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Liar's Poker: Playing the Money Markets (Liar's Poker #1)

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In this shrewd and wickedly funny book, Michael Lewis describes an astonishing era and his own rake's progress through a powerful investment bank. From an unlikely beginning (art history at Princeton?) he rose in two short years from Salomon Brothers trainee to Geek (the lowest form of life on the trading floor) to Big Swinging Dick, the most dangerous beast in the jungle, In this shrewd and wickedly funny book, Michael Lewis describes an astonishing era and his own rake's progress through a powerful investment bank. From an unlikely beginning (art history at Princeton?) he rose in two short years from Salomon Brothers trainee to Geek (the lowest form of life on the trading floor) to Big Swinging Dick, the most dangerous beast in the jungle, a bond salesman who could turn over millions of dollars' worth of doubtful bonds with just one call. With the eye and ear of a born storyteller, Michael Lewis shows us how things really worked on Wall Street. In the Salomon training program a roomful of aspirants is stunned speechless by the vitriolic profanity of the Human Piranha; out on the trading floor, bond traders throw telephones at the heads of underlings and Salomon chairman Gutfreund challenges his chief trader to a hand of liar's poker for one million dollars; around the world in London, Tokyo, and New York, bright young men like Michael Lewis, connected by telephones and computer terminals, swap gross jokes and find retail buyers for the staggering debt of individual companies or whole countries. The bond traders, wearing greed and ambition and badges of honor, might well have swaggered straight from the pages of Bonfire of the Vanities. But for all thier outrageous behavior, they were in fact presiding over enormous changes in the world economy. Lewis's job, simply described, was to transfer money, in the form of bonds, from those outside America who saved to those inside America who consumed. In doing so, he generated tens of millions of dollars for Salomon Brothers, and earned for himself a ringside seat on the greatest financial spectacle of the decade: the leveraging of America.


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In this shrewd and wickedly funny book, Michael Lewis describes an astonishing era and his own rake's progress through a powerful investment bank. From an unlikely beginning (art history at Princeton?) he rose in two short years from Salomon Brothers trainee to Geek (the lowest form of life on the trading floor) to Big Swinging Dick, the most dangerous beast in the jungle, In this shrewd and wickedly funny book, Michael Lewis describes an astonishing era and his own rake's progress through a powerful investment bank. From an unlikely beginning (art history at Princeton?) he rose in two short years from Salomon Brothers trainee to Geek (the lowest form of life on the trading floor) to Big Swinging Dick, the most dangerous beast in the jungle, a bond salesman who could turn over millions of dollars' worth of doubtful bonds with just one call. With the eye and ear of a born storyteller, Michael Lewis shows us how things really worked on Wall Street. In the Salomon training program a roomful of aspirants is stunned speechless by the vitriolic profanity of the Human Piranha; out on the trading floor, bond traders throw telephones at the heads of underlings and Salomon chairman Gutfreund challenges his chief trader to a hand of liar's poker for one million dollars; around the world in London, Tokyo, and New York, bright young men like Michael Lewis, connected by telephones and computer terminals, swap gross jokes and find retail buyers for the staggering debt of individual companies or whole countries. The bond traders, wearing greed and ambition and badges of honor, might well have swaggered straight from the pages of Bonfire of the Vanities. But for all thier outrageous behavior, they were in fact presiding over enormous changes in the world economy. Lewis's job, simply described, was to transfer money, in the form of bonds, from those outside America who saved to those inside America who consumed. In doing so, he generated tens of millions of dollars for Salomon Brothers, and earned for himself a ringside seat on the greatest financial spectacle of the decade: the leveraging of America.

30 review for Liar's Poker: Playing the Money Markets (Liar's Poker #1)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra X

