Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Book Review: Confessions of a Street Addict.

If you've watched "Mad Money" on basic cable, you know who Jim Cramer is:

"[T]he wild, excitable guy with Bozo-like tuffs of brown curly hair who ha[s] a big mouth and lots of passion talking authoritatively about how you could make money...." (p. 124.)

And that's his self-description.

Jim Cramer has written an insightful and entertaining book, Confessions of Street Addict, illustrating his myriad dimensions far beyond the manic guy yelling at you through the tv to "buy, buy, buy" or "sell, sell, sell."

What permeates this fascinating book is how multifaceted a life Cramer has lived. Following his graduation from Harvard College, he served as an intermittently homeless crime reporter for the (now defunct) Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He reports that he stayed at "I-5 truckstops, huddled beneath [his] corduroy jacket, clutching the hatchet with one hand and the .22 with the other." (p. 7.)

After these harrowing experiences, he decided some further education might be warranted. Accordingly, he enrolled at Harvard Law School. His interests, however, lay beyond Marbury v. Madison. While in law school, he pored over stock tables and made trades between, and sometimes during, classes. After a short stint as a law clerk (where even these experiences were dramatic), he decided the law was not for him, and set out to work on Wall Street.

Cramer recounts how he assiduously pursued a job at Goldman Sachs. "I got a letter from Goldman saying that it would consider me for its summer associate program but that I would have to battle hundreds of others. In retrospect I think it was a rejection letter that I treated as an acceptance letter." (p. 23.)

Arriving for an interview at GS, Cramer was placed "in a little interview room the size of two phone booths at around 11:00 A.M. I waited, patiently, reading some annual reports, for what seemed like hours. And it was hours. Nobody came to see me. At a little after 5:00 P.M. a cleaning person told me that everyone had left and that I better be heading home myself lest I get locked in overnight. I debated that possibility momentarily and then exited." (pp. 24-25.)

Cramer interpreted the snub unconventionally. He told the recruiter at Goldman, who was concerned Cramer didn't get the message: "Goldman was a tough place and only those who waited all day in a windowless holding pen would make the cut in the next round." (p. 25.)

Cramer got his interview, and then the coveted job. At this point, "Never was a guy from Harvard Law School more excited about going into sales.... I knew there was no way I was going back to the law after this move."

Once initiated into the ways of Wall Street, Cramer ventured out on his own, overseeing a hedge fund for a decade. Unlike mutual funds, managers at hedge funds only get paid if they produce gains. While this fact can engender very high highs, it can also produce very low lows, where he would have to pony up for losses.

Simultaneously, Cramer indulged his passion for writing, and wrote for his website as well as other publications. This dual life, however, led to some headaches, including a SEC investigation and other questions.

Regarding, Cramer discusses his role as a chief investor in this enterprise, including all of its "growing pains" and IPO. Particularly experience illustrates the dimension beyond mere dollars and cents. Cramer lays out the overarching human element--hirings and firings and even some skulduggery--that provides much drama.

In the end, Cramer left his hugely successful hedge fund, to focus on writing and tv work, and to avoid the angry outbursts that sometimes characterized his life at the fund, including smashing, slamming and throwing various items. As a consequence, he writes that he been able to be more present in his family's life.

Confessions shares much in common with Pursuit of Happyness. Both experienced homelessness; both made their fortunes in the stock market, and in the end, both elevated being a parent despite personal sacrifices.

Confessions is an exquisitely well-written book, full of humor, conceit, self-deprecation, drama, and insight.

This book is a "buy."