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  • Writer's pictureJulie Erwin

Liar’s Poker - The Book

Liar’s Poker was written by Michael Lewis, an American author and financial journalist. The original full title of the book was Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street, and it was written in 1989.

What is Liar’s Poker about?

Liar's Poker is an unflattering portrayal of Wall Street traders and salesmen in the 1980s. It is an insider's view of the world of investment banking, and is a memoir of Michael Lewis' time working as a bond salesman for Salomon Brothers in the 1980s.

Liar's Poker book cover

In the book, Michael Lewis critiques the culture of greed and excess that characterised the era. Specifically, he details the rise of mortgage bonds and how the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) cracked down on insider trading at Salomon Brothers, leading to the downfall of the firm's CEO, John Gutfreund.

Liar’s Poker describes how many traders became obsessed with making money, even if it meant engaging in unethical behaviour. It is a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed and the importance of maintaining a sense of perspective.

What is a human piranha in Liar's Poker?

The human piranha is a term used to describe the ruthless traders who would do anything to make a profit. They were known for their aggressive tactics and cutthroat mentality, earning them the nickname of human piranhas.

What is Michael Lewis' background?

Born in New Orleans on 15 October 1960, Michael Lewis went to Princeton University to study art history, and later gained a Master’s at the London School of Economics (LSE). From there he moved to the investment bank Salomon Brothers, where is worked as a bond salesman. It is here that he gained first-hand knowledge of the financial industry, the subject of some of his most famous books.

Michael Lewis author of Liar's Poker
Michael Lewis © Rex Features via AP Images

After leaving Salomon Brothers, Michael Lewis became a successful writer, receiving the National Book Award, amongst others. He has also worked as a financial journalist, receiving the Gerald Loeb Award for Business Journalism, and has taught financial journalism classes at the University of California, Berkeley.

What did critics say about Liar's Poker?

Reviews of the book were generally positive, and the book was praised for shedding light on the inner workings of one of the most powerful industries in the world. The New York Times Book Review called it "a highly entertaining and deeply disturbing book that is a must-read for anyone interested in the world of finance and the culture of Wall Street."

The Los Angeles Times described Liar's Poker as "a hilarious and frightening look at the greed and excess that characterised Wall Street in the 1980s," while The Washington Post said that "Lewis has a talent for making the arcane world of high finance accessible and entertaining to the lay reader."

Has Michael Lewis written other books about trading?

Michael Lewis’ others books about trading include Boomerang, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt and The Big Short. The Big Short was made into a 2015 film of the same name, directed by Adam McKay, with a star-studded line-up including Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt.

He is also famous for his books about politics (The Fifth Risk and Losers), Silicon Valley (The New New Thing), baseball (Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game and Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life) and American football (The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game).

His latest book, The Premonition, was published in 2021. In it he explores the US’ early response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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