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Wall Street's 'Religion'

If we were making a laundry list of everything that can be depraved about human work, Young Money would hit nearly all the highlights:

Boring, Repetitive Labor. "Many entry level bankers conceive of themselves as lumps of body mass who perform uncreative and menial work, and whose time can be exchanged for labor at any moment."

Measuring the Worth of Employees with Dollars. "In Jeremy's little corner of the trading world, all that mattered was a person's P&L and a related number, called 'gross credits' (or just 'GCs'), which measured revenue generated by a single employee."

Isolating Your Morals from Your Work. "Many of the Wall Street analysts I'd met were thoughtful, robust ethical thinkers in their private lives. But professionally, they were foot soldiers."

Loss of Freedom. "'It's not the hours that kill you—it's the lack of control of the hours,' one analyst told me. 'My life doesn't belong to me anymore.'"

Choosing a Job for Money, not Gifting, Personal Interest or Serving Others. "Chelsea didn't mind working hard. She had come to Wall Street for the money, and she knew that long weeks and grueling projects were part of the deal."

Toss in oppressive hours, work-imposed illness, crushed relationships, and a dash of despair drowned out by drug use and one-night stands, and Roose's portrayal of Wall Street is like a handbook for everything work shouldn't be.

Yet Roose's narrative tells a deeper story. It's the story of how an industry can shape a soul. Ricardo Hernandez, for instance, studied biology at Cornell in hopes of becoming a doctor. Five months into his first year at J. P. Morgan, he gained 15 pounds, cut out dinners and movies with his girlfriend, and complained about "only" getting a $20,000 bonus. "That's an insulting number." The culture of finance, Roose shows, often draws young, unsuspecting graduates into a spiritual abyss.

"In some ways, Ricardo's Wall Street education reminded me of the kinds of transitions I'd seen while writing about evangelical Christianity," Roose remembers, referencing his 2009 book The Unlikely Disciple, a surprisingly fair portrayal of conservative, evangelical Liberty University written while Roose was attending Brown University. "Wall Street, like a religion, had its own rules, regulations, and enforced cultural norms. And being new, you were expected to blend in as quickly as possible." This "religion" did indeed shape the thoughts, minds, spirits, and even bodies of its unsuspecting adherents.

Roose, however, can sometimes give a misleading portrayal of finance. There are actually good people in the industry—"impact investors," for example, who invest in socially responsible businesses. In Young Money there are precious few laudable financiers, other than the young analysts who dream of leaving Wall Street for a tech startup.

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