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Back to the Futures

Who says learning about futures markets has to be boring?

Many people believe that only those with a background in economics can understand complicated futures markets. But what if you could learn more about these mysterious markets today—and have fun while doing it?

Introducing Back to the Futures—a unique book that explains futures markets through an engaging storytelling format that is sure to keep you entertained.

Whether you are a student, aspiring commodity trader, or curious learner, this book will ease you into the world of trading without causing unnecessary confusion in the process!

You can grasp an in-depth look at the futures market, how it works, and how it affects our economy.

Build the foundation of your futures market education today!

Back to the Futures can be purchased at the following sites:

Amazon: black & white paperback, color hardcover, and ebook

Barnes & Noble: black & white paperback, color paperback, and ebook

ebook only: Apple Books, Google Play, Kobo, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, and Vivlio

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Explore the fascinating world of the futures market today (without falling asleep in the process)!

Futures markets are a mystery. Fortunes are made and lost in these markets, yet most people know little about how they work. 

In Back to the Futures, agricultural economist Scott Irwin explains why it’s essential to understand futures markets, whether you’re talking about soybeans, cattle, or the largest market of them all—crude oil. These massive markets lie at the heart of our economy, affecting us all.

Irwin’s engaging storytelling style brings the madcap world of futures trading to life, drawing you in by sharing his wild, life-threatening adventures with motorcycles, snowmobiles, race cars, farm equipment, and renegade cows while growing up on an Iowa farm.

Back to the Futures will keep you riveted as he explains how to reduce risk in today’s intense arena of commodity trading. This unique book brings in other experts as well, such as Terry Duffy, CEO of the CME Group (the largest commodity trading exchange in the world), and Leo Melamed, the man who revolutionized the market with electronic trading. Together, these experts combine their knowledge and experiences to provide clarity on the following topics:

  • Why future markets are crucial for farmers and consumers
  • The critical role future markets play in our financial system
  • The role speculators play in making these markets work 
  • And much more

Commodity futures trading has become a vital part of doing business in America. So, get ready to learn something new–and don’t be surprised if you find yourself highly entertained along the journey!

Press Releases:

Back to the Futures Book Launch Press Release (April 19, 2023)

New Book Chronicles Personal, Professional Journey Studying Futures Markets (April 11, 2023) Illinois News Bureau Press Release

Book Trailer:

Media Interviews and Podcasts:

Click here for links


“As one of the most respected voices in agriculture, Dr. Scott Irwin has been studying, teaching, and participating in the world of commodity futures since growing up on his family farm in Iowa. There is no higher expert or more captivating storyteller to explain how these critical markets have developed over the decades while articulating the significant impact they have on the global economy, agribusiness and everyday lives.”

—Terry Duffy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, CME Group

“…I’d recommend that anyone involved in agriculture, raising boys, or shopping at the grocery store should immediately stop whatever they are doing and read this book. Irwin tells the story of growing up in rural Iowa, which, if his life is any indication, is fraught with near death experiences. The stories are laugh out loud funny, since we know he survived long enough to write this book. Irwin makes the case for futures markets as essential to the ability of our economy to distribute risk to those who are best able to handle that risk. He makes his case in a manner that is accessible to the general reader, but still a sophisticated explanation of how futures transfer risk and smooth the workings of our mostly market economy. When commodity prices increase, we often hear criticism of speculation. Irwin has made a career of answering those criticisms with data, logic, and good cheer, and this book is a capstone to that remarkable career. I’m glad he wrote the book, and would recommend it to everyone.” 

—Blake Hurst, Farmer, Author, and Past President of Missouri Farm Bureau

“Half memoir, half futures market primer, this delightful story of farm-kid turned world-renowned professor of commodity markets is as entertaining as it is educational.”

—Jayson Lusk, Distinguished Professor and Head of Agricultural Economics Department, Purdue University

“Scott Irwin has written the book on risk and the commodity markets that I wish had been available when I was researching Merchants of Grain more than 40 years ago. In Back to the Futures, he breaks all the molds governing writing about agriculture and economics, beginning with violating the commandment that says, ‘thou shalt always be boring.’ In a brilliant stroke of imagination, he connects his heart-stopping youthful adventures on his family’s farm to the risks accepted by modern commodity traders with billions of dollars at stake. The result is a page turner of a book that mixes erudite explanation, fascinating snippets from the bad old early days of the markets, and tales of a kid’s country hell-raising. Admirers of Irwin’s always essential economic research will never again think of him as a nerdy academic.”