    Update On Tuesday, March 1, 2016, I got a call, my banker (view spoiler)[that sounds weird, I'm not sure of the term, but the guy who looks after my account (hide spoiler)] resigned from Morgan Stanley. He said they wanted to put the commission and charges clients pay up too much and that it has become Corruption Central. He says he'll phone me when he finds a new company. Does anything change? My son who is in his last year at law school has a job already with Goldman Sachs. Is he going to becom Update On Tuesday, March 1, 2016, I got a call, my banker (view spoiler)[that sounds weird, I'm not sure of the term, but the guy who looks after my account (hide spoiler)] resigned from Morgan Stanley. He said they wanted to put the commission and charges clients pay up too much and that it has become Corruption Central. He says he'll phone me when he finds a new company. Does anything change? My son who is in his last year at law school has a job already with Goldman Sachs. Is he going to become very rich and very corrupt? Will I care as much when it is my son and not my money? _____ Liar's Poker is the ultra high-stakes game played in Wall Street companies by the brokers with the obscenely high commissions they get from trading in the investment market. What results is either extreme wealth and satisfaction - probably quite a few of these people are psychopaths or guilt and a change in career, or they become just like the American Psycho, a rather fun fictional book on the ultimate psycho on Wall Street. The book is highly recommended for lots of open-mouthed, "geez, people act like that", say things like that moments and because Michael Lewis, as always, knows his subject well and writes about it in a very entertaining and non-dry way. Great read. The author quite obviously dislikes and has nothing but contempt for the banking industry - he resigned from Salomon Brothers to write this book but at the time was still married to Diana de Cordova, an investment banker with Morgan Stanley. I wonder if his book had anything to do with the marriage breaking down? He married twice more, both tv journalists, but got out of banking completely and into writing best-selling books. At least his time was his own. _____ I've been reading other reviews of this book and I hadn't realised that it was over 20 years old. It reads like it could have been written about the overblown corruption of the Finance market right now that explodes into the press every few years. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, at least with Wall Street.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    21 years after publication, Liar's Poker feels both relevant and ancient. Relevant because it seems the Big Swinging Dicks of Wall Street are ever with us; ancient because of references to things like WATS lines and the lionizing of Salomon Brothers trader John Meriwether, whose Long-Term Capital Management would spectacularly implode in 1998, and Michael Milken, who apparently had not yet been indicted when the book went to press but got a 10-year prison sentence for securities violations. Lewis 21 years after publication, Liar's Poker feels both relevant and ancient. Relevant because it seems the Big Swinging Dicks of Wall Street are ever with us; ancient because of references to things like WATS lines and the lionizing of Salomon Brothers trader John Meriwether, whose Long-Term Capital Management would spectacularly implode in 1998, and Michael Milken, who apparently had not yet been indicted when the book went to press but got a 10-year prison sentence for securities violations. Lewis is a raconteur more than a documentarian, which is both pleasing and irritating. Certainly raconteurs can sell more books. Most people don't want to read dry scholarly accounts of Wall Street. But there are times in the book (most of chapters 1-4) where his writerly persona is so big that it crowds out everything else. His tone is so arch, snarky, exaggerated, so swimming in eddies of simile and metaphor, that I don't completely believe him (though I'm sure the vague outlines of his story are true). He pairs bravado with disarming self-deprecation, telling us repeatedly how he was utterly green, knew nothing, stumbled his way through everything, yet brought a trader who had wronged him to his knees, and by the time he left Salomon was earning the largest bonus of his class (undeserved, he insists). He steps away from the tales of towel-slapping long enough to give a detailed history of the rise of mortgage trading at Salomon Brothers and how Salomon management allowed hegemony to slip through their fingers. (Raising the question, how did such a junior employee know so much about a) the mortgage market, and b) the internecine battles among Salomon bigwigs?) The portrait he paints of Salomon's chairman John Gutfreund is fairly devastating (though ancient history; Gutfreund would be forced out by Warren Buffett in 1991 after a Treasury bond scandal). Some examples of his raconteurship: Ranieri welded a coherent departmental personality out of two separate but equally gamy ethnic groups. (Italians and Jews, if you care.) Buying whole loans (that is what the traders called home loans, to distinguish them from mortgage bonds) was an act of faith, like eating bologna. For each step forward in market technology they [the traders:] took a step backward in human evolution...they became louder, ruder, fatter... Their days began at 8 a.m. with a round of onion cheeseburgers. "We'd order four hundred dollars of Mexican food," says a former trader. "You can't buy four hundred dollars of Mexican food. But we'd try - guacamole in five-gallon drums, for a start. A customer would call in and ask us to bid or offer bonds, and you'd have to say, 'I'm sorry, but we're in the middle of the feeding frenzy. I'll have to call you back.'"

