Taking Stock

Editor in Chief, Torsten Odland, reviews Kevin Roose’s book

By Torsten Odland

Young Money

By Kevin Roose

Grand Central Publishing, 366 pages

$27.00

Young Money is a successful book, though perhaps not successful in the way Kevin Roose intended. Throughout my reading, I felt a tension between Roose’s authorly goals and the book I actually enjoyed.

He introduces a mission statement rather clearly and early in the book: “The junior bankers who flock to Wall Street every year are some of the nation’s most credentialed young people…I realized that if I wanted to understand what Wall Street, and America, would look like in the future, I had to figure out who these people were, and how the crash was changing their initiation process.”

Young Money tells the stories of eight young bankers during their first two-years as junior analysts. It’s from their perspective that Roose shows us the psychotic bosses, the intensity of a one hundred-hour work-week, and the demoralizing insignificance of entry-level assignments in an investment bank. Each chapter typically focuses on one analyst and something particularly miserable that happens to them. And the lives of these junior analysts truly are depressing, if not pitiable: they get chewed out by higher-ups for a mistakes their bosses made; they receive pitiful bonuses and, in some cases, get laid off (which was unheard of before 2008); their romantic relationships decay and demise. They get fat, cruelly analytical, and money-obsessed.

Some of these stories shed light on aspects of the Wall Street culture most writers don’t get access to—Roose describes one analyst who showed up “for the first day of training in a tan hound’s-tooth coat with a black turtleneck underneath, and was humiliated by the snickers and shaming glares of his peers”—but none of them are moving or thematic in a literary sense, and for a relatively simple reason: Roose’s subjects are not very dynamic people.

In Young Money, the interesting existential questions don’t explode , they aren’t dissolved , nor are they answered  in any meaningful way. At the book’s end, the subject who shows the most self-consciousness about his work’s moral indifference, is still employed at the same private equity company. In the epilogue, Roose assures us, “he remains conflicted about his job and the private equity industry overall.”

Roose’s subjects basically treat these questions as professional dilemmas—“Do I really want to be sitting around for three more years doing…bitch work?” Some of them make a change, but most simply forget about the question. Despite the tedium and frustration of their professional lives, six of the eight profiles still work in finance—some of them at the same firm.

If the book were only about “figuring out who these people are,” I would say it’s a waste of time. Either Roose is too skeptical to unearth these bankers’ gritty conflicted cores —or they don’t have them. Which doesn’t make them odd or inhuman; just flat, boring–and perhaps that’s true, but does the average person need to be told that bankers are materialistic and unreflective? It’s in spite  of these people that Roose’s book is interesting and important, especially for Columbia readers.

Roose is at his best when he uses his characters as points of generalization. For instance, he suggests that part of finance’s attraction is how easy  an option it is: “Wall Street banks had made themselves the obvious destinations for students at top-tier colleges who are confused about their careers.” Roose makes important points about the way finance has drained the US economy of its best educated human capital for the last thirty years, and the sea change happening right now, as finance loses its prestige to tech. It’s an entertaining, fascinating book—one that has a lot to say about being a college student in our day—but don’t pick it up with a view to understanding human beings.

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