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The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine Paperback – February 1, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Although Lewis is perhaps best known for his sports-related nonfiction (including The Blind Side), his first book was the autobiographical Liar's Poker, in which he chronicled his disillusionment as a young gun on Wall Street in the greed is good 1980s. He returns to his financial roots to excavate the crisis of 2007–2008, employing his trademark technique of casting a microcosmic lens on the personal histories of several Wall Street outsiders who were betting against the grain—to shed light on the macrocosmic tale of greed and fear. Although Lewis reads the book's introduction, narration duties are assumed by Jesse Boggs, a veteran narrator of business titles (including Lewis's own 2008 book Panic!). Boggs's rich baritone is well suited to the task and trips lightly through a maze of financial jargon (CDOs, derivatives, mid-prime lending) and a dizzying cast of characters. Lewis returns on the final disc for a 10-minute interview about the crisis's aftermath, including a savvy assessment of the wisdom of the financial bailout and where-are-they-now updates on the book's various heroes and villains. A Norton hardcover. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Michael Lewis has written from the perspective of a financial insider for more than 20 years. His first book, Liar's Poker, was a warts-and-all account of Wall Street culture in the 1980s, when Lewis worked at the investment bank Salomon Brothers. Everything Lewis has touched since has turned to gold, and The Big Short seems to be another of those books, combining an incendiary, timely topic with the author's solid, insightful, and witty investigative reporting. Only the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette criticized what it felt was a rush job of writing and a failure to integrate the individual stories. Few readers will care for the message here (despite laugh-out-loud moments of absurdity), but Lewis is a capable guide into the world of CDOs, subprime mortgages, head-in-the-sand investments, inflated egos--and the big short. However, as Entertainment Weekly points at, if you're only going to read one book on the topic, perhaps this should not be the one. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
In "The Big Short," Michael Lewis tells the story of the subprime mortgage crisis in a way that couldn't be more removed from my own perspective, or that of anyone I knew: the story of the money managers, traders, and analysts who figured out the weaknesses in the subprime bond market and placed their bets that the bubble would burst in a *big* way, and *soon*. They were right, of course, but even they didn't realize just how deeply corrupt the system was, or how devastating the fallout would be when the crash came.
Although I follow the news more closely now than I did in my twenties, I've still never taken much interest in the world of high finance, and I probably never would have picked up "The Big Short" if my husband hadn't been intrigued by the trailers for the movie released late last year. When I learned that one of the men profiled in Lewis's book had Asperger's syndrome, like me, I was definitely in.
Lewis explains in detail how the subprime mortgage crisis happened, but his interest is less in analyzing the event as a whole than in profiling the eccentric, self-confident, cautious men who dared to swim against the current of the most respected financial entities - and found themselves vindicated. My favorite parts of the book were, by far, the small-picture slices: personal histories, colorful anecdotes, delicious little ironies. As often happens when I stumble upon the human element of something I've never taken any interest in before, I found myself suspecting that perhaps high finance wasn't an inherently tedious subject after all.
Unfortunately, Lewis starts in assuming his reader has a pretty good understanding of the world of high finance already. As assumptions go, that's really not such a bad one; anyone who picks up a book like this probably already knows a stock from a bond, a hedge fund from a mutual fund. A chapter on "Finance 101" would certainly be annoying, if not actually insulting, to the book's target audience. However, this isn't a technical book for market insiders, either. Lewis knows he's not exactly writing a fluffy beach read; he even jokes, about a quarter of the way through the book, that the reader who has managed to follow the narrative that far deserves a gold star. I believe a glossary would have been a useful addition: readers unfamiliar with some of the terms specific to the subprime mortgage bond market explained in the book could refer to the glossary to clarify anything they'd forgotten without having to flip through earlier chapters, while definitions of more basic terms would make the book more accessible to a wider audience. (Perhaps the most prominent example of the kind of thing that could have used a better explanation is found in the title itself. An unofficial poll among friends of mine, all more or less educated, productive adult members of society, turned up only a couple who knew what "short selling" was. For the record, "short selling" is essentially a way of betting against the market by borrowing an asset and then selling it, on the basis of the belief that the price will have dropped when it comes time to return what was borrowed. Lewis never explains this.)
I wouldn't say "The Big Short" is entirely inaccessible to the general reader, especially one with easy access to the Internet. (Fortunately, I had my smartphone close at hand while I was reading.) Even when I didn't understand the specific details of what I was reading, I was almost always able to get the gist of what was going on, and Lewis is very good about succinctly summing up the effects of complex sequences of events. I did enjoy reading this, and came away from it vowing to be more confident in my own carefully reasoned conclusions even when they go against the grain. I haven't seen the movie yet, but if it stays true to the basic events of the book while presuming a little less knowledge of high finance on the part of its audience, this may well be one of those rare cases in which the majority of readers are better served by seeing the movie instead, or at least seeing the movie first.
One warning I will share is that the language is this book goes beyond “Salty”. It was if the film “Serpico” was filmed in a bank’s conference room. The reader may be offended.