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rajat Ubhaykar

    Atlas Shrugged for the philistine. It's subtle glorification of the greedy, underneath a veneer of hilarious sarcasm and grudging respect is the stuff financial Bibles are made of. An interesting slice of financial history is captured succinctly, more precisely the development of Collaterized Mortgage Obligations in the 80's which also has direct relevance to the recent U.S housing crisis. If you wish to get everything you can out of this book, get your Finance 101 straight. It'll be a lot more fu Atlas Shrugged for the philistine. It's subtle glorification of the greedy, underneath a veneer of hilarious sarcasm and grudging respect is the stuff financial Bibles are made of. An interesting slice of financial history is captured succinctly, more precisely the development of Collaterized Mortgage Obligations in the 80's which also has direct relevance to the recent U.S housing crisis. If you wish to get everything you can out of this book, get your Finance 101 straight. It'll be a lot more fun.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ruben

    This book surprised me. I read and enjoyed Lewis' Moneyball a while back, and thought I was getting another journalistic account, this time of a crazy moment in corporate culture. Instead, it's very much a memoir of that world. And I didn't care for it at first, since the group of people he writes about are so spectacularly awful. He brings a certain world of investment banking trainees home to you, and I wanted nothing to do with it. If that was the whole book, I don't think I could take it. So This book surprised me. I read and enjoyed Lewis' Moneyball a while back, and thought I was getting another journalistic account, this time of a crazy moment in corporate culture. Instead, it's very much a memoir of that world. And I didn't care for it at first, since the group of people he writes about are so spectacularly awful. He brings a certain world of investment banking trainees home to you, and I wanted nothing to do with it. If that was the whole book, I don't think I could take it. Something like the way some people don't like The Office (esp. the BBC version); it's too painful to see such human lowness. But I'm glad I stuck around, because he can really tell a story. The sense of battle, politicking, and putting up fronts. Wry observations. Big picture, little picture. He comes off as a whistle blower with no sense that he's betraying his world; just an inside man dissecting a world he finds amusing, deranged, and perversely fun.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    pp 83 is a discussion of S&L's failure in the US. pp 136 is the best explanation of CMO's I've ever read. Great read. Initially loaned to me by a coworker. I went out and bought it shortly thereafter. A former art student winds up becoming a bond salesman for Salomon Brothers in the mid 1980's. He sees a lot, and describes it vividly. Chernobyl. The October Crash of 1987. Gutfreund and Meriwether quibbling over how much to bet in one hand of the title game. He introduces some terms to the lexico pp 83 is a discussion of S&L's failure in the US. pp 136 is the best explanation of CMO's I've ever read. Great read. Initially loaned to me by a coworker. I went out and bought it shortly thereafter. A former art student winds up becoming a bond salesman for Salomon Brothers in the mid 1980's. He sees a lot, and describes it vividly. Chernobyl. The October Crash of 1987. Gutfreund and Meriwether quibbling over how much to bet in one hand of the title game. He introduces some terms to the lexicon that persist to this day: BSD- as used in the movie Boiler Room. Good deal of relevant information for both the average investor as well as the seasoned professional. When the news about Chernobyl breaks Mike's good friend has some advice for him, "Buy potatoes." This is a powerful illustration of how traders, not investors, think. A spread, any spread...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Walter Spence

