Plot/Idea: Back to the Futures brilliantly captures how critical markets have developed over the decades, expertly detailing the major impact they've had on business and economic society. Irwin studies the complex nature of futures markets, weaving his own life story into the mix, creating not only a thoroughly enlightening journey into the world of commodity trading, but a highly entertaining memoir too.
Prose: Irwin's text is accessible for both experts and novices in the field, containing several humorous anecdotes and precisely researched data. Back to the Futures delves into the history and processes involved in future markets and commodities trading in a fun and enlightening fashion.
Originality: Irwin deftly presents fascinating behind-the-scenes stories that are written in a bright, engaging style. Laden with excellent real-life examples, the guide transmits complex financial procedures simply and effectively. Back to the Futures is a must-read for anyone interested in the field.
Character/Execution: Irwin is a captivating storyteller. His life story revolves around the development of his agricultural business from the ground up. He effectively blends his upbringing with a detailed analysis of the economic markets in a fresh and captivating manner. His daring youthful adventures with close friend Jack and the absorbing story of Duffy and Schreiber on the stock market floor are standouts.
Date Submitted: November 23, 2023
In clear and personable language, Irwin offers an illuminating introduction to the ins and outs of the business of supply and demand, hedging in agricultural economics, and controversies over future trading. Balancing the complex details of trading with the antics of his childhood is an unorthodox approach, but the choice creates an inviting narrative while revealing the workings of commodity markets. With the goal to "shed light on the market's mystery in a way that is understandable to the average person,” Irwin shares insight through his hard-won experience and the knowledge of other experts such as Terry Duffy, the owner of the largest commodity trading exchange in the world. Exploring the "global controversy" of speculation in future markets, ways to manage price risks, and what it means to "corner the market", Irwin delves into economics, consumership, and "systemic risk.”
With persuasive power, Back to the Futures defends "the vital role" of speculators, what he considers the dangers of over-regulation, and the importance of future trading in the global economic financial system. Irwin's chronicling of his childhood scraps (being hit by a Pepsi truck; running from rogue steers) and his personal experience in the business of future trading make for an informative and engaging resource.
Takeaway: Rousing introduction to and defense of future trading, with stunts.
Comparable Titles: Emily Lambert's The Futures, Thomas Smith's Futures Trading
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Farmboy-turned-economist Scott Irwin uses entertaining stories from his life to introduce basic concepts of commodities futures in Back to the Futures.
Irwin grew up on a farm in Iowa, and that experience gave him firsthand knowledge about the practical aspects of commodities futures. Although futures are often dismissed as the stuff of speculators, Irwin explains how buying and selling futures contracts can allow farmers and others to “hedge their bets,” in effect “buying insurance” and locking in a price for their product, whether it be corn, oil, silver, cattle, sugar, or other goods.
Irwin’s approach to his subject is oblique, charming, and effective. Unlike a typical finance author, he shares stories of risky behavior and near-death experiences from his younger days, using each as a launching pad for another lesson about commodities futures. That format, which might seem to risk being clunky or contrived, instead flows smoothly and offers suspense, humor, and real-world action—even including examples from popular movies to illuminate the workings of the futures market—to balance out the intellectual side of the book.
The prose is delivered in a strong, knowledgeable, yet humble voice that paints a vivid picture of young Irwin’s town, friends, and neighbors. In one example, stories about a friend’s reckless snowmobile and auto driving provide a transition to a section explaining futures market speculation: “Jack’s daredevil attitude in these misadventures is a fitting representation of the spirit of a speculator.”
Irwin has a gift for clear, simple examples, as when he explains “cornering the market” through the popular card game of Hearts. He also focuses on his own career and academic work, much of which defends the open market and speculators from government intrusion and restrictions. Two sections of photos display Irwin’s Iowan roots and business moments.
In all, Back to the Futures is a unique, fun, and educational guide to understanding commodities futures.
Irwin, an agricultural economist, with Peterson, a veteran university writer, recollects a risk-taking youth and defends futures market speculation.
Irwin grew up on his father’s farm in Bagley, Iowa. Before he became a farmer, Irwin’s father managed grain elevators, and as a result he always keenly followed the agricultural markets. From him, the author inherited a deep intellectual interest in the workings of the market, particularly in the category of agricultural futures (“I was a market nerd from a young age”). He attended Iowa State University—his father planned for him to become a “superfarmer,” but Irwin became fascinated by agricultural economics, a subject in which he would earn a doctorate from Purdue University. Irwin tells three parallel stories in this eclectic memoir: his wild risk-taking as a youth, the nature of futures speculation as a kind of rationally managed embracing of risk, and his own experience as an agricultural economist defending futures speculation. This last element forms the core of the memoir: As a counterpoint to the popular caricature of futures speculators as “villains” who befoul the market through their “sinister manipulations,” he accessibly presents them as necessary and largely helpful participants in the market. “Futures markets are not mere curiosities, for they sit at the very heart of our economy. They function as a critical nerve center for the market economy and are important to everyone. Futures markets set the prices for some of the most important commodities in our global economy…” In the main, Irwin convincingly argues, they assist the market in the management and distribution of risk, inject much-needed liquidity, and, since they must contend with considerable exposure to financial danger, they enhance the market’s overall rationality. Irwin’s outline of the futures market is remarkably clear and should be comprehensible even for those with a modest background in economics. The text is written in an engaging, personal, anecdotal style that adds a human element to material that, by its very nature, threatens to become academically dry; it’s hard to imagine a more enjoyably readable book about the subject.
An entertaining and instructive blend of economic theory and personal remembrance.
Every year since 2014, the Non-Obvious Company has reviewed nonfiction books published throughout the year and selected the best of the best -- the most insightful, the most impactful, the most "non-obvious" -- for their annual book awards. This year, they're partnering with Inc. to produce the 2023 Inc. Non-Obvious Book Awards, showcasing the best business books for entrepreneurs and other business leaders, as selected by Non-Obvious Company founder Rohit Bhargava. Scott Irwn and Doug Peterson's book Back to the Futures: Crashing Dirt Bikes, Chasing Cows, and Unravelling the Mysteries of Commodity Futures Markets was named one of the Top 100 Non-Fiction Books for 2023 in this competition.