How to Lose $900,000
By David Futrelle

(MONEY Magazine) – He should have just bought himself a Porsche. Four years ago, with the Nasdaq flying high and seemingly everyone else transforming into overnight millionaires, New Yorker film critic David Denby threw himself headlong into the manic stock market in a desperate attempt to distract himself from his crumbling marriage and make some quick bucks to boot. A very expensive mid-life crisis indeed: Denby's rash--and spectacularly mistimed--bets on tech stocks quickly turned sour, leaving him $900,000 in the hole on paper. (He's since recovered somewhat.)

American Sucker (Little Brown, $25) is the 60-year-old Denby's attempt to make sense of the three years he spent as a buzzing, babbling market junkie--trading stock tips with strangers on the subway, furtively sneaking off to watch CNBC in empty conference rooms in the New Yorker offices, even managing to wrangle some face time with two of Wall Street's most insidious charmers: boy-wonder Internet analyst Henry Blodget and ImClone founder Sam Waksal. At a time when Denby was overwhelmed by marital grief, his stock market plunge "got the blood flowing through my veins" again. That it did: The Denby that emerges in this book makes even hyperactive Jim Cramer look almost somnambulant.

As he did in Great Books, a 1996 account of his mid-life return to Columbia University to take on the philosophical big boys, Denby tries to conjure up some Big Lessons from it all. His insights--"Money hunger is necessary for many as a motivation for hard work"--ain't exactly Aristotle. The most important lesson that Denby learned? "It's a terrible mistake to make major investment decisions when you're in a state of distress." So true. --D.F.