—Dan Morgan, Best-Selling Author of Merchants of Grain and Former Agriculture Reporter for The Washington Post


Can anyone learn about the commodity futures market?

Of course. No matter your experience or educational background, you can learn how the commodity futures market works. Not only is it possible, but it is necessary.

However, there are many training tools and programs out there that complicate the process. This is why we wanted to write a book that can break down the markets for anyone. It doesn’t need to be a mystery, nor does the learning process need to be boring! This was what initially propelled us to write this book in a storytelling and engaging manner.

Why do I need to learn about the commodity futures market?

Commodity futures trading is the heartbeat of the American economy. It is a vital part of doing business in this country and plays a critical role in our financial system. This is a market where people can buy or sell futures contracts on certain types of commodities. Understanding this design will allow you to be financially prepared for anything and will help you make better financial decisions, stabilize prices, and hedge against inflation.

If you are impacted by the American economy in any way, then this book is for you, as it will teach you all about how commodity futures market work.

Will this book teach me what a commodity trader does?

Yes. Through riveting stories, you will learn the role of a commodity trader, how commodities such as grain and cattle are traded, and why traders play a vital influence on global markets and the price of commodities.

Is this a beginner’s guide to commodity trading?

If you have never before read a book on commodity futures market, you can start with this one. This book will not necessarily dive into how to successfully trade, but it will give you a broader understanding of how tradings operate and how commodity futures market work.

Will this teach me the basics of how to trade commodities?

In this book on commodity futures market, multiple experts provide insight based on their unique experiences in this market. You will find yourself entertained as you learn the basics on how to reduce risk in today’s intense arena of commodity trading and gain clarity on how to trade commodities.

Will this teach me the role of commodity trading in the economy?

Yes. You will come away from this book with a greater understanding of how commodities are central to global financial markets and how commodity futures markets work.


Back to the Futures is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn about the commodity futures market.

You don’t need to enroll in a $100+ course just to learn a simplified overview of how the futures market work.

Your education can start now.

Sign up for Scott’s mailing list to receive notifications about Back to the Futures. Scott also uses the email list to alert people about new papers, latest farmdoc daily articles, presentations, podcasts, or anything else he thinks is really interesting. He promises to never spam your inbox or share your personal information. The link to sign up for email updates is found below:


Scott Irwin

Scott Irwin holds the Laurence J. Norton Chair of Agricultural Marketing in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned a B.S. in agricultural business from Iowa State University and both an M.S. and a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Purdue University.

Scott is a global thought leader in the field of agricultural economics. His research on commodity markets is widely cited by other academic researchers and is in high demand among farmers, market analysts, traders, and policymakers. He is regularly interviewed by leading media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, Bloomberg, National Public Radio, Farm Journal, and Successful Farming.

Scott has published hundreds of scholarly articles and is best known for his work on commodity speculation and biofuels. He has also written articles and op-eds for the The New York Times, Washington Times, and Time magazine. He is the most widely followed agricultural economist in the world on social media, with over 28,000 Twitter followers.

In addition to his research, Scott is a pioneer in developing agricultural extension programs that have helped hundreds of thousands of farmers in Illinois, the U.S., and throughout the world make more informed production, marketing, and financial decisions. His leadership and vision have been the driving force behind the award-winning farmdoc project at the University of Illinois since its inception in 1999. The articles on farmdoc have earned a place on the “must read” list of farmers, educators, journalists, traders, market analysts, and policy- makers around the globe. This has earned farmdoc the title of “the Wall Street Journal of ag business.”

During his career, Scott has taught a wide range of courses to hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students. This includes courses on Commodity Price Analysis, Commodity Futures and Options Markets, Introductory Statistics, Agricultural Finance, and Futures Market Research. He is regularly ranked as an outstanding teacher at the University of Illinois. In addition, he has served as academic advisor to more than forty M.S. and Ph.D. students.

Scott has received numerous awards during his career from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), the leading professional association of agricultural economists in the world. He was named a Fellow in 2013, the highest honor bestowed by the Association. He has also received the Distinguished Group Extension Program Award (four times), the Quality of Research Discovery Award (two times), the Quality of Communication Award, and the Bruce Gardner Memorial Prize for Applied Policy Analysis.