    In 2007, super investor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway made a bet with some of the people over at the Protege Partners hedge fund. He wagered that over a period of ten years the S&P 500 (a passive index) would outperform a group of five hedge funds* handpicked by Protege, with the loser donating one million dollars to the charity of the winner's choice. (*Hedge Fund: A limited partnership of investors that uses high risk methods, such as investing with borrowed money, in hopes of realiz In 2007, super investor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway made a bet with some of the people over at the Protege Partners hedge fund. He wagered that over a period of ten years the S&P 500 (a passive index) would outperform a group of five hedge funds* handpicked by Protege, with the loser donating one million dollars to the charity of the winner's choice. (*Hedge Fund: A limited partnership of investors that uses high risk methods, such as investing with borrowed money, in hopes of realizing large capital gains.) With one more year to go (as of this writing), here are the results thus far: The hedge funds are up a cumulative 22 percent. The S&P? Up close to 66 percent. So what does this have to do with Liar's Poker? First, the prospective reader should understand what Liar's Poker is. It is a memoir by best-selling author Michael Lewis about his brief stint working for the investment firm Salomon Brothers during the mid-eighties. So, you may well ask, what does this have to do with Warren Buffett? Well, there are two connections. First connection: In 1987, Buffett was approached by Salomon Brothers (which was struggling against a hostile takeover attempt) and offered a deal. If Buffett would lend Salomon 700 million dollars in the form of a special bond—which Salomon would then use to buy back their own shares to fight the takeover attempt—then Buffett would have two options. Either (A) he could hold the bond in exchange for an interest rate of nine percent (a good return) or (B) he could, at any time before 1996, trade the bond in for Salomon common stock at $38 a share, only losing money if the company somehow went bankrupt. The second connection, more poignant than the first, is this Buffett quote: "There's been far, far, far more money made by people in Wall Street through salesmanship abilities than through investment abilities." Which brings us back to Salomon Brothers. Because Liar's Poker is their tale, the story of a group of traders and salesmen who at times not only did not make their customers money, but who on occasion used their customers as patsies in order to minimize their own losses (at their customers' expense) by selling said customers investment products that Salomon Brothers owned, and which Salomon knew were crap when they were sold, in order to get them off Salomon's books. It tells the tale of Michael Lewis, fresh out of Princeton and the London School of Economics, and his three year sojourn with what was (at that time) one of Wall Street's premiere investment firms, and how a combination of greed, stupidity and internal corruption almost destroyed the company. Highly recommended reading for those folks curious about the goings on of a prominent Wall Street firm during the eighties, and who don't mind a behind-the-scenes look (metaphorically speaking) at how the sausage gets made.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    First book of this type I truly enjoyed. Thank you Lewis for opening up a new field of book to explore.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Why am I languishing here, making approximately $0 dollars as a librarian? Why was I not a Wall Street investment banker?! These guys were having all the fun. In his introduction to the Big Short, Lewis writes that he was dismayed people took Liar's Poker not as a cautionary tale, but as a how-to manual for their careers. But I can totally understand why! He makes the trading floor sound like the place to be, the absolute center of the universe. He's also got a real knack for explaining somethin Why am I languishing here, making approximately $0 dollars as a librarian? Why was I not a Wall Street investment banker?! These guys were having all the fun. In his introduction to the Big Short, Lewis writes that he was dismayed people took Liar's Poker not as a cautionary tale, but as a how-to manual for their careers. But I can totally understand why! He makes the trading floor sound like the place to be, the absolute center of the universe. He's also got a real knack for explaining something in one or two sentences, and then providing a brief anecdote or lively quote to illustrate the thing described. It's literally never boring. I've heard people say that his writing is successful because it makes readers feel smart, and I get that. Although sometimes, when you have failed to understand something so colorfully and breezily explained, it can actually make you feel...less smart. I read one particular page about the rise of junk bonds three times, and then just gave up.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kirk

    Probably the least interesting thing by Michael Lewis that I've read. Billed as an expose of Wall Street greed, I found it more to be a story of incompetent management and political infighting by conceited executives who found themselves successful by being in the right place at the right time, but think themselves as geniuses. Some of this reminded me a lot of my father's stories of the politics at his former law practice. Why anyone would want to work in a place with so much backstabbing and v Probably the least interesting thing by Michael Lewis that I've read. Billed as an expose of Wall Street greed, I found it more to be a story of incompetent management and political infighting by conceited executives who found themselves successful by being in the right place at the right time, but think themselves as geniuses. Some of this reminded me a lot of my father's stories of the politics at his former law practice. Why anyone would want to work in a place with so much backstabbing and viscousness is beyond me. Shows the value of company culture. It's funny to see Lewis wishing the company had been bought out by private equity firms just so they would fire the management. To me this book is another example that companies can sometimes be successful in spite of their leaders if they have a decent product and some luck.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I'm a little torn by this book. It's well written, it's funny in places, some of Michael Lewis' observations are very astute and I'm sure that on some level this is an excellent commentary on the downfall of a once great company. Lewis was a trainee bond trader at Salomon Brothers when that firm was the most profitable on Wall St. He did very well out of his time there, and his analysis both here and in another of his works, The Big Short, pinpoints several of the problems that society has, or s I'm a little torn by this book. It's well written, it's funny in places, some of Michael Lewis' observations are very astute and I'm sure that on some level this is an excellent commentary on the downfall of a once great company. Lewis was a trainee bond trader at Salomon Brothers when that firm was the most profitable on Wall St. He did very well out of his time there, and his analysis both here and in another of his works, The Big Short, pinpoints several of the problems that society has, or should have, with how the financial system works. Yet, having read The Blind Side, Lewis' views on how one position, and in particular one person playing in that position, changed American football, before both The Big Short and then Liar's Poker, I can't help disliking the author. Intensely. His previous two books had given me no reason for this at all, with the possible exception of a little smugness in 'Short'. However, Liar's Poker drips with 'I could see it coming from the second it began', 'I hated screwing clients but it was what I had to do' (every uniformed low-level goon in a dictatorship's first excuse) and 'all these people [bankers] are so horrible'. The venom he has for banking and bankers made me laugh out loud when the final line of the book informed the reader that Lewis lives in London with his wife, an investment banker. When you factor in that Lewis made vast sums of money from the profession, it's easy to see all this as disingenuous, and that's my conclusion. Once it was popular to want to be a banker, so Michael Lewis became a banker, now it's popular to hate them, so he hates them. I can't help but think that if everyone said tomorrow that they'd made a huge mistake and bankers were not to blame and that they are in fact wonderful, that Lewis would call a few contacts and be back at his trading post in minutes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    To write a non-fictional portrayal of your life during your 20s is not an easy task. To do this while still in your 20s, to have it be your first book, and to have the story revolve around bond trading / Wall Street - and not have the book be as dry as it sounds - seems an almost cruel undertaking. But Lewis managed to do this. Despite what would seem to be the worst idea for a first book, Lewis keeps the reader interested and turning pages, even with a cast of execrable people that are only mad To write a non-fictional portrayal of your life during your 20s is not an easy task. To do this while still in your 20s, to have it be your first book, and to have the story revolve around bond trading / Wall Street - and not have the book be as dry as it sounds - seems an almost cruel undertaking. But Lewis managed to do this. Despite what would seem to be the worst idea for a first book, Lewis keeps the reader interested and turning pages, even with a cast of execrable people that are only made more loathsome by the fact that they do, indeed, exist. With unwitting prescience, Lewis writes about the creation of the mortgage bond business in the early/mid '80s that would take center stage in 2008 during the global economic meltdown. The unadulterated, unchecked greed with which the bond traders knowingly fleeced "suckers" in the market is staggering not by the reaches of their malfeasance, but rather that those unsavory characters continue to exist, in increasingly more dastardly versions as the years go by, and in all areas of Wall Street, banking and government. I'm happy I read this book after The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine because it makes that more recent book much more poignant in retrospect. I can almost see Lewis' head shaking as he was penning "Big Short" realizing he had seen all of this first hand 20 years before, knowing that nothing would really be done to make meaningful changes to avert a future disaster, and that as this event plays out again and again into the future the reality is that there is going to be a time when the wheels come off for good - and no amount of government intervention or "market self correction" is going to fix the problem. Doomsday Machine, indeed.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    Couldn't get into this one. Too much testosterone and greed to really be of interest. I wouldn't want to be in these people's company and find little of interest in their subculture, unfortunately, it is a very powerful group.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Wesley

