Author: Michael Lewis
Her book for me was The Big Short by Michael Lewis, the story of the subprime mortgage crisis told from the perspective of the few in the financial world who saw it coming. My wife and I saw the excellent film based on the book during our visit to Washington in December. I am also already a fan of Lewis's work having read and thoroughly enjoyed Moneyball (review here). As such, I was delighted for the excuse to read The Big Short.
In his book Polysyllabic Spree, British author Nick Hornby offered a marvelous review of Moneyball: “I understood about one word in every four of Moneyball, and it's still the best and most engrossing sports book I've read in years." That's a fair summation of my feelings about The Big Short. High finance talk loses me in a hurry. As much as I love numbers, the stock listings never drew my attention the way the sports page did. Of course, all of the jargon surrounding the mortgage crisis is more esoteric than most, by design. We peasants on the street were never meant to understand. Those who control the information control the world - until they lose control, that is. Then we're all screwed.
Lewis does his best to explain it all, though the film did it better so I was glad to have seen it first. Even so, the book is brilliant. Lewis's genius as a writer is character development. The heroes of his tale are a few hedge fund managers who saw the madness and fragility of the subprime market and boldly bet against it. All of them are wonderfully drawn. My favorite is Steve Eisman, played by Steve Carell in the movie. He's a misanthropic wacko with a gift for seeing through bullshit. His attempt at playing golf in chapter 6 is not to be missed.
The crazy part about following this story either in print or on screen is the realization that in rooting for these guys to be right, you are rooting for economic catastrophe. It's not a good book to read if you want to maintain a positive outlook on humanity. You will laugh and you will learn. Just don't go into it hoping for reassurance.