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137 of 153 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good - but not as earthshattering as Liar's Poker was, or as timely
Let me get one thing straight out of the way - this book is unlikely to have the impact of Liar's Poker (Hodder Great Reads) for two reasons. The former was one of the first on the subject and defined 1980s banking to an extent, it got many graduates excited about potentially becoming BSDs themselves. It was in a way the perfect pitch for the industry, working even better...
Published on 17 Mar 2010 by AK

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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short on plot
I bought this book because I enjoyed Lewis' first book Liars Poker. I was somewhat disappointed in this, his latest book.
The Big Short told me little that I, an unsophisticated market follower, did not already know about the latest market crash/scandal/disaster. The story line was kind of weak and the character development somewhat disjointed: kind of like he tried...
Published on 14 Dec 2010 by Christian A. Tischhauser


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137 of 153 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good - but not as earthshattering as Liar's Poker was, or as timely, 17 Mar 2010
By 
AK (London) - See all my reviews
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Let me get one thing straight out of the way - this book is unlikely to have the impact of Liar's Poker (Hodder Great Reads) for two reasons. The former was one of the first on the subject and defined 1980s banking to an extent, it got many graduates excited about potentially becoming BSDs themselves. It was in a way the perfect pitch for the industry, working even better as a result of being a critique of the system. The second reason was that while Liar's Poker was timely, this book came out a bit late to the 2008 financial meltdown party. Books like The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable or Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets were a lot more timely, and while not everyone will appreciate Taleb's writing style, they were in some ways more general and applicable to broader sets of situations.

Be that as it may, Lewis is still an accomplished writer and knows how to package the book well. Unlike in Liar's Poker, this book is not based on his own personal experiences (he retired from the industry prior to writing Liar's Poker) but follows several of the investors, who saw the unsustainability of the subprime mortgage market and decided to short it ahead of the curve. Through their stories Lewis shows how the market developed, the systemic problems plaguing the sector (a bit like in the second part of Liar's Poker) and how the downfall happened.

He does not go into the bailout to any great extent (only briefly passing over it in the last couple of pages), the sotry is largely over in the last part of 2007, when the book's protagonists have all succeeded beyond expectation in shorting what they (rightly) believed was a market doomed to fail.

The book is not as funny as some of the earlier ones by Lewis but will still produce the odd chuckle and is definitely easy to read. The language is not too complex and even someone not from the industry will be able to follow the logic, the arguments and the descriptions. Like Liar's Poker I foresee a generation of graduates getting excited over the content and the industry, and a generation of current bankers seething at what was written (Lewis does not exactly portray most of them in a gleaming light - although he does acknowledge that it was primarily the systemic failure, rather than individuals, who brought us to this).

Finally there is no solution proposed, only a warning - things changed drastically when the financial institutions playing the game turned from partnerships into publically traded companies and the incentive structures started getting badly misaligned with the long term interests of both the institutions and the stability of the market overall.
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75 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Generation Kill goes to Wall Street, 12 May 2010
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Michael Lewis is one of the most gifted and entertaining writers today - anyone who has read his reputation-forming Liar's Poker will know this (if you haven't, and you aspire to a career in finance, you should), but his subsequent offerings, particularly the singularly brilliant Moneyball have also been outstanding. He distinguishes himself from his peers firstly by his thorough insider's understanding of how, when and why finance works (and by extension how, when and why it doesn't) but also a deft turn of phrase and devastating wit. When the subject is the logic-defying but leaden topic of tranched portfolio credit derivative armageddon, both attributes are in good demand. And both, in the shape of Lewis' airy but insightful writing, are in abundant supply.

The rosette for "best book about the financial meltdown" is hotly contested - luminaries such as George Soros, Mohamed El-Erian and Hank Paulson have entered more or less weighty tomes (some excellent, some portentous, some a bit wacky); as have well-respected and deeply learned journalists like the NY Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin and the FT's Gillian Tett.

I thought I had awarded my own best-in-show to Sorkin for his massive and all-encompassing political tome, which manages to encompass the total business perspective across an extraordinarily wide theatre of conflict, somehow holding the whole thing in focus the whole time. A criticism I had seen levelled at that book was that, while it admirably covered the outright red alert state of affairs that prevailed at boardroom level for a couple of years after the credit crunch, it failed - didn't really even try - to explain what, economically, caused all this mess in the first place.

Here, therefore, is the ideal companion volume. Instead of viewing the battle from Operations HQ by reference to the crisis meetings of Wall Street's and Washington's Masters of the Universe (the image that comes to mind is beetroot-faced generals strutting about impotently while the Andrews Sisters push military units around a big map with snooker cues), Lewis takes us right into the heat of the combat, like a journalist embedded with a crack squad of advanced position infantry men as they dodged sniper fire and the general fog of war armed only with a Rusty Humvee and some tarpaulin (think Generation Kill as opposed to Downfall).

