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October 02, 2005

Confessions of a Street Addict

(from the archives: July 2002)

I reviewed Jim Cramer's book.

there are a lot of folks who have discovered plenty of reasons to hate jim cramer, but if you are a more pedestrian or heaven forbid, emotive person who happens to be interested in high finance, jim cramer could be your hero, and this book shows you why.

i should say that i have been a part-time hack investor for about 17 years. i am not employed in the financial industry, i'm a software guy. as a software guy, i appreciate a rowdy sense of irreverence and an ability to get to the nitty-gritty of a problem with a minimum of foo-foo. and after years of putting up with rukeyser's waspy effete mannerisms and cornball puns, guys like cramer are a godsend. when i think of all the years that i listened to lou dobbs and paul kangas before we got to the likes of david faber and joe kernen, i shudder. finally, here's a book about wall street for people not born in the hamptons.

jim cramer is the bill clinton of financial commentary. all brains and ego and no tact. so right away you love him or hate him. reading this book (i swallowed it whole in one weekend) is a raucus journey straight to the heart of obsession. cramer has got the money bug in his blood and you can tell he thrives on his business just as some of the extreme folks in the software industry are fiends for their craft. you can taste his desire and you can also feel his anxiety. his is the story of a man who found he had a knack for something he never expected and the nerve not to let wealth change the fundamental kind of crusty individual he was. he's a straight-talker in a world where people paint themselves in muted pastels all the while participating in the most brutal of zero-sum games, hedge fund trading.

if puritans are right in their edicts to never a lender or borrower be, cramer's story fleshes out the cautionary tale. nothing makes for villification like theft, but cramer shows how even association with theft or being a victim of theft can quickly destroy a reputation. he also shows how honest mistakes feel like theft when you're the investor. wall street is shown to be close but not clubby. implicit in every transaction is "i'm the one who is making you rich/poor and don't you forget it." given the stochastic nature of the stock market, clearly one needs nerves of steel, a great deal of luck and exhaustive research and great communication to succeed. considering the hate mail cramer obviously gets, it's clear how harshly individuals can suffer at the hands of those who obviously never forget it.

do i feel sorry for cramer? no. he's a sympathetic character for the arc of his journey and the boldness with which he pursued it, not because he's a nice guy. he lived and died by the sword over and over and that's fair. his industry has given him all the rewards and punishments he deserved. i find his story admirably honest in a self-serving way, and in this book you are treated to an insider's view with perspective. yet he doesn't speak out of school or punish people in his pages. you get the feeling that there is a great deal more that he knows but didn't say (and shouldn't)

there is no question that this book is about cramer by cramer and crammed with cramer, but it also offers insight into what it *feels* like to be on the line every day trying to make things happen with other people's money. it shows the kinds of rules wall streeters must live with and how integrity is deeply part of the business. i've read nothing which illustrates it better than the section dramatizing the run on cramer berkowitz as a collateral effect of the fall of long term capital management. it's a real nail biter.

i wrote a review about the inside game on IPOs in 2000 and basically said that you'd be a fool to try and play that game. i've been a month-trader but never a day-trader. i think my review got panned because i said those who thought they were joking by calling themselves 'fools' would find the joke on them and it's funny looking back on that now. i also had the good fortune to meet one of the principals of sanford c. bernstein co and he suggested subtly that 'irrational exuberance' was an understatement. i thank cramer for being out there with a loud, cranky voice that speaks passionately about the investment world with the level of energy that the gaining and losing of career sized chunks of fortune deserve.

in these days of enron and worldcom, americans will be thankful that mouths and brains like cramer are out there with the inside scoop on the wallstreet culture. on the other hand, maybe i just think louis rukeyser is a crashing bore.

Posted by mbowen at October 2, 2005 11:49 AM

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