The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
by Michael Lewis, W.W. Norton, 320 pages, $27.95 Hardcover, March 2010, ISBN 9780393072235
Michael Lewis has crafted an impressive collection of non-fiction that represents the very best of the genre: Liars' Poker
and now The Big Short
. With this new book, Lewis applies his keen investigative instinct and careful re-creation of characters to the cause of documenting the continuing nightmare that is our current economic predicament.
After reading several books on this subject, I have found that the very hardest thing for writers to accomplish is making the technical aspects—which are crucial for a complete understanding of the crisis—digestible. My eyes tend to gloss over the requisite pages of almost incomprehensible financial jargon, and the books tend to lack a distinctive quality to set them apart. After all, what more can be said about ARMs and CDOs?
But, while Lewis does spend time explaining that history and the inner workings of the markets (even going back to his days in the belly of the beast chronicled in Liars' Poker
), he introduces us to real, three-dimensional characters who are living
in this world and we easily learn the more arcane aspects of the story as we read and get enmeshed in their lives.
It is the story of people like Jamie Mai and Charlie Ledley of Cornwell Capital Management:
Jamie Mai was tall and strikingly handsome and so, almost by definition, had the air of a man in charge—until he opened his mouth and betrayed his lack of confidence in everything from tomorrow's sunrise to the future of the human race.
His partner, Charlie Ledley, "had the pallor of a mortician and the manner of a man bent on putting off, for as long as possible, definite action."
This attention to the characters in this morality play intensifies our understanding of just what happened to our 401K investments and why there are four houses still for sale on our block after two years and many "reduced price" signs.
Michael Lewis is a writer who entertains us, and in the process educates us about both business and the human spirit.