“The Secret Club That Runs the World,” by Kate Kelly

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Business bookshelf: 'The Secret Club That Runs the World'

  • July 19, 2014 - 2:00 PM

the secret

club that runs the world

Kate Kelly, Portfolio Penguin, 264 pages, $29.95

Commodity traders make good villains. They are rich because they are secretive, well-informed and ruthless. The beans, metals and grains that they trade affect every part of modern life. Consumers can blame them for high prices, farmers for low ones. Politicians worry that they rig the markets they operate in.

Outsiders know surprisingly little about this world, and Kate Kelly, a reporter with CNBC, has done a good job of shedding light on some of the personalities who dominate it. She has a sharp eye for detail, noting how commodity traders can seem pampered: “Maybe they spend half the summer in Provence or Nantucket, working remotely from a Bloomberg terminal in their home office while their kids are minded by a live-in nanny.” The reader learns a lot about nerve-racking trades and takeovers, though the episodes do not create a real narrative.

This failing is most notable at the end of the book, which trails off in a series of inconclusive details. But the book’s biggest weakness is that the contents at no point come close to justifying the promise of the title. Commodity trading has plenty of secrets, but as a whole it is not a closed world, particularly now that some of the biggest participants are publicly traded companies. And if commodity traders run the world, the book gives no hint of how they do so. Scams and schemes abound in commodity trading but Kelly does not even come close to proving that consumers or end-users are systematically overcharged, or producers defrauded, or that the traders use their political heft to evade justice.

Kelly’s talents as a reporter and writer are well displayed in this book. But readers wanting serious insights will feel she has been let down by her editors.


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