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The Big Short by Michael Lewis

The Big Short (original 2010; edition 2011)

by Michael Lewis

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2,338962,692 (4.18)89
Title:The Big Short
Authors:Michael Lewis
Info:Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. (2011), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Tags:kindle, Wall Street, finance

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The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (2010)

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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 |
For the best summary of the financial instruments created by Wall Street and how they brought us down, see http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/10/heart-crash/

1 vote | ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Michael Lewis can tell a story like no other. Anyone who can take the financial crisis of the last few years, find a story in it that centers around subprime mortgages and shorting the market (if you understand what that means and how to do it, you're more than a step ahead of me and about anyone else I've mentioned it to over the last couple weeks), and then make it interesting to the lay reader deserves to be read.

In many ways (if not all ways), the stock market is a giant enigma to me, which brings to mind how Winston Churchill once described Russia: "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest." If there is a key to the enigma, with that riddle wrapped in a mystery inside it, that is the stock market, perhaps the key is found in the self-interest of the individuals participating in the market. Not just the stock and bond traders that made up the named characters of "The Big Short," but even the home buyers and owners that took out second, third, and fourth mortgages, bought two, three, and four "investment" properties, the loan originators who sought them out and offered no interest loans, and the banks that sliced up the loans to fill tranches (there's another cryptic word for you) for trading as bonds to and between the financial houses on Wall Street.

In other words, as Gordon Gecko might say: greed. Greed of bonds traders, floor traders, home buyers, loan originators, strawberry pickers, and house cleaners. Greed by just about everyone involved, from the top all the way down to the bottom.

Lewis, known for his writing in "The Blind Side" and in "Money Ball," with "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine" returns to his original stomping ground covered in "Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street." Finding the few who saw the crash coming, he pulls together a narrative about those who anticipated the crash and saw it coming. While so many were getting rich off trading subprime mortgage based bonds, a few individuals realized that the underlying assets to the housing bubble were not stable and predicted that as interest rates on adjustable rate mortgages became due, defaults would sky-rocket and the bonds' values would crash.

And then they bet against it, cashing in lucratively when the predicted defaults began.

What makes the story fascinating, of course, is the attention to the often colorful and more than slightly eccentric personalities that comprised the handful of individuals in the story. The stock market is difficult to understand for a simple reason--its workings are data driven and few pay the price to understand the numbers and analysis behind the market. In contrast, those who did, and those who got lucky, were often driven by a narrow-minded focus the data. From an neurologist turned hedge fund manager diagnosed with Aspergers in the midst of the story to a couple of young college grads who all but lucked into it, to a loud mouthed malcontent who made a habit of sticking it to the big wigs on Wall Street who lost investors money to the crisis, the "The Big Short" is replete with Lewis's deft story telling.

Whether you are interested in finance or just looking for a great story, "The Big Short" is worth the time to read. I listened to it in the car, and often found myself sitting in the driveway waiting for the end of a section. More, it introduced me to concepts and interests that I'm exploring further in other books. Read in conjunction with "Too Big to Fail," which I read last year, it provides an up close look at what was going on and why our economy is dragging through the longest recession in a generation.

One last observation: one aspect that this book noted that continues to shock me no matter how many times I hear it over the last four years is how people with little or no credit history or ability managed to get so much financing. From immigrant strawberry pickers in California with $750,000 mortgages to house cleaners in Brooklyn with four and five town homes, obtuse financial incentives to originators and investors alike distorted the market in ways that were dangerous to all of us. While I look forward to other financial histories for other perspectives, Lewis seems to make clear that it wasn't so much the free market that failed, but the financial incentives that were built into it. In the end, the old adages "if it's too good to be true, it probably is" and "there's no such thing as a free lunch" seem even more relevant today than ever. Be careful when the snake oil salesman comes calling. He may not have your best interests at heart, and he may not even know it himself.
( )
2 vote publiusdb | Aug 22, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 96 (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.

(summary from another edition)

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W.W. Norton

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

Editions: 0393072231, 0393338827

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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