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Lessons from the Pit: A Successful Veteran of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Shows Executives How to Thrive in a Competitive Environment
Rating: ★★
Date Finished: December 12th, 2017
Reading Time: An afternoon

A prototypical pit trader forms an unlikely[1] alliance with a Jewish guy and has a successful run making markets for Eurodollar options at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He bows out after ten years in the industry and becomes a cowboy[2]. His wife isn’t happy with his being a cowboy, so two years later they return to one of the wealthiest suburbs in America to resume their humble[3] lives until reaching a compromise and moving back out West.

Lessons from the Pit is a disorganized self-help book stemming from Joseph Leininger’s career in which he dishes out homilies vaguely related to how he had to reconcile his Christian faith with the most purely capitalistic occupation in the world[4]. This book was definitely inspired by God in The Pits by Mark Ritchie, published just a few years earlier. I didn’t care much for that one because the author seemed to have forgotten that he included The Pits in the title. In comparison, Leininger’s book contains more detail about a career spent trading but was ironically less interesting to read.

Leininger claims to have had a disdain for math class while in school. It doesn’t seem he was a fan of English class either. The book is filled with tired clichés[5] and adjectives that have ruined the flow of many a first publication. The writing is forced and fumbled. There is one action sequence that is pretty good. He tells a story about a fight between a city champion boxer and a former college football player who both wanted to stand in the same space on the trading floor. Were “fists flying”? You bet they were. For the rest of the narrative, as soon as Leininger starts to explore a compelling theme, he accelerates the pace as if someone is holding a gun to his head and abruptly tries to pull a teachable lesson out of it. In life, each person experiences a limited number of teachable moments worth writing about. I feel that the author squandered opportunities to fully extrapolate his.

With its two competing forces, his faith being subjectively good and his occupation, I suppose, being subjectively evil, Lessons From the Pit carried a high risk of being contradictory. Or, simply, being a bad book. Regarding his faith, the bible references were on point, particularly Proverbs 27:17, which I made the caption of the Instagram photo taken of my best friends and I at college graduation. Really, though, the question I was left pondering was whether the motivation to write the book was pent-up guilt, the desire to make more money, or something objectively noble. Though he asserts that he doesn’t exhibit a holier-than-thou attitude, at many times his diction is pompous. Most notably, he refers to waiters who bother him as “insolent” which is a word I’ve only heard kings in movies use. He also passes judgment on the activities other traders engage in for fun and what he describes as self-destructive lifestyles. There are good points made, but, when I was reminded that many traders were getting out of the pits at one in the afternoon, I was more curious about what the author was doing with his free time during those years.

In closing, this book isn’t worth the read, but explores a few interesting themes from days long past and contains a few lessons that are timeless.

Points of study:
– Some insights into how Shatkin trading operated
– Options vs Futures briefly mentioned
– Pit dynamics
– Characters in the pits
– Rise and fall of the Eurodollar options floor
– Thoughts on charitable giving, the wholesomeness of volunteering
– Relationship building and necessity of finding reliable partners
– Risk management strategies
– “Gut feel” trading
– Chapter 9: Hit Singles, not home runs
– Recounting of trading during, after Black Monday

[1], [2], [3]: In his own words
[4]: “The green monster was working to set up shop in my heart”
[5]: “My brain was pure Jello”, ““The man””

See this review and others on Goodreads.com

Lessons from the Pit Review