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Book Review

‘The Buy Side’ by Turney Duff

Turney Duff’s high life as a successful trader collapsed, with much else, in 2007.

andrew walker

Turney Duff’s high life as a successful trader collapsed, with much else, in 2007.

Turney Duff could be the poster boy for people who hate Wall Street, confirming their worst fears about traders and their fast-lane lives.

His first book, “The Buy Side: A Wall Street Trader’s Tale of Spectacular Excess,” is a memoir about Duff’s evolution from ordinary guy raised in Kennebunk, Maine, into a wheeling, dealing hedge fund trader, awash in money and cocaine.

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There is also dish about Duff’s days at Galleon Group, whose cofounder was convicted of insider trading. And he described a knack for partying that made him a star on the Wall Street social scene.

“In front of me, four hundred guests — sexy, attractive, drunk, intelligent, powerful, and all with fat wallets — jump and sing,” he wrote of his 34th birthday bash. “I know this room will earn hundreds of millions of dollars combined in annual income. . . . And on this night, I have all these princes and princesses of finance in my front pocket.”

Much of the book feels like it is written as a screenplay, a sort of updated version of “Bright Lights, Big City.” And not surprisingly, the drugs, money, and unchecked power are Duff’s undoing.

Our protagonist, an average Joe with a journalism degree from Ohio University, gets an interview at Morgan Stanley through a family connection. He charms his way into the job with a “Melrose Place” reference and within a few short years, he is working as a trader at Galleon Group on the “buy side.” Being on the buy side means being constantly wooed by traders with enormous expense accounts looking to sell stock and reap giant commissions.

These are mutually beneficial relationships, as Duff is showered with expensive meals, limitless alcohol, drugs, porn, and prostitutes. Friendships and business relationships are sealed in all-night rampages as commissions fly in this high-stakes fraternity party.

In one notable episode, Duff recounts a memorable day at Galleon in the late 1990s when the firm sold off its large portfolio of tech stocks in an hour. The intent, he said, was to “short them,” or buy them back more cheaply once their price fell. Duff said he was told to buy a million shares of one of the stocks back, offering the broker 10 times the normal commission.

Apparently everyone in the Galleon office — and beyond — understood the shady nature of the transaction.

“I’m told to keep my mouth shut,” Duff wrote. “But far too many people on the Street know about the trade . . . and their reaction ranges from jealousy to awe.”

Galleon’s founder, Raj Rajaratnam, was ultimately convicted of insider trading and is currently serving 11 years in federal prison in Ayer, according to news reports.

But with this kind of high-pressure training under his belt, and a growing appetite for cocaine, Duff left Galleon to work for another of its founders. He appears to build a reputation as a shrewd trader specializing in health care-related stock, collects a seven-figure salary, and develops a taste for Dolce & Gabbana and Prada suits.

There are interesting industry insights and a general scoffing at the Securities Exchange Commission’s oversight powers, but those observations are overshadowed by Duff’s demise into a haze of drugs and porn. Although he marries a model, has a child, and acquires a beautiful home in a New York suburb, his life collapses under the weight of his addictions. It is 2007, and so too does the stock market collapse, setting off a global recession whose effects are still being felt.

The end of the book is the beginning for Duff, who needs a fresh start. His marriage is over, his house foreclosed, he lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens. He has sworn off drugs and the powerful pull of Wall Street with all its temptations. The most important part of his life, he says, is trying to be a good father to his young daughter.

In his trader heyday, he summed up his ultimate dream: to be on the cover of GQ or Vanity Fair magazines holding the strings to two puppets. One represents Wall Street, the other, Hollywood, where he envisioned himself as an influential writer or producer.

In the end, he’s not the puppeteer, he’s not controlling Wall Street or Hollywood. With this book, he’s throwing out a lifeline.

Megan Woolhouse covers economic issues for The Boston Globe. She can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.
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