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WW Norton (Reprint Edition), 2010, 256 pages

Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis recounts his four years as a bond trader for the Wall Street firm Salomon Brothers in the mid-1980s.

‘Wall Street,’ reads the sinister old gag, ‘is a street with a river at one end and a graveyard at the other.’ This is striking, but incomplete. It omits the kindergarten in the middle.

Liar’s poker is a game played in idle moments by workers on Wall Street – the objective is to reward trickery and deceit by tricking your opponent into believing your bluff. Lewis uses this to frame his experience on Wall Street.

Through some obscure connection to Salomon Brothers (by meeting one of the recruiters’ wives at a charity dinner in London), Lewis enters the training program knowing absolutely nothing about selling or trading on Wall Street.

Basically everyone working on Wall Street are either complete idiots and have no idea what do to, or are incredibly intelligent and cunning and know exactly how to rip off their clients. Wall Street is an unforgiving, heavily misogynist, macho, gluttonous, greedy playground for these men (and some women) to make millions of dollars by “manipulating” the market and their clients.

The main focus is of how bonds became the most lucrative business on Wall Street because of changes made by the federal government. This is a very interesting to read at this time because while illustrating the bond market, Lewis describes how trading personal mortgages also became a huge business (but was dwarfed by the bond market). This would lay the groundwork twenty years later for the 2008 recession, creating the financial product of credit default swaps.

I am a huge fan of Michael Lewis. His writing is some of the best I have ever read – Moneyball, The Big Short and Boomerang. Liar’s Poker is one of Lewis’ first books and I have to say, his writing wasn’t as polished as his later works. Nevertheless, it was the funniest of his I’ve read. Some of the stuff in this book blew me away – the amount of money lost and spent or just the crass and rude behaviour of these traders and sellers.

I recommend Liar’s Poker for those interested in reading economics, but without economic theory. Or for those interested in what happens on Wall Street. Or anyone who has read Michael Lewis. Just read Michael Lewis!


{  } Pretty bad
{  } Tolerable
{  } All right
{x} Exciting
{  } Enthralling

Book 48 out of 60