Review (Guest): Liar’s Poker–Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street

5 Star, Banks, Fed, Money, & Concentrated Wealth, Biography & Memoirs, Corruption
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars One hand, one million dollars, no tears.

July 15, 2003

john purcell “johneric99” (Purcellville, VA USA)

In the 1980’s, Michael Lewis was a neophyte bond salesman for Salomon Brothers in New York and London for four years. Liar’s Poker is a high-stakes game the traders, salesmen, and executives play each afternoon, but it is also a metaphor for the Salomon culture of extreme risk-taking with immediate payoffs and clear winners and losers.

This is the story of how Lewis survived the training program, inept but mean-spirited management, an aborted take-over even featuring a white knight, layoffs and the 1987 market crash before quitting to find his real calling as a business journalist. While Lewis’s career did not take off quickly, he eventually became a highly paid producer, although not in the league of the true top dogs.

Lewis tells the real story of Wall Street in both go-go and crash days with self-deprecating humor enlivened with his ecletic wit. Colorful and well-known Wall Street characters appear such as Michael Milken, Lazlo Birini, Warren Buffett, Bill Simon, Sr. and John Guetfruend. All business students need to read this as even those with advanced degrees in finance such as myself, will learn how things really work. The story of how the junk bond and collateralized mortgage backed security markets emerge is told to fill in a chapter in financial history. Perhaps most interesting is some of the political machinations, rampant at Salomon, which lead for example for Salomon to ignore the junk bond market, allowing others to flourish and eventually attempt to take-over Salomon using junk bonds.

Lewis also describes for all investors the conflicts of interest and lack of governance on Wall Street long before Eliot Spitzer and Arthur Levitt became the champions of the little guy. My next step is to read Lewis’s later books.

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