This strategy enables Lewis to tell some interesting human stories - the rag-tag collection of fellow travellers he introduces us to are, as befits players in a tragic farce - idiosyncratic outsiders and loners - but through their experiences Lewis offers uncommon colour as to what it is like at ground level engaging with Wall Street.

Along the way you will learn, with great clarity and simplicity of image - exactly what mezzanine mortgages-backed CDOs were, why the went wrong, and how the self-fulfilling cycle of CDO creation ratcheted a well-intentioned risk-spreading device into something which was nothing more, really than a glorified ponzi-scheme. And, unlike Bernie Madoff's scheme, which took some time and expertise (if not much) to reverse engineer and figure out, this one - an order of magnitude larger - went on in full, transparent view of everyone.

That said, I do think Lewis over-simplifies, though not in ways that fatally undermine his case - but in ways that are calculated to make the whole market sound as preposterous as absolutely possible; an exertion which really was not needed. The role of AIG and the Monolines, for example, in converting the "towers of dross" into triple A securities, was under-explained. Lewis characterised the insurers as investors: in a sense they were, but actually they were insurers of the performance of these bonds for other investors - yes; exposed to the risk of their default so investors in that sense, but in return lending their own triple-A credit rating to the senior slices of what Lewis compellingly describes as a cow pat pie.

Lewis is especially, and incompatibly, unkind to some investment bankers in particular (a point well made by David Bahnsen in his excellent Amazon review), and having read this, it comes as no surprise that The Big Short should have fuelled the ire of the Senate financial services committee - whose chairman repeatedly referred to it - in its recent hearing on the Goldman Sachs Abacus situation, Goldman being repeatedly implicated within Lewis' pages.

With that in mind it will be interesting to see how The Big Short fares in this year's Goldman Sachs/Financial Times business book of the year (among the judges: L Blankfein)

But if Goldman is bagged, poor Howie Hubler from Morgan Stanley - who had the prescience to short the mezzanine tranches, but catered for the negative carry of his CDS premia by going long the (equally suspect) triple A tranches (ouch) but in ten times the size (ouch to the power of ten) thus losing nearly ten billion on a single trade is utterly excoriated.

Not poor Howie at all, actually, as he (like all Bank employees) got to keep previous (multi-million dollar) bonuses and was simply deprived of his own "forward carry" - a small and asymmetrical price to pay for putting 15bn of his employer's shareholders' money at risk.

Lewis handles the build-up to the final collapse masterfully - especially the lack of faith shown in his motley band of brothers by their own investors even as CDO indices plummeted yet, by some remarkable anomaly, the mark-to-market valuations of their short positions continued to decline - and the denouement when it finally arrives is as striking as you'd expect (Lewis, with a thriller-writer's flair, pegs it to a (positive) CDO forum being held at Bear Stearns, during which Bear's stock price, hour by hour, tanked.

As the dust clears Lewis returns to Liar's Poker, which he regrets has been read more as a how-to guide rather than the cautionary tale he intended. As an odd coda, in the epilogue, Lewis meets his old boss and nemesis (though from the exchange it transpires to be the other way round!) John Guttfreund. Clearly Guttfreund hasn't got over the damage Lewis did to his reputation (to be fair, Lewis was simply the first among many - and Guttfreund did preside over the most catastrophic hedge fund failure of all time well after Liar's Poker was published, so it's a bit glib of Guttfreund to sheet all his troubles back to Michael Lewis), and even now Lewis has not entirely forgiven the old Titan, for ushering in the era of the publicly owned investment bank, which Lewis contends was the sine qua non which made all of this disaster possible.

An interesting thought, whether that impulse, so many years ago, might have led to all this now.

Olly Buxton
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely good guide to the origins of the credit crisis, 2 July 2010
By 
This book is brilliant in its explanation of the mechanisms that brought us the credit crisis. It explains very well how a combination of stupidity (people that did not understand their own products), reward systems (for bankers, brokers and rating agencies alike) created a setting that made people think that they had created a method to turn lead into gold. In a very non-technical way, this book explains above all the folly of the Collateralized Debt Obligations and how a combination of some crooks (and a lot of dumb people) in the investment business created this mess. It is written from the perspective of the few smart people who saw the emperor's new clothes (financial engineering that was supposed to remove risk) for what they were, bet against them and won, while the rest of the world lost out.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Writing with style on the dark side of finance, 21 April 2010
By 
Serghiou Const (Nicosia, Cyprus) - See all my reviews
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The book's salient points appear on the bottom half of p.243 "...how Wall Street investment banks somehow conned the rating agencies into blessing piles of crappy loans;how this had enabled the lending of trillions of dollars to ordinary Americans;how ordinary Americans had happily complied and told the lies they needed to tell to obtain the loans;how the machinery that turned the loans into supposedly riskless securities was so complicated that investors had ceased to evaluate the risks;how the problem had grown so big that the end was bound to be cataclysmic and have big social and political consequences..."

