Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis – Book Review

To be honest, Michael Lewis is not an author I was familiar with until a few of his books got made into movies. Having enjoyed viewing Moneyball and The Blind Side, I had put it on my to-do-list to discover the author behind these works.

I stumbled across a 25th Anniversary Edition of Liar’s Poker in a bookstore and decided to give it a go. It was not a work I was familiar with and really had no clue what I was venturing in to. Liar’s Poker was Lewis’ first book and tells a somewhat autobiographical story about his own experience as a bond trader. The book’s title comes from a high stakes gambling of the same name played by bond traders on Wall Street.

My Poker FaceLiars Poker by Michael Lewis

Liar’s Poker charts Lewis’ transformation from a lowly Geek (trainee) on the Salomon Brothers trading floor to Big Swinging D*ck (a rock star bond salesman) in the course of two short years. Liar’s Poker also provides a snapshot of Wall Street in the late 80’s where greed and excess were all the rage.

Incidentally, Liar’s Poker is often cited alongside the fictional The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe and Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. These are both on my reading list and I hope to bring reviews for you at some stage down the track. Barbarians at the Gate was also made into a film in the 1990s and secured a Golden Globe for Best Television Movie.

Slow and Steady

Liar’s Poker did take me a while to settle into… the first third of the book of focuses on the unlikely turn of events that took Lewis from Arts Major to securing a highly coveted trainee role. In hindsight, I think this was because I was overeager to discover the seedy machinations of Wall Street. As the pages flows, Lewis paints an immersive picture of working at Saloman Brothers and some of its more colorful inhabitants.

What I really enjoyed about Lewis’ storytelling was how he observes and documents the sometimes absurd world around him, seemingly as an innocent bystander, while at the same time playing a prominent role. There’s a certain bewilderment in how he chronicles his rise to Big Swinging D*ck in near record time as if the whole journey could be summed up with a clueless, shrug of the shoulders.

Conclusion

I do recognize that this book does not fit in strictly with the ethos of MegaMegaMindset.com but nevertheless, I think it still has plenty to offer. Principally, it highlights that it’s not about where you start but what you work towards and where you end up. Sometimes, you need some luck to get you on your way but that shouldn’t diminish what you achieve. Once you reach the summit, it’s also OK to change tack and pursue other endeavors.

Liar’s Poker is an entertaining read and provides an insight into the workings of Wall Street. At the end, however, you could be forgiven for wondering what has really changed in the intervening years. This is the same sentiment echoed by Lewis in his Afterword to the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book. The most sobering takeaway is that, given how Wall Street operates, events like the crash of 1987 and financial crisis of 2008 are bound to be repeated. I share this purely as a spectator providing commentary, but such a scenario seems hardly surprising when you consider that greed and excess seemingly remain central themes.

Liar’s Poker is perfect for:

  • Getting an insight into the workings of Wall Street then (and perhaps even more relevantly, now)
  • Recognizing the power of hard work and application
  • Getting acquainted with the works of Michael Lewis.

Liar’s Poker, is available from quality bookstores and online retailers including:

Thank you for taking the time to read this review. If you have any feedback for or against the thoughts I have shared, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Rating: 3.5 out 5 stars.

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