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Book Review of: The Complete Turtle Trader

The Legend, the Lessons, the Results

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Review of The Complete Turtle Trader, by Michael W. Covel (Hardcover, 2007)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This book tells the story of a great experiment by a legendary trader. That trader was Richard Dennis, an unlikely champion of the trading floor. Unlike the typical trader, Dennis didn't come from a connected or privileged background. He grew up on the south side of Chicago, an area noted for crime and poverty.

Yet, by age 25, Richard Dennis managed to earn $1 million in the market. By age 37, he'd made $200 million. Where did the ability to do that come from? Was it genetic? He and his partner, William Eckhardt, debated on this question. Eckhardt said it was genetic, Dennis maintained it could be learned.

That debate led to the experiment that this book is about. The experiment involved recruiting people from diverse backgrounds,  teaching them the system Dennis used, giving them funds to invest, and seeing what would happen. The name "Turtles" came about during a trip to Singapore. Richard Dennis was visiting a turtle farm and remarked, "We are going to grow traders just like they grow turtles in Singapore."

Though the Turtle experiment took place in the early 1980s, the story hasn't really been told until now. It's an interesting story in its own right: successful trader teaches other trades how to make millions. But Covel's exhaustive research and the resulting richness of detail take it to a level or two beyond that.

The Complete Turtle Trader contains fourteen chapters. Here is a synopsis:

Chapters One and Two give you the background required to understand why the experiment was so important. Chapter Three talks about who the first Turtles were, and why those particular people were hired. Chapters Four, Five, and Six explain the trading method that the Turtles used. Chapter Seven reveals some deviations in the experiment--for example, some Turtles were given far more funding than others. And in Chapter Eight, the whole thing comes to an end.

What happens after the experiment? This is where Chapter Nine picks up the story. The Turtles strike out on their own, something which is a bit complicated for a variety of reasons Covel explains. Dennis' ending of the experiment was a huge mistake for all involved, but especially for himself. So, in Chapter Ten he gets back into trading per his system. But in Chapter Eleven we see the Turtles weren't sitting around waiting for Richard Dennis to return to "the game." When he does return, he has to compete with the people he trained.

Curtis Faith, who had received exceptionally "special" treatment from Dennis as a Turtle and who was a media darling because the editors didn't look at the whole story, failed after he was on his own. Why he failed is quite interesting, and Covel provides the background on that in Chapter Twelve. Chapter Thirteen provides a look at second generation Turtles. The final chapter ties everything together and provides some thought-provoking insights.

The five Appendices provide a wealth of additional information that would have slowed the narrative down but is still worth reading in its own right. The first Appendix, for example, tells us where the Turtles are now.

The Complete Turtle Trader is well-researched, well-written, and hard to put down once you start reading it.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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