Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Big Short

Michael Lewis is a productive, creative and very successful writer.
by Charlie Leck

“Michael Lewis, who has authored many fine books, has out-done himself and produced his finest work.” [Charlie Leck, Ad Astra]

I’ve always wanted to quote myself, so there – I’ve done it! (Actually, I’ve done it a few other times, too.)

I first met Michael Lewis as a writer when I read his extraordinary baseball book, Moneyball. A friend, knowing my interest in good baseball literature, recommended it to me. I found it a most fascinating and revealing book, opening my eyes to baseball statistics and what they mean or don’t mean in relation to the adequacy of players or teams. I sent that book on to my brother when I finished reading it because I knew he, as a significant and knowledgeable baseball fan, would enjoy it. Not too long ago, he was telling me about this great baseball book called Moneyball and that I should be sure to read it. He’d left it lying around for a long time before he finally got to it, forgetting completely where it had come from.

Lewis, a young man, has ten books to his credit already. He’s a very good writer – not a literary giant, but a good, solid writer. He tells his stories with great skill and his books always “move right along” with great smoothness.

He is also the author of the very big seller, The Blind Side, which was made into a very popular Hollywood flick. That book told a very touching and moving story and it held me absolutely spellbound. I refuse to see the film because I don’t want to spoil the memory of my enjoyment as I read the book itself.

These two books led me to read some other of Lewis’ works: Liar’s Poker and The Money Culture and Losers. Each one of them was captivating.

Now, Michael Lewis has given us The Big Short. It’s a blockbuster and has taken the nation by storm. Because the book is so commonly known, it’s probably foolish to write about it here -- it's like I’m being banal. Yet, I’ve just got to scream it out: “You’ve outdone yourself, Michael Lewis; for this is your finest work yet. Thanks a lot!”

If you want to understand the financial mess we got ourselves into in this country and how we virtually raped low and middle income families to create massive wealth at the top, you’ve got to read The Big Short.

The crucial question, as posed on the book’s dust-jacket, is this: “Who understood the risk inherent in the assumption of ever-rising real estate prices, a risk compounded daily by the creation of those arcane, artificial securities loosely based on piles of doubtful mortgages?”

There are a few heroes in the book and that saves the day, because the book simply would have been too awful to read had it only been about the scoundrels. Steve Eisman is one of those heroes. His speech, on the morning that the sub-prime market finally crashed and brought down dozens and dozens of banks around the nation, is delightfully detailed in Lewis’ book – in moment by moment counter-point with the actual decline of the market.

March 14, 2008

“‘The minute Steve starts to speak,’ said Vinny, ‘the stock market starts to fall.’ As Eisman explained why no one in his right mind would own the very shares [Bear Stearns] he had bought sixteen hours earlier, Danny dashed off text messages to his partners.

9:49. Oh my—Bear at 47

“‘If [the U.S. financial system] sounds like a circular Ponzi scheme it’s because it is.’

9:55. Bear is 43 last OMG

‘The banks in the United States are only beginning to come to grips with their massive loan problems. For instance, I wouldn’t own a single bank in the State of Florida because I think they might all be gone.’

10:02. Bear 29 last!!!

‘The upper classes of this country raped this country. You fucked people. You built a castle to rip people off. Not once in all these years have I come across a person inside a big Wall Street firm who was having a crisis of conscience. Nobody ever said, ‘This is wrong.’ And no one ever gave a shit about what I had to say.’

Here’s your chance to find out what happened to America’s banks and other mortgage lenders in an awesomely interesting and exciting way. My palms actually sweated at times while I read. Of course I felt a burning rage, as well.

It's the way Lewis writes. He drags you into his story and makes you a part of it. He makes you want to jump up at one of these meetings of the big shots and shout: “What the fuck are you doing?”

Go get The Big Short and read it. You’ll send me a thank you note.


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