I work for a Wall Street firm - though about as far out in the orbit as one can be while still technically employed - and while I liked this book, I'mI work for a Wall Street firm - though about as far out in the orbit as one can be while still technically employed - and while I liked this book, I'm not sure I would have found it quite so engaging if I didn't recall so vividly the weeks at the center of the narrative, the anxiety that our firm might fail and we might all be jobless, the emails to staff that are quoted by the author (and come off, to me anyway, strangely more sincerely than they did at the time).
Having said that, the level of detail, the feeling of in-the-room-ness, is an extraordinary feat in itself, and Sorkin does a good job (as far as we know, anyway) bringing together the hundreds of interlocking narratives. He makes the decision to give each character the benefit of the doubt as to his motives, never questioning (until the epilogue) their decisions or reasoning. This aspirational approach, applied as it was to a group of people rarely treated in the public imagination as anything other than villains jumping gleefully into grottoes of taxpayer-funded gold coins, felt a bit funny to me for awhile, but began to make sense as Sorkin brought in multiple accounts of the same events and I realized that the characters were happily damning themselves or each other with their own words, and didn't need the author to do it. Sorkin didn't need to call Dick Fuld any names - Fuld's own recollections lay bare enough his strange behavior and catastrophic decisions.
The book's brief is to recall in painstaking detail the events of (primarily) September and October 2008, so there's very little in here about the underlying causes of the financial (let alone economic) crisis; for those issues readers should look elsewhere....more
Lewis is an addictive writer. You never want to put his stuff down, and he is often riotously funny. But I did come away from this (and from The BlindLewis is an addictive writer. You never want to put his stuff down, and he is often riotously funny. But I did come away from this (and from The Blind Side) with the feeling that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The individual episodes are fantastic, but at the end you realize that it's a little weak as a single long narrative. Lewis isn't great at keeping to linear explanation, and at times that fails his purpose.
I don't want to let that dissuade anyone from reading this, though. The first third of the book alone is worth the list price and it's awfully readable the whole way through....more
Michael Lewis sometimes does this thing that bothers me: he starts a thread, then leaves it hanging; starts another, and leaves that one hanging; and you feel like all these loose threads are going to combine into a fantastic ending, but in fact he's just done with them. In other words he's like a phenomenal magazine writer who finds some difficulty in combining pieces into a book-length narrative. But I didn't find that to be the case with this book at all. Aside from some annoying repetition, which Chris pointed out in the comments before I wrote this review, all the pieces come together in a satisfying way.
Of the three main narratives, each takes place at a slightly different remove from the crisis's epicenter, but all have the same anticipatory feel, which leaves you with the feeling that you could TOTALLY have known the financial bloodbath was coming, if you'd had access to the right data. Which, in fact, is kind of the point; anyone who bothered to look into these securities (which were slightly foul-smelling even from a distance) found a surfeit of reasons to expect them to blow up.
This book has the gratifying quality of not seeming smug about having the benefit of hindsight - a quality conspicuously lacking in most of the public discourse, particularly in things like congressional hearings and speeches in late 2008 and 2009. One gets the distinct impression most of the politicians condemning greed on Wall Street couldn't have explained the connection between a Main Street home equity loan and a CDS on CDOs even after the subject became widely written about, let alone in advance of the fall in house prices when many of them wouldn't have been caught dead saying any American wasn't qualified to take out a mortgage to buy a new home.
In stark contrast, The Big Short is all about the few people who not only understood the vast, complex financial universe that fed on mortgages, but also understood its many risks and weaknesses - and yet, the tone of the book is not, as it might easily have been, "I told you so." I guess this is because you don't have to say something when it's so readily apparent. (A direct example of this is Eisman's flippant comment to the JPM CFO when the CDO market crashed, and his - Eisman's - immediate regret at having not left the obvious unsaid.)
Lewis has a unique vantage point - current writer but former bond salesman - and rare talent for educating the uninitiated (whether it's about baseball scouting, football formations or financial securities) which make him more or less the perfect person to tackle this subject, a task at which he succeeds pretty brilliantly.
ADDENDUM: I now realize my review makes it sound like I think the book is perfect. I don't. It's the most readable (not necessarily the best full stop) book about the financial crisis (not about the wider issues like the housing bubble, the connection with the real economy, etc.). But beyond that, I'm just too lazy to go into more detail, and it's pretty damn good, so I'm leaving it there....more
A good Republican handbook. Of course, I'm not a Republican and I found some of the analysis - particularly the "responses to criticism of free trade"A good Republican handbook. Of course, I'm not a Republican and I found some of the analysis - particularly the "responses to criticism of free trade" section - a little underdone and sometimes trite (e.g., "to the auto workers, I say: deal with it!"). But other than that, it's a somewhat helpful guide, especially if you don't speak economics; it's basically the argument for free trade, in plain English....more