Originally published in 1923, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator is a very lively, entertaining and informative biography of the speculator Jesse Livermore who made and lost multi-million dollar fortunes many times over from the early 1900s through the 1930s. Jesse got his start in the 1890s by speculating in unregulated pseudo-brokerages called Bucket Shops, which were outlawed in the 1920s, before moving on to Wall Street and becoming one of its most famous traders. Oddly enough during my last visit to India when the Bombay Stock Exchange Sensex was peaking around 21,000 (it hit a bottom of just over 8,000 fourteen months later), I heard of people trading in bucket shops there. Even though the book recounts the actions of a speculator nearly a century ago, it is peppered with pearls of wisdom like the following,
It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It always was my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight! It is no trick at all to be right on the market. You always find lots of early bulls in bull markets and early bears in bear markets. I’ve known many men who were right at exactly the right time, and began buying or selling stocks when prices were at the very level which should show the greatest profit. And their experience invariably matched mine–that is, they made no real money out of it. Men who can both be right and sit tight are uncommon.
While there is a lot about the book and Jesse’s trading style that rankles my investment philosophy, a self-made man who made millions by being short the market in 1907 and once again in 1929 right before the crash that kicked off the great depression, deserves respect and attention. My key take aways from the book were to act with conviction when you believe you are right and to stick with your winners as mentioned above.