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Black Edge
Cover of Black Edge
Black Edge
Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Manon Wall Street
Borrow Borrow Borrow
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • The story of the billionaire trader Steven A. Cohen, the rise and fall of his hedge fund, SAC Capital, and the largest insider trading investigation in history—for readers of The Big Short, Den of Thieves, and Dark Money and fans of Showtime's Billions.
    Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence and FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2017
    The rise over the last two decades of a powerful new class of billionaire financiers marks a singular shift in the American economic and political landscape. Their vast reserves of concentrated wealth have allowed a small group of big winners to write their own rules of capitalism and public policy. How did we get here? Through meticulous reporting and powerful storytelling, New Yorker staff writer Sheelah Kolhatkar shows how Steve Cohen became one of the richest and most influential figures in finance—and what happened when the Justice Department put him in its crosshairs.
    Cohen and his fellow pioneers of the hedge fund industry didn't lay railroads, build factories, or invent new technologies. Rather, they made their billions through speculation, by placing bets in the market that turned out to be right more often than wrong—and for this they have gained not only extreme personal wealth but formidable influence throughout society. Hedge funds now manage nearly $3 trillion in assets, and competition between them is so fierce that traders will do whatever they can to get an edge.
    Cohen was one of the industry's greatest success stories. He mastered poker in high school, went off to Wharton, and in 1992 launched SAC Capital, which he built into a $15 billion empire, almost entirely on the basis of his wizardlike stock trading. He cultivated an air of mystery, reclusiveness, and extreme excess, building a 35,000 square foot mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, and amassing one of the largest private art collections in the world. On Wall Street, Cohen was revered as a genius.
    That image was shattered when SAC became the target of a sprawling, seven-year government investigation. Labeled by prosecutors as a "magnet for market cheaters" whose culture encouraged the relentless hunt for "edge"—and even "black edge," or inside information—SAC was ultimately indicted in connection with a vast insider trading scheme, even as Cohen himself was never charged.
    Black Edge offers a revelatory look at the gray zone in which so much of Wall Street functions, and a window into the transformation of the U.S. economy. It's a riveting, true-life legal thriller that takes readers inside the government's pursuit of Cohen and his employees, and raises urgent questions about the power and wealth of those who sit at the pinnacle of modern Wall Street.
    Praise for Black Edge
    "A modern version of Moby-Dick, with wiretaps rather than harpoons."—Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
    "If you liked James B. Stewart's Den of Thieves, Sheelah Kolhatkar's thrilling Black Edge should be next on your reading list."The Wall Street Journal
    "A richly reported, entertaining tale about the cat-and-mouse game between the government and Cohen."—Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times Book Review
  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • The story of the billionaire trader Steven A. Cohen, the rise and fall of his hedge fund, SAC Capital, and the largest insider trading investigation in history—for readers of The Big Short, Den of Thieves, and Dark Money and fans of Showtime's Billions.
    Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence and FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2017
    The rise over the last two decades of a powerful new class of billionaire financiers marks a singular shift in the American economic and political landscape. Their vast reserves of concentrated wealth have allowed a small group of big winners to write their own rules of capitalism and public policy. How did we get here? Through meticulous reporting and powerful storytelling, New Yorker staff writer Sheelah Kolhatkar shows how Steve Cohen became one of the richest and most influential figures in finance—and what happened when the Justice Department put him in its crosshairs.
    Cohen and his fellow pioneers of the hedge fund industry didn't lay railroads, build factories, or invent new technologies. Rather, they made their billions through speculation, by placing bets in the market that turned out to be right more often than wrong—and for this they have gained not only extreme personal wealth but formidable influence throughout society. Hedge funds now manage nearly $3 trillion in assets, and competition between them is so fierce that traders will do whatever they can to get an edge.
    Cohen was one of the industry's greatest success stories. He mastered poker in high school, went off to Wharton, and in 1992 launched SAC Capital, which he built into a $15 billion empire, almost entirely on the basis of his wizardlike stock trading. He cultivated an air of mystery, reclusiveness, and extreme excess, building a 35,000 square foot mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, and amassing one of the largest private art collections in the world. On Wall Street, Cohen was revered as a genius.
    That image was shattered when SAC became the target of a sprawling, seven-year government investigation. Labeled by prosecutors as a "magnet for market cheaters" whose culture encouraged the relentless hunt for "edge"—and even "black edge," or inside information—SAC was ultimately indicted in connection with a vast insider trading scheme, even as Cohen himself was never charged.
    Black Edge offers a revelatory look at the gray zone in which so much of Wall Street functions, and a window into the transformation of the U.S. economy. It's a riveting, true-life legal thriller that takes readers inside the government's pursuit of Cohen and his employees, and raises urgent questions about the power and wealth of those who sit at the pinnacle of modern Wall Street.
    Praise for Black Edge
    "A modern version of Moby-Dick, with wiretaps rather than harpoons."—Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
    "If you liked James B. Stewart's Den of Thieves, Sheelah Kolhatkar's thrilling Black Edge should be next on your reading list."The Wall Street Journal
    "A richly reported, entertaining tale about the cat-and-mouse game between the government and Cohen."—Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times Book Review
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    Excerpts-
    • From the book Chapter 1

      Money, Money, Money

      There tend to be two types of people who seek out jobs on Wall Street. The first are those with wealthy parents who were sent to the right prep schools and Ivy League colleges and who, from their first day on the trading floor, seem destined to be there. They move through life with a sense of ease about themselves, knowing that they will soon have their own apartments on Park Avenue and summer houses in the Hamptons, a mindset that comes from posh schooling and childhood tennis lessons and an understanding of when it is appropriate for a man to wear seersucker and when it isn't.