    Liar's Poker tells the story of Michael Lewis and his career on Wall Street during the eighties. In those days, it was almost like the wild west with people throwing money around. Then, the loss of massive sums of money (one hundred million and over) was something that was laughable and easily disregarded. Now, losing that amount of money would yield either a huge embarassment or an instantaeneous firing. Througout the book, Michael Lewis describes to macho-nature of the financial world by using Liar's Poker tells the story of Michael Lewis and his career on Wall Street during the eighties. In those days, it was almost like the wild west with people throwing money around. Then, the loss of massive sums of money (one hundred million and over) was something that was laughable and easily disregarded. Now, losing that amount of money would yield either a huge embarassment or an instantaeneous firing. Througout the book, Michael Lewis describes to macho-nature of the financial world by using slang terms, such as a human pirahana (someone who curses in every single sentence) and a big swinging dick (the head honcho in the room). I liked this book a lot because Lewis blends his unique brand of deadpan humor with actual facts about his time on Wall Street. I find that is something that is really hard to do in a book because finding that perfect balance between truth and humor is near impossible. I also like it because the book had a lot of ramifications in the financial world. The book practically ended a few careers as it exposed many brokers for being loose with their money and becuase many people had just been pulled right out of high school. I just found that so interesting because it is very, very rare that you find a book that can do that. I would reccomend this to anyone that enjoys book based on the financial world and anyone who enjoys books that mesh humor with real facts.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lucas

