322 of 335 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2000
I worked for CSFB for three years, and am still in investment banking for a smaller firm. So I have seen a part of the world that is described here. I'm not saying that this is an exact description of what I saw, because Lewis picks the most exotic creatures that he met, but the atmosphere is perfectly conveyed. This book will tell you all the stuff that they don't teach you in an interview or recruitment visit - the pecking order, the politics, and how to get paid.
The other reason to read this is that Lewis is a brilliant writer, with a real talent for describing people and their situations. Lots of other people have written boring books with the same raw material. For a non-specialist like my mother, the technicalities were hard work, but you don't need a lot of special knowledge to like this book. My mother certainly did.
Probably the best way to look at this book is like a travel book - you're not visiting a country, you're visiting a world. Great travel books are not word-perfect descriptions of a place, they are representations of what the author felt like when he was there, and they give the reader a feeling of what it was like to be there. If you read this book, you will understand what it feels like to work inside a big bank, and you'll enjoy the ride, even if you have no interest in actually working there.
161 of 170 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2003
In the 1980's, Michael Lewis was a neophyte bond salesman for Salomon Brothers in New York and London for four years. Liar's Poker is a high-stakes game the traders, salesmen, and executives play each afternoon, but it is also a metaphor for the Salomon culture of extreme risk-taking with immediate payoffs and clear winners and losers.
This is the story of how Lewis survived the training program, inept but mean-spirited management, an aborted take-over even featuring a white knight, layoffs and the 1987 market crash before quitting to find his real calling as a business journalist. While Lewis's career did not take off quickly, he eventually became a highly paid producer, although not in the league of the true top dogs.
Lewis tells the real story of Wall Street in both go-go and crash days with self-deprecating humor enlivened with his ecletic wit. Colorful and well-known Wall Street characters appear such as Michael Milken, Lazlo Birini, Warren Buffett, Bill Simon, Sr. and John Guetfruend. All business students need to read this as even those with advanced degrees in finance such as myself, will learn how things really work. The story of how the junk bond and collateralized mortgage backed security markets emerge is told to fill in a chapter in financial history. Perhaps most interesting is some of the political machinations, rampant at Salomon, which lead for example for Salomon to ignore the junk bond market, allowing others to flourish and eventually attempt to take-over Salomon using junk bonds.
Lewis also describes for all investors the conflicts of interest and lack of governance on Wall Street long before Eliot Spitzer and Arthur Levitt became the champions of the little guy. My next step is to read Lewis's later books.
109 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2001
Liar's Poker is a funny look at life on Wall Street; especially the life of lower-level employees getting their start in the financial world. Michael Lewis uses the personal experience of his financial career in the Salomon Brothers bond program to tell the larger story of the rise and fall of the entire firm during the 1980s. Along the way he tells some funny stories and gives the reader an interesting, inside look at the fast-paced life on Wall Street. But in the end, the book starts to drag and Lewis's cynical view of the securities industry begins to get tiresome. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what a trader's life is like inside a major Wall Street firm. It is an interesting, initially humorous read that is appropriately not much longer than 200 pages in length.
52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 1999
What a great read. A friend of mine recommended this to me and I can say that it certainly was a refreshing read.
This book tells you about some of the influential people who shaped Salomon Brothers and Wall St in the eighties. I never realised the history that went with Salomon Brothers.
The style is great and I can really identify with the author's early years going through the stages of obtaining and starting a job. Some of the characters in the book are hilarious, you can only just believe they are real.
Only one complaint: sometimes the author goes on for quite a long time with his history e.g. the history of junk bonds and the history of various people in SB. I only wish that there was more about the author's story.
Only one gripe though, and it can't prevent this from being a 5 star book.
Buy it now! Thanks to the book, I am now constantly searching for books like this but this is the only one I have found recounting the story of a salesman as opposed to a trader.
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2000
Almost everyone who is graduating is tempted by the glamour and large bonuses of Investment Banks to wonder what it would be like to work in a large investment bank on Wall Street and actually consider it as a serious career option. LIAR'S POKER provides an irreverent, bird's eye view of the whole process. This is an extraordinarily funny but thought provoking account of a money focussed guy's innings at a venerable Investment bank Salomon Brothers, starting as a $48,000-a-year trainee in 1984 to go on to become an institutional bond salesman in Salomon's London office earning $225,000 in 1987. Far from just being entertaining the book gives lots of insight into the intense cutthroat investment banking industry and makes it accessible for even the naivest of readers the intricacies of the milieu. An insider's look at the inside of an investor banking firm, with no holds barred, which makes it probably one of the most recommended books for anyone considering more than a passing acquaintance with the investment banking industry.
59 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 1996
**** I read this book in my last undergraduate year of college.
At that time, Lewis provided me with an eye-opening, first-hand glance of
life in the high-flying world of finance (1980's) and the personalities
that drove that period forward. It was relevant reading material since I
was intending to pursue a career in the financial services industry, and
here was a book written by a former bond salesman in the New York and
London offices of Salomon Brothers.