      The second type call to mind terms like street smart and scrappy. They might have watched their fathers struggle to support the family, toiling in sales or insurance or running a small business, working hard for relatively little, which would have had a profound effect on them. They might have been picked on as children or rejected by girls in high school. They make it because they have a burning resentment and something to prove, or because they have the ambition to be filthy rich, or both. They have little to fall back on but their determination and their willingness to do whatever it takes, including outhustling the complacent rich kids. Sometimes the drive these people have is so intense, it's almost like rage.

      Steven Cohen came from the second group.

      As he reported for work one morning in January 1978, Cohen looked like any other twenty-one-year-old starting his first job. He could hear the roar of the trading floor, where dozens of young men were chattering away on the phone, trying to coax money from the people on the other end of the line. The room was alive with energy. It was as if a great oak tree were shaking in the middle of an autumn forest and leaves of hundred-dollar bills were raining down. To Cohen it felt like home, and he ran right in.

      Gruntal & Co. was a small brokerage firm located around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange in the gloomy canyons of lower Manhattan. Established in 1880, Gruntal had survived the assassination of President McKinley, the crash of 1929, oil price spikes and recessions, largely by buying up other tiny, primarily Jewish firms while also staying small enough that no one paid it much attention. From offices across the country, Gruntal brokers tried to sell stock investments to dentists and plumbers and retirees. When Cohen arrived, the firm was just starting to move more aggressively into an area called proprietary trading, trying to make profits by investing the firm's own money.

      For an eager Jewish kid from Long Island like Cohen, Wall Street didn't extend an open invitation. Even though he was freshly out of Wharton, Cohen still had to push his way in. Gruntal wasn't well-respected, but he didn't care about prestige. He cared about money, and he intended to make lots of it.

      It happened that a childhood friend of Cohen's, Ronald Aizer, had recently taken a job running the options department at Gruntal, and he was looking for help.

      Aizer was ten years older than Cohen, had an aptitude for math, and had autonomy to invest the firm's capital however he wanted. On Cohen's first day, Aizer pointed at a chair and told his new hire to sit there while he figured out what, exactly, he was going to do with him. Cohen sank down in front of a Quotron screen and became absorbed in the rhythm of the numbers ticking by.

      The stock market distills a basic economic principle, one that Aizer had figured out how to exploit: The more risk you take with an investment, the greater the potential reward. If there's a chance that a single piece of news could send a...
    About the Author-
    • Sheelah Kolhatkar is a former hedge fund analyst and a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she writes about Wall Street, Silicon Valley and politics among other things. She has appeared as a speaker and commentator on business and economics issues at conferences and on broadcast outlets including CNBC, Bloomberg Television, Charlie Rose, PBS NewsHour, WNYC and NPR. Her writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Magazine, The Atlantic, The New York Times and other publications. She lives in New York City.
    Reviews-
    • Kirkus

      December 15, 2016
      A formulaic but still intriguing financial cops-and-robbers story. Billionaire Steven Cohen (b. 1956) was a perfect fit at Wharton, its culture "driven by the worship of money." Brilliant and driven, he was a perfect fit on Wall Street, where, in the 1970s, he became a pioneer of a certain kind of hedge fund, making millions every year right out of the gate. The time was perfect, too, in a deregulated Reagan-era financial market that thought nothing of risk and even less of the law. Cohen's methods hinged, writes New Yorker staffer and financial-industry veteran Kolhatkar, on the accumulation of huge amounts of information--much of it along the "gray" edge, much more of it deep into black territory, "information that was obviously illegal," the stuff on which insider-trading convictions hang. By the author's account, Cohen is emphatically not a nice guy; she writes of how he skillfully hid assets during a divorce and of his tyrannizing employees: "For traders, getting a job at SAC was like pulling the pin out of a grenade: It wasn't a question of if you would blow up, it was a matter of when." It was also not a question of if the authorities would eventually catch up, and here Kolhatkar's tale assumes a certain inevitability, with good but indifferently socialized investigators, forensic accountants, and informants chasing after enough hard evidence to put an end to Cohen's manipulations. The upshot of the book is an inevitability of another kind, perhaps: although the punishment leveled at Cohen was astonishing on paper--close to $2 billion--it brought a nonapology by way of apology ("we greatly regret this conduct occurred"), and Cohen is preparing to resume his activities on the trading floor. It's a story that requires lots of insider information of its own kind to write, and Kolhatkar handles the job well though without the narrative flair of Michael Lewis' kindred book Flash Boys.

      COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

    • Library Journal

      October 1, 2016
      Staff writer at The New Yorker, Kolhatkar profiles Steven A. Cohen, a Wall Street stock-trading genius and man of excess who launched the hedge fund SAC Capital in 1992 and built it into a $15 billion empire. It all came tumbling down with a seven-year criminal and SEC investigation on insider trading (called using "black edge") that shuttered SAC Capital and fined it nearly $2 billion.

      Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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    Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Manon Wall Street
    Sheelah Kolhatkar
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