Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Review: The Big Short

I finally committed to picking-up a book I had started over a year ago... and actually finish reading it. And let me tell you, I was totally missing out by putting it off for so long! I'm going to follow Amber on her path with book reviews and put out my personal review of The Big Short, by Michael Lewis.

I had wanted to read The Big Short for several reasons. It is touted as being a relatively thorough look at the financial crisis that transpired in 2008 and I have a penchant for non-fiction social & cultural study genre books. It helps that I am within this large and complex realm of finance so none of it was too far a stretch of what I've experienced myself.

Lewis pieces together the story of the financial crash through the key characters who had a hand in creating the big opaque machine of credit default swaps (CDS) and collateralized debit obligations (CDO). He gets into the moving parts of the "machine" that created the sub-prime mortgage meltdown and writes about the major financial institutions that were involved and the actual people behind the creation and exploitation. He takes these bigger than life characters of this financial system and basically removes the often intimidating exterior of these people and makes them relatable and... human. The reader really gets into their heads through context to their (often) hilarious personalities and backgrounds, thereby getting a better picture of the reasons why they did what they did.

Lewis excels at humourously portraying not only incidents and characters but is able to look critically and plainly at a situation and stating it without pretension. And you'll know this is true when you find yourself chuckling in public at the paragraph you just read. You're drawn into the world while he does this and the read goes by quickly even if you don't understand every single word he's said. He formulates the book in a manner that is relatively easy for the average reader to follow; seeing as even the financial institutions and rating agencies (like Moody's), who should have known about what was going on, didn't. Lewis has quite the way of aptly describing the core of what the subprime mortgages are and the intricate system that was woven by those players.

He is able to keep the interest of a reader like myself through all the jargon, numbers and complexity by turning the real life men (and women) into caricatures--often emphasizing the quarks and nuances of these people and piecing together the various events which led to the collapse of the subprime mortgage-backed CDOs.

The Big Short isn't a story of good guys or bad guys but about the inherent greed and immorality that the financial system allowed and evolved into during the 1980s boom to bring about the situation that came to a cumulative peak in September 2008. It's essentially a story about people and the tragic consequences of their actions.

NOTE: highly recommend also reading Liar's Poker.


  1. Agree wholeheartedly with this review! Basically my thoughts exactly, the characterizations really bring the story to life!

    1. lewis does such a good job that i found myself laughing at times!