A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
There was a temptation to write my review before I had finished reading. To get there first before other reviewers. This race to be first, however, sometimes requires a pause, a reflection about what speed, transparency, fairness all actually require from individuals and companies. The world of finance is often opaque. Between executing a trade with your broker and another individual accepting that trade through their broker there is a ghost world operating on mico-slices of a second. It is a world filled with algorithms that are all focused on a zero-sum game where the individual seems to lose every single trade. It is a wild west were everyone is getting the shaft, except for the large banks and the high-speed traders.
No one is better at exploring the technical world of money and finance on Wall Street (and in Sports) than Michael Lewis. His talent is most obvious in his ability to spot inconsistencies, absurdities, and flaws in a system and explain them using great characters and narratives that the characters tell themselves. There is no Moneyball without Billy Beane, there is no Blind Side without Leigh Tuohy and Michael Oher, and there is no Liar's Poker without John Meriwether and John Gutfreund. There would also be no Flash Boys without Sergey Aleynikov, Brad Katsuyama and Ronan Ryan.
These characters MAKE this book great. Lewis, however, is what makes this story vibrantly great. He is a master of the New New Journalism narrative, a master of timing, and a master of getting to the story before the other suckers do. And... he appears to do it not just because he is fantastically good at it, but from all appearances because, like Brad Katsuyama, Lewis actually gives a micro-F about making the system deliver on its promise
A fascinating exploration of debt, money, barter, and the credit systems used by man for thousands of years. Sure it has biases and like 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' is a bit too idealistic, but still -- wow -- an amazing book. While most economic books are still battling over the binary capitalism::socialism salvos, Graeber quietly flips both boats (or if not flips, rocks both boats HARD).
I mean really, when was the last time my wife let me read to her about social and economic transactions? Answer: Never. She has NEVER, EVER before let me read to her about money or debt or interest rates or the buying and selling of goods. This was an early rule in our marriage. It was practically a sacred cow, a promise made with a flesh-debt. We even broke bread sticks over it (I still have my stale tally). We kept our bargain, till this book, till last night. THAT is how good it is.
Anyway, go ahead read it in bed. Read it to your wife -- in bed. If you are really equals she will tell you after a few minutes whether she is in your debt, or you are in hers. And, that's OK. We are all debtors anyway.
I read this book not long after "Too Big to Fail." It has the benefit of being a first-hand account by the senior government official in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis: we learn much more in this book of the background thinking and concerns of top Treasury and Fed officials who were trying to cope with the onset of financial panic and meltdown. Put another way, the book offers much clearer context and explanation of the policy thinking than did the Sorkin book. The book keys on personal conversations and meetings, which keeps it interesting. There are revealing sketches of Mr. Paulson's interactions with Congressional leaders and the President, which show how completely unprepared they all were for the scope and severity of the financial crash. The weakest part of the book is the Afterword in which Mr. Paulson lays out the policy reforms that are needed in order to avoid a like financial disaster in the future. Although a vitally important and urgent reform (and one Congress and the Administration to their shame have still not addressed 18 months after the 2008 meltdown), this part of the book reads like a bland press release from the Treasury Department.
This book is well worth reading for a better understanding of the 2008 financial collapse. It is focused on the response to the financial meltdown at the highest levels of government and industry. It does not, however, provide particular insights into the irresponsible business practices that led to the crisis in the first place.