One’s 30s might seem a little early to write a memoir, but Sam Polk has done a lot of living in his 35 years. For the Love of Money opens with the moment in 2011 when Polk learned that his annual hedge-fund bonus would be $3.6 million—and he was furious that it wasn’t twice as much. He then backs up to describe the steps and missteps that brought him to that point.
Polk and his twin brother, Ben, grew up in a tumultuous household in Los Angeles where there was never enough money and their narcissistic dad held sway, often abusively. Overweight and socially unskilled, both brothers were bullied until they took up wrestling, a pursuit that led Polk to Columbia University. But at Columbia, Polk descended into binge drinking, drug use and bulimia. After breaking into a dormmate’s room and stealing pot, he was asked to leave the university.
Still, Polk was competitive and ambitious, and he managed to get hired as an analyst at Bank of America, where he traded bonds and credit default swaps (CDS), and then snagged a trader position at a premier hedge fund. He’d “made it”—still in his 20s, he had an enormous Manhattan loft and a beautiful girlfriend. But he slowly came to terms with ambition’s underside: his addiction to drugs, alcohol and porn, estrangement from Ben and crippling envy. With the help of a counselor and his first boss, now a mentor, Polk gained sobriety and repaired his relationships.
Polk’s redemptive one-step-forward, one-step-back story, along with his insider’s view of Wall Street and the larger issues of income inequality, make for a memoir that’s not only revealing but also timely.