Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Kelly, The Secret Club That Runs the World

I don’t understand why so many CNBC reporters feel compelled to write books, but they do. The Secret Club That Runs the World: Inside the Fraternity of Commodities Traders (Portfolio/Penguin) is actually Kate Kelly’s second book. Her first, Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, written when she was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was a New York Times bestseller (which probably explains why she decided to keep the franchise going). I doubt The Secret Club will enjoy such success.

I’m not saying that the book is terrible; it’s just not a page turner. There are no major revelations about the alleged secret club that runs the world, in part because commodity traders neither belong to a secret club nor run the world. And the book is disjointed; some characters disappear only to reappear many pages later as Kelly returns to their story, others are unceremoniously discarded.

Kelly’s cast of characters includes executives, traders, and regulators from BlueGold Capital Management, Glencore, Morgan Stanley, the CFTC, Delta Air Lines, Goldman Sachs, Xstrata, and the Qatar Investment Authority—an unwieldy bunch to manage in under 200 pages. They do deals, make trades, and cross paths with regulators, Senate investigators, and sometimes clients. They even have private lives, often gratuitously described for the 99+% of us who didn’t hire Elton John to give a live concert at our (collective) wedding.

There are a few tabloid-like tidbits that add to the otherwise forced secrecy theme. For instance, in Goldman’s tenth-floor conference center “china and sea-kelp-scented soap created an elegant atmosphere. Meeting rooms were so private that their doors were fitted with covered peepholes.” (p. 141)

Even though I was not taken with this book, it still makes decent summer reading. If you’re stuck at a boring Fourth of July picnic, you can always settle down in a far-off corner and whip out your Kindle.

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