Goodkin.

It was Goodkin who first computerized arbitrage. Working on an MBA at Columbia, he spotted an opportunity in the emerging field of econometrics. His hustler’s background helped him rope a group of future Nobel economists—including Paul Samuelson—into starting an experimental hedge fund with him. The pleasures of the book lie in the story of their bumpy path to success. The legendary merchant banker Sir Sigmund Warburg—who in 1970 was still the City of London’s éminence grise—listens bemusedly to Goodkin’s pitch. “‘A computer….Fancy that.’ And then his eyes lost their twinkle. ‘Preposterous. Utterly ­preposterous!’”