Gregory Zuckerman (2019)

A history both of quantitative investing and of one of its most successful proponents.

Jim Simons comes across as a fascinating character, who transitioned across academic science and made some important contributions before deciding to tackle the practical aspects of investing. Driven by the same sort of mindset that he employed as a scientist, his new company developed some of the first methods for properly managing and diversifying risk.

But… to what extent was Simons responsible? To what extent did he “solve” the market, and to what extent did he provide a management structure within which others could? The story told here tends to the latter interpretation.

It’s also impossible to escape some of the darker aspects of the story. First of all, once the market has been “solved” (at least to the extent of extracting considerable and predictable profits) the company closes it to other investors, and it exists purely as a vehicle for its own staff. That seems like the epitome of pure financialisation. Worse, Simons and his partner Robert Mercer use their wealth and power to drive a political agenda that’s entirely focused on advancing this kind of financialism at the expense of … well, everything else. It’s not clear that they actually have a broader agenda, which in some ways is more shocking than if they had, but is in keeping with the authoritarian politicians they somewhat succeed in promoting.

4/5. Finished Sunday 3 December, 2023.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)