Doug Peterson

Doug Peterson is a Gold-Medallion-winning author of seventy-nine books and has been a writer for the University of Illinois for over forty years.

Seven of his books are historical novels, with five of them based on real people. For instance, The Disappearing Man tells the true story of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who mailed himself to freedom. In 1849, Brown escaped by shipping himself in a box from Richmond to Philadelphia. This book was chosen by Canton, Ohio, for its “One Book, One Community” celebration.

Doug has authored forty-two children’s books for the popular VeggieTales series, and he was co-storywriter for the best-selling VeggieTales video, Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed. He also co-wrote six fantasy comic books and is currently developing a series of American history comic books, illustrated by Marvel artists.

At the University of Illinois, Doug has written for numerous colleges and departments. He specializes in interviewing professors about their research and translating their work into stories that a lay person can understand—much the same as he did with Scott Irwin in Back to the Futures.

In addition to his novels, non-fiction, comic books, and children’s books, Doug has written two stage plays on historical figures and many magazine features and short stories. His short story, “The Career of Horville Sash,” was even made into a music video featuring Grammy-winner Jennifer Warnes. He also co-wrote “Roman Ruins,” part of the best-selling How to Host a Murder mystery role-playing games.

You can find him online at, or on Facebook under “Doug Peterson Author.”


“As someone deeply involved in the legislative and regulatory history of the commodity futures industry, I was extremely impressed with this most interesting and behind the scenes background of the stories explaining the commodity futures markets. Fascinating and understandable reading for both the experts and novices in this important business.  I learned a lot and really enjoyed it.”

—Dan Glickman, Former U.S. Congressman and Secretary of Agriculture

“Critics of futures markets blame speculators for both price increases and price declines. Somehow, the inherent contradiction of their knee-jerk scapegoating never seems to dawn on them. Scott Irwin, a renown agricultural economist, has spent a good part of his career dispelling misconceptions and ignorance about markets with solid research and facts. Back to the Futures chronicles these experiences as well as providing a tour of key historical events and perplexities in futures markets.  Back to the Futures provides a breezy read filled with anecdotes related to market events and the author’s accident-prone life.”

—Jack Schwager, Futures Market Analyst, Trader, and Best-Selling Author of Market Wizards

“Scott Irwin has penned a marvelous intellectual autobiography–complete with dirt bikes, stock cars, trucks, and tractors.  Back to the Futures mixes highly entertaining personal anecdotes (mainly involving near tragic interactions with aforesaid machinery) with serious discussions of scholarship relating to a hardy perennial in debates over commodity markets–whether speculation on futures markets distorts commodity prices.  The personal anecdotes are more than interludes: they are really parables that illustrate findings Scott discusses in the scholarship-focused chapters and how he arrived at them.  In presenting these findings to a wider audience in such an entertaining fashion, Back to the Futures is an important contribution to matters that are not merely of academic interest.”

—Craig Pirrong, Professor of Finance and Director of the Global Energy Management Institute, University of Houston

“Scott Irwin’s lifelong fascination with buying and selling grain invigorates this economic page-turner. It’s a love letter to farm life in the Midwest, a confessional tale about fathers and sons making bad bets in the market, and a revealing, first-hand account of intellectual battles over whether those markets work for the common good. You’ll never look at corn prices in quite the same way again.”

—Dan Charles, Former National Public Radio Reporter and Science Journalist

“I love this book, especially how the author has weaved in his childhood memories of risk-taking. Scott explains the complex world of commodity trading in a way that is easy to understand and enjoyable to read. It is the perfect book for young people thinking of getting into the sector or for anyone looking to learn more about how food ends up on their table. Bravo, Scott, for taking this initiative and bringing it to completion.”

—Jonathan Kingsman, Author of Commodity Conversations and the New Merchants of Grain

“Irwin and Peterson take us on an entertaining and wild ride to explain futures markets in all their glory. Interspersed with the risk-taking stories from an adolescent childhood centered around the farms in Iowa, they intuitively (and entertainingly) explain all about futures contracts and markets—the most established, time honored risk management tools and venues in the world. Risk management at its finest!  A fun read, an educational gem, and well worth taking the ride for learning about futures from stories reflected in the rearview mirror.”  