**** Nevertheless, this book is not limited to only those interested or involved in the world
of business. This book is for anybody who is curious how the S&L crisis emerged; how the Reagan
administration's deregulations affected the salaries of a select few in the US financial industry;
how much the tax burden of the average American citizen grew as a result. This book is perfect
for those who dislike the dry writing found in historical textbooks.
**** Lewis's anecdotes will leave you in stitches! I am now working in the
financial services industry. Most of the people I run into seem to have read this book at an earlier age
and most enjoyed it as much as I did.
**NOTE** Other "financial history" books that could be compared
to "Liar's Poker", but written with very different writing
"Merchants of Debt" by George Anders;
"Barbarians at the Gate".
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2002
In Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis writes about his journey in becoming a bond salesman and his two years of work experiences at Salomon Brothers. While the book does offer some information about the finacial innovations driving the bond business in the 1980s, I think the principle thrust of the book is an examination of the culture and the personalities of Wall Street trading desks. The first chapter story, which is the basis for the title of the book, involving John Gutfreund and John Meriwether encapsulates the nature of this world.
This book is an important read for anyone who thinks they might want to become a trader/salesperson on Wall Street. If not, it is still a very interesting peek into a world that most people do not understand.
My last comment is a minor criticism of Michael Lewis. Lewis writes in the first person and is obviously a very self-involved individual with an extremely high opinion of himself. This is more evident in his later writings and columns for various periodicals (e.g. his NY Times article on Long-Term Capital was sickening). Despite this criticism the book is still very enjoyable.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2001
Somehow Michael Lewis went from Art History major at Princeton to investment banker with Salomon Brothers. In this book he shows that he understood what these markets are all about, in a way that eludes the grasp of people who may spend years majoring in finance, going to law school or business school and slaving away in these same markets without a clue as to how the whole thing hangs together.
Using bond trading theory to trade whole companies and industries, as Lewis explains Michael Milken, is especially helpful, and it suggests that Warren Buffett is doing the same thing--buying companies by acting as a "preferred" lender.
The "us v. them" relationship between an investment bank and its customers was interesting, and in our current market times, I see a lot of this in how financial planners do the same kind of petty ripoffs that Lewis describes using bigger dollars and bigger customers. It's possible that today's minor aspiring financial planner types could read this book and aspire to be an even bigger malefactor of great wealth. It's refreshing that Lewis bailed out of the business, and this book stands the test of time as a continuing accurate diagnosis of the problems with sinners running markets. The trouble is , there will never be anyone else to run them.
At the end of the book, he seems to have a weakness for praising John Meriwether. Isn't that the guy who lost a huge sum of money in the recent "Long Term Capital" hedging disaster? Even that proves the point of this book, which is that none of these guys care at all about anything but the dollars to be made in front of their nose at the moment. Exactly as Adam Smith said.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2001
Liars' Poker is the quintessential business novel. Everyone businessman I know has either read it or heard of it. So, I decided that I should check it out.
This book is an account of Michael Lewis' time at Salomon Smith Barney in the mid 80s, at the height of the junk bond craze. He perfectly describes the atmosphere of competitiveness and the vast rewards everyone was reaping as a result of the boom.
What came as a surprise to me is that Lewis describes the mortgage bond market, an obtuse and vague instrument, very clearly and in a way most non-business people could also understand. This explanation also serves to show why these junk bonds ultimately collapsed.
Then, of course, are his hilarious descriptions of his orientation, his bosses and coworkers. To read about these outlandish characters is worth the price of the book alone.
So, to close, this book is a classic for a reason. It is informative and well written, but manages to be hilarious at the same time, a feat few authors can achieve. Read this book at all costs.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
In short, reading Michael Lewis' account of his tumultuous two-year stint at Salomon Brothers in the mid-1980s delivers all the pleasure and enjoyment of reading good pulp fiction. Lewis is -- much to my surprise, I must admit -- an extremely talented writer with a gift for metaphor and the art of character description and analysis.
One of the endearing things about this book, I think, is that it is laced with a certain self-deprecating tone. Lewis' basic thesis (although I don't think he really believes it) is that the the most glaring sign of Salomon's impending demise was that it started hiring people such as himself. Despite many self-effacing comments, however, Lewis points out repeatedly that he was the highest paid -- and thus best producing -- young bond salesman at Salomon during his tenure and seeks to assure the reader that he isn't some scorned ex-employee who couldn't hack the perils of life on the trading floor.
Lewis dedicates a few chapters to explaining the rise of the mortgage trading desk at Salomon and the junk bond market under Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham, although neither have much to do with Lewis' career as a government bond salesman in Salomon's London Office. Did the author think this gave proper perspective and background to the telling of his personal story or was it an effort to pad out an already short piece of work? Probably a bit of both, is my guess.
In sum, if you approach this book (as I did) as a roman a clef, with all the exaggerations and artistic license associated with fiction, rather than a legitimate memoir, you'll probably get a lot more enjoyment out of it. It is funny, fast-paced, often incredible -- and will quickly expunge any thoughts you once had of being an investment banker, no matter how high the salaries might be.