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The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine…

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010)

by Michael Lewis

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Lewis is a great storyteller. Well, let me qualify that--Lewis is a great teller of stories about people. You really get a good feel for the people in his books, their ruling passions, their resentments, their insights, their foibles and eccentricities. But, in spite of the fact that Lewis worked for a while on Wall Street (see Liar's Poker), you don't get a particularly good sense of the other big characters in this story--the financial instruments themselves.

Part of this is because of the character-driven structure of the story. We get explanations of different aspects of a financial instrument--say a mortgage-backed bond or a CDO--as those particular aspects become relevant to the story of one of the people in the story. So the CDO might be 40% explained in one chapter, another 40% 50 pages later, and the rest in dribs and drabs as those particular details become important.

I know a complete explanation of CDOs would be deadly to the casual reader, and maybe even beyond Lewis's abilities (he says several times that a man like him had no business working on Wall Street), but maybe a detailed glossary might have been a good idea?

Another thing that seemed remarkable: this is a book told from the perspective of Wall Street outsiders, but even considering that, there seems to be a real lack of insider insight here--I'd have been curious to see how some of these folks would have explained their own stupid behavior, rather than have in explained by the men who were making bets against them.

Anyhow, a really good book with some very interesting subjects. ( )
  ehines | Dec 1, 2014 |
This 2010 book tells of the people who saw that the securities backed by bad mortgages would become wothless and devised a way to short those securities. One is appalled to see how wong so many supposedly smart honest people were--and the horrendous losses which the companies they ran sustained on account of their dumbness or crookedness. I found it scary to realize what they did and the danger they were to the country. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Nov 10, 2014 |
A fast-paced, well-told story of the subprime meltdown and a few of the short sellers who predicted and profited from it. The account is almost entirely journalistic and relies heavily on the cooperation of the heroes that it portrays. Less finely drawn are the stock villains, the Wall Street traders who make large bets on the other side, the middle-men who pass on CDOs without holding any them themselves, and the ratings agencies.

Michael Lewis has an amazing eye for detail, pacing, and ability to tell multiple perspectives of a story through people's lives. Although the book comes from a clear perspective, it has almost no analysis and draws little in the way of conclusions -- except to argue that investment banks should not have gone public, which whatever your perspective seems at most to be a small part of the story -- especially since the agency problem portrayed by the book seems like it would be equally difficult to address at a partnership (i.e., a trader with a good year followed by a spectacularly bad year walking away with a large paycheck while management has little ability to understand and/or supervise their trades). ( )
1 vote nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Insightful and funny. Michael Lewis is always a pleasure to read. ( )
1 vote DougJ110 | Mar 4, 2014 |
fascinating and infuriating. Good reader in Jesse Boggs. ( )
1 vote njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 98 (next | show all)
Thinking about the subprime crisis with the benefit of da Vinci’s distance, it struck me anew how Darwinian and predatory the whole system is. One constantly has to ask, Cui Bono: “Who benefits?” And Ubi Est Mea: “Where’s mine?” One of Eisman’s traders was constantly obsessed with how the party on the other side might screw him (though “screw” was not the word used). That is probably a good attitude to have on Wall Street.
By focusing so precisely on the particular, Lewis makes the objects of his scrutiny stand for the whole of the financial world: its obscurantism, under-regulation and wildly short-termist institutional profiteering; the bank bosses’ reluctance to scrutinise the mechanics and risks of their most profitable divisions; and the general refusal to understand the connection between the profits made and the dangerous actuality they were based on: in this case, the deliberately over-complicated financial “instruments” and the poor Americans who were about to default on their mortgages.
In his new book, Lewis is neither obnoxious nor charming. The skies have fallen. The market Wall Street created in the housing debt of the very poorest Americans, so-called "sub-prime" mortgage bonds and various derivative securities, which fell to bits in 2007 and all but engulfed the world in 2008, is the greatest financial fraud since the 18th century. Men and women who once made us laugh now make us shudder. In other words, The Big Short is not half the fun of Liar's Poker, but it is more important.
added by mikeg2 | editThe guardian, James Buchan (Mar 27, 2010)
Lewis is a gifted chronicler and debunker and demystifier of the world of finance.
added by r.orrison | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (Mar 18, 2010)
No one writes with more narrative panache about money and finance than Mr. Lewis, the author of “Liar’s Poker,” that now classic portrait of 1980s Wall Street. His entertaining new book does not attempt a macro view of the financial crisis, but instead proposes to open a small window on the calamities by recounting the stories of some savvy renegades who cashed in on their conviction that the system was rotten.
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The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea about them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.  -  Leo Tolstoy
For Michael Kinsley, To Whom I Still Owe an Article
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393072231, Hardcover)

The #1 New York Times bestseller: a brilliant account—character-rich and darkly humorous—of how the U.S. economy was driven over the cliff.

When the crash of the U. S. stock market became public knowledge in the fall of 2008, it was already old news. The real crash, the silent crash, had taken place over the previous year, in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine, and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower- and middle-class Americans who can’t pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren’t talking.

The crucial question 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? Michael Lewis turns the inquiry on its head to create a fresh, character-driven narrative brimming with indignation and dark humor, a fitting sequel to his #1 best-selling Liar’s Poker. Who got it right? he asks. Who saw the real estate market for the black hole it would become, and eventually made billions of dollars from that perception? And what qualities of character made those few persist when their peers and colleagues dismissed them as Chicken Littles? Out of this handful of unlikely—really unlikely—heroes, Lewis fashions a story as compelling and unusual as any of his earlier bestsellers, proving yet again that he is the finest and funniest chronicler of our times.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:27 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The author examines the causes of the U.S. stock market crash of 2008 and its relation to overpriced real estate, bad mortgages, shareholder demand for excessive profits, and the growth of toxic derivatives.

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393072231, 0393338827

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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