Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Liar's Poker

Title: Liar's Poker
Author: Michael Lewis
via Amazon
Michael Lewis is that unusual author who has managed to become a star across two genres, in his case business and sports.  So far, three of his books - The Blind Side, Moneyball and The Big Short - have been made into successful films.  Liar's Poker was his debut, a memoir of his own time on the trade floors of Salomon Brothers in the mid-'80s.

High finance was a suddenly glamorous world in the '80s, portrayed most prominently in popular culture through Oliver Stone's film Wall Street and Tom Wolfe's novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, both released in 1987.  Lewis was one of many seeking Wall Street jobs in record numbers.  Salomon Brothers was seen as the best of the best and Lewis fell into his own gig with them essentially through dumb luck.

My own impression of that world is shaped by my experiences temping in New York in the late '90s/early aughts.  Liar's Poker confirms all of my suspicions that traders are vile, ruthless, reptilian life forms devoid of scruples. (Apologies to any of you who are traders or have loved ones in the biz and to any of you with a fondness for reptiles.)  No matter the topic, Lewis is an expert at drawing vivid, memorable characters, even if they're not especially likeable.  To his credit, he doesn't even paint himself as a particularly commendable person, though he does occasionally express regret at screwing over a customer.

As might be expected of an earlier work, Liar's Poker is not as good as The Big Short, though in providing some early history of the mortgage bond market, it does make for an interesting prequel.  Liar's Poker is funny, just not as funny.  I still can't say I understand any better how the markets work but the fly on the wall perspective is entertaining nonetheless.


  1. Maybe they'll also make a movie of it. :)

    1. As far as I know, there are no such plans for this particular book but given the success of the first three, future film contracts for Lewis seem inevitable.

  2. What's hard to understand about a business that's designed around the idea of convincing other people to let you use their money in order to make money for yourself?

    I intend to get to some Lewis some day, but who knows if that will ever happen?

    1. Moneyball, in particular, is amazing. I am not exaggerating when I say that it permanently changed the way I watch and follow baseball.