On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
This book was written in the earliest days of the current financial crisis, and completed sometime around May, 2008. As a result, it is both quite prescient about the causes of the current unraveling of the world financial system, and a bit out-of-date as so much has changed in the months since the book was published. If you are looking for something to explain the way that the current financial system was developed for the past three hundred years, and how the roots of the current crash go back deep into the history of finance, this book is an excellent and entertaining guide. It will introduce you to everything from the causes of the 1980s S&L scandals to the birth of investment banks to the inflationary pressures caused by the Spanish conquest of the New World, and demonstrate how these concepts are related to the current financial system. You will learn that crashes have always happened, and likely always will, so the book succeeds well as current commentary.
It is somewhat less successful as history of money, however, since the sections of the book, each named after a different type of financial instrument from insurance to bonds, are not really detailed histories of each topic, but rather a series of vignettes that illuminate a concept in the development of a particular financial instrument. The book focuses on the Rothschild family to explain the history of banking, the rise of Pinochet to explain the role of free markets, and so on. These stories are interesting and important, but they make the book feel more disjointed than a typical linear history. Similarly, the level of detail of the book fluctuates between fairly popular descriptions and very detailed statistics.
Overall, if you are either motivated to learn about the financial system, or you have a general interest in financial history, this is a wonderful book. Those who are less interested in the details, or who expect a complete account of the ascent of money, may be less impressed.
First off, this book tells its story well - its a story of the traders who saw the subprime crisis coming, and, by examining how they managed to bet against the market, the book also illuminates exactly how the subprime debacle occurred. Lewis does a wonderful job showing how so many very smart people made so many stupid assumptions, based on a mix of bad data, bad organizations ("its not my job to worry"), and the most infuriating forms of cheating, lying, and bad-dealing.
My problem with the book, and it is a minor one, is that by staying so narrowly focused on this topic, it tends to follow the progression of a few traders and managers throughout the book, often in great detail. This can make it hard to follow the larger story of the context and economic dealings that surround "The Big Short", especially in audiobook format. Also, since not all of the characters are equally interesting, attention can also wander during parts. Additionally, I suspect that the truly uninitiated will be somewhat confused by terminology - the book assumes you know what "hedging" is and how it works from near the beginning, for example.
While the reader is good, but not great, Lewis is still a great writer, and the story is compact, fascinating, and important. I recommend it, but perhaps only to those who know a little about the subprime crisis to begin with.