FEW writers have penetrated the macho, risk-taking culture of finance like journalist Michael Lewis, who worked on Wall Street and in the City of London in the late ’80s. His first book, the colorful, high-octane Liar’s Poker, has just been reissued for its 25th anniversary, and it describes the birth of the sort of casino capitalism/ winner-take-all world we live with now.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Lewis a few days ago. Our conversation, for Salon, is here. Here’s one of my first questions.
I imagine especially to a young man in the ’80s, it would have seemed like an anomaly. Wall Street was booming, the City of London, which had been sleepy for a long time, was booming as well. It seems like, looking back, it wasn’t as much of an anomaly as it was the beginning of the world we’re in now. The scenes you’ve sketched almost feel like a photographic negative of the financial crash of 2008. I wonder the extent to which you felt like you were witnessing the birth of something.
That’s exactly how I feel. I misread it at the time. In fact, if I had read it right I might have had less energy about the book. I thought what I was doing was capturing this very bizarre moment that could not be sustained. I really thought it was freakish; this isn’t humility, this is true: I thought, “these people are paying me hundreds of thousands of dollars to give financial advice, that’s fucking insane,” and nobody else around me was any more qualified than me. I just felt like people were going to look back and say, “Can you believe they did this?” but it turned out to be the start of a new world where this became normal.
Liar’s Poker stands up real well, and if anything it’s even more important than it was in 1989. It’s Wall Street’s world now — we just live in it.