The elements that comprise the book excellence are:the first class intellect of the author matching the quality of the Institutions he was educated namely Princeton University and the London School of Economics;his charisma in writing concisely, lucidly and impressively wittily, and the fact that he is imbued with morality;the story is not presented in the abstract but through brilliant albeit eccentric protagonists - all betting and winning against the market - such as Steve Eisman graduating from the University of Pennsylvania magna cum laude,and then with honours from Harvard Law School and Dr Michael Burry who abandoned neurology studies at Stanford to immerse himself in the world of finance. Burry's transition was apparently due to his unknowingly been afflicted with Asperger's disease which made him focus with immense intensity with whatever his interests might be, he might well be collecting stamps;the clarity and wit of the author's explanations of relevant financial instruments such as subprime mortgage bonds, credit default swaps and CDOs;the elucidation of the alchemy of transforming bundles of triple-B-rated subprime mortgage bonds into CDOs,eighty percent of them miraculously tranformed into double or triple rated-As. The facility of securing loans for houses is illustrated through a strawberry picker owning a $750,000 house and a Las Vegas stripteaser owning five.

The book concludes with a bitter taste in that there is no catharsis because instead of redemption the corrupt financial institutions are rescued by the State and thus ultimately the innocent ordinary American pays through taxes for their sins.

The book is not simply recommended reading, it is required reading.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a pleasure, 28 Mar 2010
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Abhinav Chandra "Abhinav" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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After reading tons of material on financial crisis, I thought that this one will be just another book of financial breakdown. I was completely wrong, and this book has been truly a pleasure to read. In fact it has been the best of the dozens of books published spitting on credit armageddon. The typical Michael lewis style to put a very complex financial structure in simple english embedded in the very enchanting story will definitely leave a reader spellbound. Its worth reading again and again. I will go with 5/5 for this fantastic story of the greatest economic event of our times by the best in the field.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Big Short, 12 May 2010
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M. T. CARR (U.K.) - See all my reviews
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First 70% vivid and absobing but petered out a bit thereafter. Would do well in a second edition once the Goldman Sachs complicity is fully understood.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind blowing, 10 May 2010
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Although I thought I had a reasonable understanding of the melt-down and what had caused it, having read Gillian Tett's scholarly but dry book (Fool's Gold) when it came out, and having seen and heard a lot of radio and TV discussions, I still found this account from Michael Lewis mind-blowing.

What is most fascinating is to learn that some market players (including in at least one major bank, Deutsche) were well aware of the problems blowing up, they could prove it, and they were going round other institutions (for their own not entirely altruistic reasons) trying to get others to listen to them. It all comes across here as much closer to the casino (the description already adopted by many commentators) than I had thought possible, especially as the banks' lauded mathematical models have proved to be little more robust than the "systems" used by gamblers at the roulette table. Michael Lewis's knack is to tell the stories of those rough/tough personalities who were predicting (and betting on) the bust, and what they went through before the big bust eventually arrived (all the worse for being delayed). In fact, "irrational exuberance" (copyright. A. Greenspan) just proved to have become much more exuberant and far more irrational than ever he realised it might.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BLINDED WITH GREED OR PLAIN STUPID?, 4 May 2010
By 
DOPPLEGANGER (TEDDY B) - See all my reviews
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A well written, thoroughly researched insight into the relatively small band of individuals that predicted that the house mortgage market would implode. To these investors and speculators who chose to take, not much more than a cursory glance at the underlying assets of the glut of 'mortgage bonds' marketed by Wall Street institutions, it was blindingly obvious that many contained extremely high levels of 'guaranteed to default' sub-prime borrowers. They were further amazed when they were offered by Blue Chip universally known companies who in many cases had put the bonds together and sold them to their clients, insurance cover at very low cost, to pay out vast sums of money as and when the bonds failed. And guess what?........you didn't even have to own one of these toxic pieces of financial crud....just pay the premium and pick-up the loot! These policies known as Credit Default Swaps (CDS) are what the author refers to as 'The Big Short'.

Many of the beneficiaries were constrained in making even more money by restricting the CDS's they bought because of the fear that making a killing cannot be this easy and 'we must have missed something'. They hadn't, it was a fast route to vast riches.

Those who put together these Mortgage Bonds and those who traded in them, blindly ignoring the irresponsible dishing out of mortgages to all and sundry and the collapse in the value of properties were either blinded with greed or certifiably stupid.

A really good book, interesting, informative but at the same time quite shocking.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big time finance failures revealed, 3 May 2010
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Mr. K. Parslow (Cambridge England) - See all my reviews
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I found this an informative book revealing not least the ease with which major banking organisations unwittingly(?) compound poorly organised products to profit themselves, resulting in major failures. Well done Michael Lewis for telling this story through the vehicle of those who were bright enough to discover the problems in the financial products and take advantage of them to make a significant profit for themselves.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Big Short, 16 April 2010
By 
Scott A. Yeates "Scotty" (Onchan, Isle of Man) - See all my reviews
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Loved the book - from someone not in the industry, Lewis made it simple to understand so simple you wonder why the whole world couldn't see what was coming.

Scott
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The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (Paperback - 27 Jan 2011)
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