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Michael Lewis, three decades after ‘Liar’s Poker,’ says Wall Street


Michael Lewis

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

When a 27-year-old Michael Lewis put his head down to write “Liar’s Poker” — the book that ultimately put him on best-selling lists and launched his dazzling writing career — never did he expect it to become required reading on Wall Street.

In fact, he had a different book in mind. The book he initially sold was about the history of Wall Street that ended with his job as a bond salesman at Salomon Brothers, which, in his words, was a little dry. As Lewis started putting his own experience into words, describing hustling on the trading floor in the midst of reckless, dog-eat-dog and frat-boy culture in the late 1980s, he was having so much fun writing it that he knew he had to scrap his original book proposal.

“Liar’s Poker” took the world by storm, but it did have some unintended consequences. Lewis had thought, if anything, the book would discourage the money-minded college generation from working on Wall Street, but it did the opposite. It accidentally served as a career blueprint for business majors and a moral guide of the big money machine.

Lewis said “Liar’s Poker” is still being read more than 30 years later because it was one of the last books to capture an uncensored and unfiltered Wall Street before publicity became a thing.

On Tuesday, Lewis released a new audio edition of “Liar’s Poker,” narrated by himself, as well as a five-episode companion podcast “Other People’s Money.” I talked to Lewis about how Wall Street has — and hasn’t— changed since the original release of the book and why in some ways it’s even worse today.

(The below has been edited for length and clarity.)

Yun Li: Can you talk about your experience writing “Liar’s Poker” and the unexpected feedback?

Michael Lewis: It was just fun to write. It was fun to revisit it all and it was funny on the page. I thought I was writing something that if anything would dissuade a young person from going to Wall Street, but I think it sounded like so much fun, it had the opposite effect. Like any ambition I had with the book having some effect in the world, it wasn’t like “I’m going to bring down Wall Street” — I didn’t even want to. I had almost an neutral feeling about Wall Street. I thought it was not an immoral place but an amoral place. Moral just didn’t matter.

It really bothered me to see this first wave of young people coming out of college feel like they had to go to Wall Street or Wall Street was the very best thing they could do with their lives because the pay was so incredible. For the kind of kid that went to Harvard, Princeton and Yale, Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Salomon Brothers became the next step. And it was insane I thought. You have all these young people who often have very idealistic, passionate, smart and all kinds of possible futures ahead of them and the ability to have all kinds of positive effects on the world, just being sucked into this machine. I thought if I write this book, the 19-year-old me would read it and…


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