I’ve just finished reading The Big Short, by Michael Lewis. This is the fourth book I’ve read by Lewis and, as per usual, it’s an outstanding read.
The three other Lewis books I’ve read are Liar’s Poker, Moneyball and The Blind Side. Liar’s Poker was his first book, and it tells the story of his years with Salomon Brothers, a now-defunct Wall Street firm that was a major player in the bond market back in the 1980s. I also spent a lot of time on Wall Street, and knew the people Lewis talks about either personally or by reputation. It is easily one of the funniest books I have ever read, but I can understand how people who never worked on Wall Street might not have appreciated it. The Big Short is considered a sequel to Liar’s Poker. In it, Lewis talks about the reason for the market collapse in 2007/2008. It’s most definitely not funny.
Moneyball is, I think, the book that put Lewis on the map for the general public. It is a book about the business of baseball, focusing primarily on the small-budget Oakland A’s and their general manager, Billy Beane. Beane is the GM credited with being the first to focus on a player’s on-base percentage rather than his batting average or his “intangibles.” Kevin Youkilis is introduced to us as Beane’s “object of desire.” Beane coveted Youkilis so much that he referred to him as “the Greek god of walks.” Youk ends up with the Red Sox, another “Moneyball”-type team (even though the Red Sox have a much larger budget than do the A’s, GM Theo Epstein has a similar modus operandi to Beane’s) instead. It’s a terrific book that is well-worth reading.
The Blind Side is, as I mentioned before, mostly the story of Michael Oher, who is currently a professional football player with the Baltimore Ravens, and his adoptive family, the Tuohys of Memphis, Tennessee. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy, the woman who rescues Michael from his truly awful life as the child of a crack addict in the Memphis projects. The movie, which I just saw last week, is quite faithful to the book and I really enjoyed both.
Michael Lewis is an incredible writer. He has a real talent when it comes to breaking down very difficult concepts into their most basic elements and helping the reader understand them, all without talking down to his readers. I spent 12 years buying and selling bonds on Wall Street, but the whole subject of credit default swaps and related products is definitely over my head. But I have a much better understanding of the subject now, after reading The Big Short, than I did before.
Once I finished The Big Short, I started PJ O’Rourke’s latest, Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards. As is the case with every O’Rourke book or essay I have ever read, it is laugh-out-loud funny.