Hedgehogging by Barton Biggs
Date Finished: September 9th, 2018
Reading Time: Two weeks, light reading
I was in a library for the first time in my adult life and saw this on a shelf among many books I’ve already read. I confused it with a story that goes by a similar name (Hedgehogs) that was recommended by a good friend of mine who recently moved into the money management space. This is not that book, rather it may be the Iliad of the hedge fund world–so profound that it made me wonder if the book I was supposed to read might have been about spiny mammals.
If you told me at the start that I was about to read a value investing book with the final chapter covering John Maynard Keynes, I would have picked something else to end this period of garden leave. But It only takes reading a single paragraph written by Barton Biggs to understand why this book is so beloved. The writing is enchanting, the perspective is refreshing, and Biggs’ vocabulary is masterfully refined without the stuffiness that usually accompanies wealth, refinement, and a degree from Yale.
The main thing to note that’s probably left out of other reviews is that Biggs slyly throws in the fact that, before he started his career in money management, he spent years trying to write the next Great American Short Story. This single factoid, if known in advance–assuming you’re reading this review in advance–should convince even the staunchest opponent of financial non-fiction to give this guy a chance. It’s a career reflection written by someone who had a lot to share and not much to prove.
Mr. Biggs takes a few pages to explain the history of numbers and what they symbolize. There is an amount of beauty in those few paragraphs that has not yet been realized during my elongated dive into a book named Number.
Chapter 20 is a short story involving a guy named Judson Thomas. It’s a thriller (“that will make your blood turn cold”). If you’re a picky reader, you will regret skipping that chapter. It’ll be clear by that point that Hedgehogging is a classic, but this one also seals Biggs’ place as a phenomenal writer and a kind soul.
Chapter 13 is, admittedly, somewhat of a backscratcher where the author analyzes his prediction of the DotCom bubble. However, it’s an endearing example of how canny Barton Biggs was and how his making the call was not a fluke. It never feels vaguely promotional.
Memorable chapters aside, this is a deeply educational work. When you’re in college or in high school or are some type of outsider trying to understand the industry better, this can help. I’ve found that conversations on message boards and the like easily get derailed and fixate on the wrong things. Things that don’t matter in the long run and cause college students to waste time wanting something that is illusory. While these narratives are indeed dotted with stories of high society, the lifestyle is never glorified and the rainmakers never placed on much of a pedestal. It’s a balanced account where industries like Private Equity and Venture Captial are cut down and the stress of being a money-manager is often in plain view.
This book was a great surprise. It helped me gain a level of respect for and understanding of an industry and a man did his part to advance it.