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They were a band of outsiders unable to get jobs with New York's gilded financial establishment. They would go on to corner the world's multitrillion-dollar oil market, reaping unimaginable riches while bringing the economy to its knees.

Meet the self-anointed kings of the New York Mercantile Exchange. In some ways, they are everything you would expect them to be: a secretive, members-only club of men and women who live lavish lifestyles; cavort with politicians, strippers, and celebrities; and blissfully jacked up oil prices to nearly $150 a barrel while profiting off the misery of the working class. In other ways, they are nothing you can imagine: many come from working-class families themselves. The progeny of Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants who escaped war-torn Europe, they take pride in flagrantly spurning Wall Street.

Under the thumb of an all-powerful international oil cartel, the energy market had long eluded the grasp of America's hungry capitalists. Neither the oil royalty of Houston nor the titans of Wall Street had ever succeeded in fully wresting away control. But facing extinction, the rough-and-tumble traders of Nymex—led by the reluctant son of a producemerchant—went after this Goliath and won, creating the world's first free oil market and minting billions in the process. Their stunning journey from poverty to prosperity belies the brutal and violent history that is their legacy.

For the first time, The Asylum unmasks the oil market's self-described "inmates" in all their unscripted and dysfunctional glory: the happily married father from Long Island whose lust for money and power was exceeded only by his taste for cruel pranks; the Italian kung fu–fighting gasoline trader whose ferocity in the trading pits earned him countless millions; the cheerful Nazi hunter who traded quietly by day and ambushed Nazi sympathizers by night; and the Irish-born femme fatale who outsmarted all but one of the exchange's chairmen—the Hungarian emigre who, try as he might, could do nothing to rein in the oil market's unruly inhabitants.

From the treacherous boardroom schemes to the hookers and blow of the trading pits; from the repeat terrorist attacks and FBI stings to the grand alliances and outrageous fortunes that brought the global economy to the brink, The Asylum ventures deep into the belly of the beast, revealing how raw ambition and the endless quest for wealth can change the very nature of both man and market.

Showcasing seven years of research and hundreds of hours of interviews, Leah McGrath Goodman reveals what really happened behind the scenes as oil prices topped out and what choice the traders ultimately made when forced to choose between their longtime brotherhood and their precious oil monopoly.

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