What’s incredible about Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker is just how funny it is. You want to be mad at all of these people for ruining the world, but they’re so ridiculous, you often can’t help but laugh.
I’m more than familiar with Lewis’ work. Moneyball is one of my all-time favorite novels. The Big Short had me real angry. Lewis is one of the great journalists of my time. This was the book that kick started his career. And he didn’t need long to discover his writing voice.
Alternating between his time as a bond trader at the once-mighty giant Salomon Brothers and the history of the powerful-but-doomed firm, Lewis gives us a revealing look at the grotesque greed and shameless pursuit of wealth that made 80s Wall Street what it was. I got a taste of this in Thomas Dyja’s New York, New York, New York, which made me want to finally try this one. If anything, Dyja undersells it. Wall Street might have been heading towards deregulation by the early-80s but the Reagan era truly let the damn burst.
Though Reagan is barely mentioned in the book, Paul Volcker looms over it all. Technically a Carter appointee, Volcker’s willingness to turn the debt spigot on in exchange for deflation led America to a decade of prosperity…on paper only as we saw with the Black Monday crash in 1987. Lewis accurately captures the mood of the times and how bond traders exploited every rule regardless of scruples.
The story remains prescient through today’s respective fiscal crises. It’s apparent we learned nothing as history repeated itself 21 years later in more frightening form. America is a land of opportunity. Liar’s Poker shows that the easiest way to get those opportunities is through greed.