The Complete Turtle Trader Review
The latest in the Two Blokes Trading series of classic trading book reviews; The Complete Turtle Trader.
Author: Michael W. Covel
Subject: Trend trading and the true story of the ‘Turtle Traders’
Pages: 269 - paperback
Audiobook: 10hrs, 8 mins
First Published: 2007 + 2009
Who’s it for: Traders interested in trend trading & anyone who likes a good trading story
Reputation: The TurtleTrader story has a place in trading legend and Covel is the clear authority on the Turtles
The Good: Great story, fast paced, truly inspirational
The Bad: Covel’s evangelical attachment to trend following, the negativity of the ‘afterword’
Recommendation: Very Interesting
Buy it HERE
The Complete Turtle Trader Review - Turtle Trading
The Complete Turtle Trader is the definitive book on the legendary share trading story of the Turtle experiment of the early 1980s, and Michael Covel is the standout authority on the area. The Turtle Trader came into being in 1983 following a ‘Trading Places’ style bet between two hedge fund managers, Richard Dennis and Bill Eckhardt. The bet was simple - is profitable trading an innate skill or can it be taught? This blistering story and the astonishing success of the Turtle Traders proved that nurture trumps nature, at least in this particular arena.
Dennis recruits a diverse range of 23 non-traders and teaches them his trend trading secrets, before letting them loose to trade his own millions. Covel previously published Trend Following and makes no secret of his belief in the superiority of trend trading over all other forms of trading. The Turtles were trend traders par excellence and Covel’s awe and respect for the founder of the Turtles, Richard Dennis, comes across strongly.
From the many interviews I have conducted for the Two Blokes Trading podcast it can sometimes seem that a lot of spread betting and forex traders have a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to trading. That is to say that, despite all manner of traders being demonstrably profitable over long periods of time, many traders genuinely seem to believe that it is impossible to make money consistently with any style of trading but their own. If you are not a fan of trend following or ‘price action’ trading, then I urge you to put aside any tribal dislike you may feel for Covel’s trend following evangelism and just enjoy the book for what it is - a unique and inspiring story.
Covel is very good at bringing personalities to life, and in the Turtles and the surrounding figures, he has some big personalities to play with. One of the best parts of the book is the beginning. Covel tracks the rise of Richard Dennis from teenage trader, through the pits of Chicago’s commodity markets and on to running a hedge fund from a skyscraper office. Although it is written to provide the background to the main story, Dennis’ rise to fame and riches is almost as inspiring as the Turtles themselves.
Covel has the knack of revealing enough of the characters that we feel we can understand them, but all the while remembering that they are real people, not fiction, and neither he nor the reader can ever truly know what makes them tick. To read the story of an undoubtedly magnificent trader who managed millions in client funds, but struggled with many of the same day-to-day trading psychology issues that affect us all, is equal parts comforting and terrifying!
Covel has a succinct writing style that leaves you ripping quickly through the book. This is a gripping story and if you have even a passing interest in trading, or just like a good plot, then this will be an easy and quick read.
Covel clearly feels himself to be a part of the Turtle’s world, describing himself as ‘sitting at the nexus of access and insight from some of the best trading minds on the planet’. Covel runs turtletrader.com and has been writing about them since 1996 - he even appears to have trademarked the phrase TurtleTrader. It clearly rankles with him that some of the Turtles don’t like him making money off their story, and his personal feelings about this group of people come across loud and clear in the book.
For the most part this doesn’t get in the way of the writing or story in the main book, but the ‘afterword’ in the 2009 paperback edition seems mostly to have been written to settle scores after the original publication caused some friction. Some of the Turtles who refused Covel an interview or actively tried to obstruct publication of the book come in for some rough treatment. Curtis Faith, in particular, gets a bit of a savaging. A quick Google and you will see that Faith published his own Turtle exposé in 2007; perhaps Covel feels the need to protect the public from a man who he believes is not a good trader, perhaps he just feels a little threatened by an insider writing a similar book to him. Curtis Faith is clearly not a person you would want to have managing your money (Covel documents his jail time here), and bringing this to our attention is admirable, but the way Covel writes about him it really looks like personal enmity, which is tiresome.
Covel acknowledges that the afterword may seem ‘petty’, but believes that it is insightful to the reader to lift the curtain on some of the ‘drama’. Personally, I didn’t feel that it added much. It is a bit of a comedown to read so many pages of negativity at the end of a such an inspiring book and perhaps the decision to leave it out of the original edition was the correct one. This minor gripe aside, the meat of the book is superb.
If you are looking for a trading system to go and implement today, then reading The Complete Turtle Trader is probably not the most efficient way of going about that. Whilst Covel does present all of the ‘rules’ that Richard Dennis taught his Turtles, if it was as simple as just following some rules from 1983 in today’s world then, given the 150,000+ copies of the book sold, you would expect to see rather more trend-following gazillionaires knocking around than we do.
But, if you are looking for a jumping off point, in price action or trend following, or even just looking for a share trading creed to hang your colours on, then you could do worse than starting with this book.
Covel has a new book out in 2017 - if you like the ideas here and are looking for an up-to-date set of rules, perhaps that will be a good place to look. (But definitely read this book too!)
If you are not looking for instruction, but merely entertainment, then don’t worry - this book is still well worth the read. I for one already have a trading system in place that has nothing to do with the price-based, trend following, market agnostic rules of the Turtles - but that in no way dampened my enjoyment of the story. As said above, if you can put aside any tribal differences (hard for traders, I know!) and accept that these people clearly did make money with the system they traded, then it is great fun.
Quite apart from enjoying the ride, this must also count as one of the most inspirational trading books ever written. The story is quite literally proof that anyone -anyone!- can become a wildly profitable trader. Ok, anyone with a modicum of discipline and intelligence - but that includes you, right? It would also seem to suggest that once profitable, if you have some business nous, the ability to market yourself, and the attitude to seize opportunities, then there is no reason you can’t go on to manage millions or even billions in the hedge fund industry, as many of the Turtles have done.
Richard Dennis’ legacy, cemented in this superb book by Michael Covel, is to show every retail trader, or wannabe trader, that if they can find a way to get consistently profitable, and stay that way, then there is no limit to their potential trading success, no matter who they are.
The Complete Turtle Trader