    Đọc Lewis thì khỏi phải nói rồi, rất thỏa mãn ở khía cạnh giải trí. Đây có lẽ là một trong những quyển thú vị ngôn ngữ nhất về phố Wall (đọc là: buồn cười) mà tôi đọc được. Nếu Flash Boys hơi nặng tính kỹ thuật và chỉ trích, The Undoing Project thiên về tính lịch sử và thán phục thì Liar’s Poker, đúng như cái tên, nghiêng về những trò mánh khóe và lừa bịp (The Big Short và Moneyball thì tôi mới chỉ xem phim, chưa đọc sách). Với những kinh nghiệm ít ỏi của tôi khi còn “ở bên trong” thị trường chứ Đọc Lewis thì khỏi phải nói rồi, rất thỏa mãn ở khía cạnh giải trí. Đây có lẽ là một trong những quyển thú vị ngôn ngữ nhất về phố Wall (đọc là: buồn cười) mà tôi đọc được. Nếu Flash Boys hơi nặng tính kỹ thuật và chỉ trích, The Undoing Project thiên về tính lịch sử và thán phục thì Liar’s Poker, đúng như cái tên, nghiêng về những trò mánh khóe và lừa bịp (The Big Short và Moneyball thì tôi mới chỉ xem phim, chưa đọc sách). Với những kinh nghiệm ít ỏi của tôi khi còn “ở bên trong” thị trường chứng khoán thì quả đúng là như vậy. Không phải ngẫu nhiên mà đây là nơi tập trung những kẻ thông minh nhất quả đất vào làm việc và chém giết nhau (nơi thông minh thứ nhì chắc là NASA). Tóm lại là thống khoái.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    I think that Michael Lewis is a superb writer. He takes a complex topic, such as mortgage-backed securities, and explains them so that your every(wo)man can understand them. He is also a great observer of human character, and he writes about people with great aplomb. I feel as if I personally know his characters. While the subject matter of investment banking in the 1980s is filled with blind greed, leaving the reader disgusted, Lewis manages to make this book a fabulous read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anand Iyer

    An honest attempt on the life of a bond trader: not the philosophy, nor the routine struggles but the very aspects of inside baseball, juicy gossips and harsh realities. It's not hard to see how careers were made in the 80s in a firm whose rise and fall happened in that decade. It never directly tells you anything other than office politics, but powerful tangents an average human can draw are insightful for an investment banking career.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Arvind

    This was my 7th book by the author and I have loved all his earlier books. Even I was surprised how much I disliked this one. Unlike the other books, this was a memoir of the author's days from investment banking. Remember U.S. Investment bankers ? The guys who paid themselves fat bonuses after the govt bailout in 2008. The guys who broke every barrier of greed in their insane lust for profits. This is about how one of the biggest investment banking firms "Salomon Brothers" worked in the 1980s. So This was my 7th book by the author and I have loved all his earlier books. Even I was surprised how much I disliked this one. Unlike the other books, this was a memoir of the author's days from investment banking. Remember U.S. Investment bankers ? The guys who paid themselves fat bonuses after the govt bailout in 2008. The guys who broke every barrier of greed in their insane lust for profits. This is about how one of the biggest investment banking firms "Salomon Brothers" worked in the 1980s. Somehow, it failed to interest me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mike Moore

    For people who want to understand the peculiar failure modes of capitalism that have been illustrated by the bubbles, crashes, and bailouts of the past decade, Liar's Poker is required reading. Not that it provides solutions to the problems (far from it), but it illustrates the problem space perhaps better than any other book I know. It does this by means of a sympathetic, yet introspective, portrayal of the vicious, base-natured villainy that is Wall Street Corporate culture. There is little roo For people who want to understand the peculiar failure modes of capitalism that have been illustrated by the bubbles, crashes, and bailouts of the past decade, Liar's Poker is required reading. Not that it provides solutions to the problems (far from it), but it illustrates the problem space perhaps better than any other book I know. It does this by means of a sympathetic, yet introspective, portrayal of the vicious, base-natured villainy that is Wall Street Corporate culture. There is little room to doubt that the attitudes and practices presented in this book are directly responsible for far reaching problems affecting the world, yet it's easy to see why instead of being received as a warning the book was embraced as a how-to guide by a generation of ambitious would-be finance jockeys. "Never before have so many unskilled twenty-four-year-olds made so much money in so little time as we did this decade in New York and London. There has never before been such a fantastic exception to the rule of the marketplace that one takes out no more than one puts in." Consider this: I read this book shortly after Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy and concurrent with Kerouac's On The Road. I think in those two counter-cultural touchpoints there may be one or two figures who would not jump at the proposition above with both feet, but for most of them the embrace would be as instinctive as breathing. In a weird way, the Wall Street abuses were part of an unbroken continuum with that counter-culture. Sal Paradise would have done very well for himself here. At the same time, the subversion of the bourgeois ideal of incremental cumulative reward for societal benefits of ones labor is like a victory point scored by capitalism against itself. Imagine the high scoring games that would occur if soccer players could increase their salary by an order of magnitude with an own-goal. The era Michael Lewis illustrates here didn't die or collapse at the end of the 80s, it has continued and if anything has become more extreme to the present day. However, it's difficult to blame the individuals for being self-interested (in the soulless, paranoid way of empty suits), or the politicians for not solving a problem when no solution is clearly possible. Like the attempts to introduce "balancing" factors to a biological ecosystem, each iteration makes the old problems worse while introducing new ones. The genius of this book is that it is a highly enjoyable and readable frolic, which only becomes oppressive and dismal when you stand back and think about what it entails. Sadly, many readers never take that last step and flock to become the next generation of piranhas on Wall Street. Given the promise of millions of dollars for people with limited ability to contribute meaningfully to society, it's hard to blame them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Deepak

