March 06, 2009

(Belated) Book Review: Liar's Poker

Liar's Poker, by Michael Lewis (who also penned the infamous Moneyball), was a sobering read --- my main reaction to it was to wonder why Wall Street hadn't completely gone to shit already, and this was going on in the 1980s

Quick recap: Michael Lewis, an art-history major, gets a masters degree in economics and scores a job with Salomon Brothers, one of the biggest wheel firms in Wall Street at the time. They had been printing money following the deregulation of mortgage backed securites (which eventually led to the savings and loan crisis), and were hiring up all the students from the prestigious schools. They learn about trading through their unorthodox and sometimes arbitrary-seeming company training, and are thrown into the fire, where their real training begins. Wall Street (or at least, the bond market) is built on a Screw-Thy-Neighbor type policy - exploiting all the weaknesses and ignorance of those around them to make money. Deregulation provided vastly more opportunities for the traders to build their house of cards, which finally did come tumbling down this year. No matter how good your pedigree/background, all you really needed to do is know how to move money, whether or not you actually understood what is going on. Beyond his own experiences, Lewis chronicles the major companies and players in Wall Street at the time, especially chronicling the rise and fall of Salomon Brothers, which was fascinating as well.

Sorry that's a little sketchy...I read this book last summer so it's a little hazy for me. Long story short, I found the book to be both interesting and depressing (which will be a theme for most of the nonfiction books that I have read...). Someday, I will read Barbarians at the Gate, which is a similar book about Wall Street that was also written by someone who wrote about baseball (John Helyar FTW)