More than 30 years later, Michael Lewis' 1989 book "Liar's Poker" is still the book to read if you want to really understand Wall Street. "Liar's Poker" tells the story of Lewis' experience as a bond salesman in the 1980s.
"I wrote my first book more than three decades ago. It was part memoir and part reportage," Lewis said.
He is revisiting "Liar's Poker" with an audiobook and a companion podcast "Other People's Money." Lewis visited the old Federal Reserve Bank building in San Francisco to reflect on the book that changed his life. He wrote about his experience for "CBS Mornings." Read his essay below:
The book hit some kind of nerve in our culture. I mean I didn't even really know the culture had nerves. I'd never done this before. I had no idea what to expect. The book shot right to the top of every bestseller list and stayed on them for a year. And right away I noticed something odd. I thought I'd written a book that put Wall Street in its place. I thought that any 20-year-old who was contemplating a career on Wall Street might read my book and decide to go do something more deeply enriching. That's not what happened. In the first few months, I had maybe a thousand letters from people — mainly young men — saying "I love your book dude! I'm now totally stoked to go work on Wall Street. You got any more tips on how I can get in?" What I thought of as a cautionary tale became an instruction manual.
That's when I learned that writers simply write books. Readers decide what the words mean.
At the time I thought that "Liar's Poker" marked the end of a special period of financial madness. I mean, I was a 25-year-old art history major who knew very little about money, and yet grown-ups were paying me hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to move huge piles of money around. I thought I was simply documenting the end of an era of absolute madness on Wall Street. But it turns out this era was just the beginning of something bigger — of Wall Street grabbing an ever-larger share of the U.S. economy. Of people on Wall Street living by one set of rules and most everyone else living by another.
I moved on after I wrote the book. I never read it again. But I've written a couple of more books about Wall Street. And I know that the world described in "Liar's Poker" has changed. Wall Street used to be full of telephones with cords and shouting and big hairy men. It was crude and rude and socially unacceptable. Wall Street has now gone quiet; its most important sound is the hum of a stack of computer servers. The people take more care not to draw attention to themselves.
I think that's the main reason people still read my book. Why, say, interns on Wall Street are assigned it as homework. Because I'd gotten the last glimpse of the great beast before it ducked back inside its cave. And I accidentally wrote something that endured.
Just recently, I found out the audiobook rights to "Liar's Poker" had reverted back to me. So I decided to re-open "Liar's Poker" and record it again, the whole thing. It was a truly weird experience, almost like meeting a different me. It was actually difficult to read that book again. But it reminded me of the value of not always just moving forward. Of taking the time to stop and go back.
I'd thrown everything about "Liar's Poker" into a couple of bankers' boxes and left them sealed up in a storage unit for decades. After we recorded the audiobook, I pulled those boxes out and looked inside. There was whole another me in there—a guy who for a long time couldn't even see a decent book title staring him right in the face. But also a guy who knew he had a good story in front of him.
And I had to admire his strange decision to leave a big pile of money behind to write a book that he thought could change the world—even if it didn't change the world in the ways he expected.
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