    Ironically (you will understand why once you read the book), this was one of the suggested readings when I was interning with Goldman Sachs. The book captures the experiences of Michael Lewis as a Salomon bond salesman. But what it includes in more excruciating detail is "the" truth about the glorified Wall Street (using this phrase in a rather generic sense to include markets in other locations as well), and the rise and fall of one of its inhabitants, Salomon Brothers, in the 1970s and 80s. To Ironically (you will understand why once you read the book), this was one of the suggested readings when I was interning with Goldman Sachs. The book captures the experiences of Michael Lewis as a Salomon bond salesman. But what it includes in more excruciating detail is "the" truth about the glorified Wall Street (using this phrase in a rather generic sense to include markets in other locations as well), and the rise and fall of one of its inhabitants, Salomon Brothers, in the 1970s and 80s. To be honest, having seen this industry pretty up-close probably makes this review a bit biased. In other words, for me it was not strictly an outsider's view of the world of investment banking. Having said that, however, I feel this book is good enough to capture the attention of the uninitiated, with its honestly brutal details and strikingly realistic delineations. Some of my favorite quotes from the book: "That was how a Salomon trader thought: he forgot whatever it was that he wanted to do for a minute and put his finger on the pulse of the market. If the market felt fidgety, if people were scared or desperate, he herded them like sheep into a corner, then made them pay for their uncertainty. He sat on the market until it puked gold coins. Then he worried about what he wanted to do." "If you ever care to see how all the world's most awful jokes spread, spend a day on a bond trading desk. When the Challenger Space Shuttle disintegrated, six people called me from six points on the globe to explain that NASA stands for Need Another Seven Astronauts." "Now I admit, even for a geek, it was a little embarrassing to let investors believe their white magic. But as long as the chartists placed their bets with me, my jungle guide explained, the reasoning of our customers was not for me to question." "Most of the time when markets move, no one has any idea why. A man who can tell a good story can make a good living as a broker... Heavy selling out of the Middle East was an old standby. Since no one ever had any clue what the Arabs were doing with their money or why, no story involving Arabs could ever be refuted. So if you didn't know why the dollar was falling, you shouted out something about Arabs." Loved it! Would definitely recommend it to those who are (or going to be) associated with the world of investment banking.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    A brilliant and funny memoir of life on Wall Street in the 1980s. Michael Lewis shows exactly how craven and self-serving his firm, Salomon Brothers, had become by the time of his arrival in 1985. Previously a backwater, Jewish-led, bond trading firm, Salomon rode the wave of leverage in the Reagan era to become the most profitable investment bank in the world. Yet part of that success came from keeping good deals on its own books and passing bad bets to its customers. Lewis describes his first A brilliant and funny memoir of life on Wall Street in the 1980s. Michael Lewis shows exactly how craven and self-serving his firm, Salomon Brothers, had become by the time of his arrival in 1985. Previously a backwater, Jewish-led, bond trading firm, Salomon rode the wave of leverage in the Reagan era to become the most profitable investment bank in the world. Yet part of that success came from keeping good deals on its own books and passing bad bets to its customers. Lewis describes his first qualms and eventual acceptance of "jamming" bad bond deals down the throats of European investors and the praise from his superiors whenever he had sold a horrible deal. For instance, after selling some crappy AT&T bonds to a German investor he was praised as corporate hero, though he had to endure the "primal Teutonic scream" of his irate customer on an almost daily basis thereafter. As one of the teachers at his training program told him "Some people were born customers," meaning born-suckers. (Not surprisingly, Salomon's irate customers soon stopped taking the abuse and not long after Lewis published this book it was bought up by Traveler's Group and later Citi.) Perhaps most interesting for those reading the book today, Lewis takes a strange 100-page segue to describe the history of mortgage-backed securities, the first of which was sold by Salomon brothers trader Lewis Ranieri in 1979. He describes the MBS as an only slightly less important financial innovation than junk bonds, which, in light of current events, is an amazing understatement. Lewis, who has a fine eye for business culture, describes how Ranieri self-consciously assembled a group of fat, slovenly, back-office Italian traders (their words) to compete in the then impoverished mortgage market. He strove to create his own oppositional culture inside the increasingly WASPish firm, and, after Congress liberalized Savings and Loans investment rules in 1982, his band of misfits became some of the most profitable traders on planet earth. The rest is history. Parts of the book move surprisingly slow (he takes almost a 100 pages describing his training program), and I wish there was more focus on his own experience as a salesman, but all of it is engaging and well-written. It's a great inside look at how Wall Street worked, and works.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Flavio