—Jeff Harris, Gary D. Cohn Goldman Sachs Chair in Finance and former Chief Economist of the CFTC

“Academics can be a boring lot…but Irwin and Peterson break the mold with an entertaining and enlightening trip through the world of commodity futures markets.  Peppered with good-humored parodies, puns, and wit, the prose easily engages the reader. The trading stories and interviews with industry giants—such as Leo Melamed—are just icing on the cake. Anyone with an interest in agriculture or futures markets will enjoy this read.”

—Dwight Sanders, Professor of Agribusiness Economics, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

“I’ve worked at the Chicago Board of Trade for over 20 years and even today my family will ask, “Now what is it that you do?” …through the eminently entertaining adventures of Scott, Jack, and Elvis, I may finally be able to answer that elusive question.  If you enjoy an entertaining read and don’t mind learning a bit about markets during the process, then this book is for you too.”

—Fred Seamon, Agricultural Markets Executive Director, CME Group

“Dr. Irwin, the inveterate Iowa farm boy, weaves a series of fascinating stories of youthful risk and survival into a compelling description of commodity trading and the critical role that the speculative risk-taker in futures market plays in stabilizing the system.   His scholarship, intimate knowledge of the market, its history and characters adds a compelling level of authenticity to the perspectives that he offers.  Above all, he has the courage to speak his convictions whether before a congressional committee or to a group of farmers.  A real ‘page-turner’ indeed.”

—Bob Easter, President Emeritus, University of Illinois

“Scott Irwin is the preeminent scholar in the area of agricultural futures markets. So when I saw this book, I expected it be Introduction to Futures 101. Instead, it is a fascinating autobiography about growing up in Iowa, taking extreme risks and making mistakes trading futures. Just as one can learn and remember a lot of history from historical fiction one can read this book and learn about futures without ever thinking of it as work.”

—Dermot Hayes, Pioneer Chair in Agribusiness and Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University

 “Back To The Futures…is a fun read that you’ll find difficult to put down. It’s a read that I highly recommend, for it will make a positive difference for your farm as well. Some might argue that today’s commodity markets are impossible to understand, but Irwin’s humorous stories break the commodity markets into basic, easy to understand principles that provide a new understanding to their value to the farm. It’s a book you’ll want on your coffee table to reference often.”

—Arlan Suderman, Chief Commodities Economist, StoneX

“Jumping from the farm to the ‘trading pit’/boardroom and back, the book provides those with no prior understanding a fascinating look at the role and evolution of the futures markets.  Irwin and Peterson bring to life the risks, energy, emotion, and characters that have shaped something which impacts our lives daily with the insight that only someone who has lived and studied the markets for a lifetime can provide.  When you finish Back to the Futures, you will wonder how Scott Irwin is still alive, but you will also have new insights into the why, how and where of these markets that play such a fundamental role in global commerce.”

—Jay Akridge, Trustee Chair in Teaching and Learning Excellence, Provost Emeritus, Purdue University

Back to the Futures is a must read for anyone interested in commodity futures markets.  Irwin and Peterson brilliantly weave together first-hand stories of rural life and risk taking in explaining the important role of futures markets in our economy.  As a university professor who teaches classes and conducts research in the area of futures and options markets, Back to the Futures will certainly be on the reading list for my students.” 

—Mark Manfredo, Professor of Agribusiness and Dean’s Council Distinguished Scholar, Arizona State University

“This book brings commodity markets to life. In his distinguished academic career, Scott Irwin has written at length about how commodity markets work, busting myths and bringing clarity.  But, academic publications reveal only a glimpse of his unbridled enthusiasm for the markets, which jumps out of these pages through stories of childhood shenanigans, college stunts and mysterious gophers. Through these stories, Scott explains the inner workings of commodity markets and the things he has learned about them — things he has taught the world through his academic writing. I learned a lot from this page turner.”

—Aaron Smith, DeLoach Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of California-Davis

“Irwin is an economist and passionate defender of the futures market and speculation. This account of his life—and of his ‘lifelong quest to understand the commodity futures markets,’ as he puts it—blends first-person takes with interviews of industry leaders to highlight a business that he clearly loves.”

—Emily Lambert, author of The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World’s Biggest Markets