In MARKETS, veteran business writer Martin Mayer provides a glimpse into the institutions through which exchanges are made and prices set. He characterizes the major world markets--Chicago (where anything with a price that moves can be traded), Tokyo (where the vast savings of Japanese families lie expectant), London (where anything can happen as long as it does not corrupt British markets), and New York (where the buck stops)--providing a historical perspective in each case and intimating how each was involved in the stock-market crash of 1987. Though the primary commodity of the markets he covers is stocks and their derivatives, such as options and index futures, he provides examples of market processes using other tradables such as gold, Ginnie Maes, and Eurobonds.

MARKETS develops a perspective that contrasts the interests of dealers and traders with those of producers and consumers, suggesting how the imperatives of the former jeopardized the financial well-being of the latter during the stock market run-up and crash of 1987. His analysis culminates in some rather provocative recommendations for mending the system before it deteriorates further: a transfer tax on all stock trades, greater transparency in all types of trading transactions, the withdrawal of tax exemptions on the trading profits of pension funds and endowments, and equal taxation on the returns of all fixed capital, whether interest or dividends.

Though MARKET’s stated audience is the general reader, it seems in fact back-handedly directed toward market participants, a tactic by which glossy oversimplification--which, to the market-wise, belies ignorance--can be excused by its professed intent. At several points Mayer seems to ridicule the general reader: His prologue is subtitled “A Guide for the Bewildered,” and, after grinding through an example of index-futures option transactions, he addresses his general reader directly with, “You can read it twice, or three times, or you can take my word for it.” This latter passage typifies a style that is alternatingly turgid and snippy. The book is also unfocused and disorganized, perhaps because it was begun before the 1987 crash and completed after it.