    Liar's Poker is a book about the days that Michael Lewis spent at Solomon Brothers as a Bond broker during the bond boom that took place starting in the 80's. The book is really entertaining and at the same time very informative. The book can be grouped into a few sections, that have very distinct focuses. The first is about the rise to prominence of Louie Ranieri to the head of the mortgage bond trading desk and his subsequent fall. The second is about Lewis' own experience in the London office Liar's Poker is a book about the days that Michael Lewis spent at Solomon Brothers as a Bond broker during the bond boom that took place starting in the 80's. The book is really entertaining and at the same time very informative. The book can be grouped into a few sections, that have very distinct focuses. The first is about the rise to prominence of Louie Ranieri to the head of the mortgage bond trading desk and his subsequent fall. The second is about Lewis' own experience in the London office of Solomon Brothers as a trader in the corporate bond department. The third section talks about Michael Milken , the junk bond czar, and his rise to power. I was amazed by the extent to which this whole industry is driven by Ego, cunning, opportunism, speculation, deceit, and street smarts. It is clear that the customer is a victim to be exploited by this industry.It is amazing to realize that institutional investors like pension funds and trusts make multi-billion dollar investments in some of these bonds which turn out to be little more than a speculative gambles of varying levels of risk. Some people become very rich some loose their shirts, and all the while the investment banks make huge profits. It is also thought provoking how laws enacted by the government can drive a whole industry. An example of this is home mortgages as a bond instrument.There is one characteristic of mortgages that make them uninteresting to the bond industry and that is the fact that they can be repaid at any time. Bonds are generally held to a maturity date. Who wants to hold a bond that can be repaid at any time ? The financial lobby tried like crazy to get congress to enact legislation to force a holder of a mortgage to hold it for full term or pay a penalty. This would make it more interesting as a debt instrument, to the detriment of the mortgage holder. This lead to a whole industry which is the CMO industry. Abuses in this industry ultimately lead to the housing bubble and the finanacial crisis 0f 2008. You can read Lewis' other book, The Big Short, for more details about this. In any case, if you want to read a first hand account of the inner workings of the wall street bond industry from an insider, this is a very good read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Text Addict

    The last line is probably the funniest/most ironic line I've read all year.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Arjun Mishra

    I was hoping for a better book from Michael Lewis. I read The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine before reading this, so my expectations might have been biased, but I was hoping for something that did more than illuminate some scandalous activity. It was minor league in that it attempted to illustrate some central characters in Solomon Brothers. Lewis does much better in making his characters palpable in The Big Short. He touched upon this a couple times, but he never entirely pounced upon th I was hoping for a better book from Michael Lewis. I read The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine before reading this, so my expectations might have been biased, but I was hoping for something that did more than illuminate some scandalous activity. It was minor league in that it attempted to illustrate some central characters in Solomon Brothers. Lewis does much better in making his characters palpable in The Big Short. He touched upon this a couple times, but he never entirely pounced upon this: he should have written the book as an ethnography. It wavers in between ethnography, observations, spy story, and I think that wavering weakens it. It needs to be written as an ethnography by someone who clearly does not fit into the Solomon Brothers culture. The explanation of finance and some financial activity is explained well. He explains in The Big Short that college graduates would read this book and ask him for advice, reading it as a training manual. I was also hoping for a more lucid discussion of the recession in 1987. I thought the end was building up to it, but it did nothing to really captivate on the topic of Solomons' fall or the recession. The fall is inevitable, as explained early in the book. I have seen it written in other reviews: the parts about the training program and the first third of the book are the best. It is chaotically disorganized and jumpy.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Stein

    Lewis is a phenomenal writer, and it's important to keep in mind that this is his first book. The writing is strong, but not technically as well-developed as his later work (Blindside and Moneyball) but it has something that is often a feature of "first works" in a writer's career. It is deeply personal, and Lewis's Liar's Poker has more of Michael Lewis in it than the other books by a fairly substantial margin. I really enjoy the book, and think that the personal elements of the storytelling are Lewis is a phenomenal writer, and it's important to keep in mind that this is his first book. The writing is strong, but not technically as well-developed as his later work (Blindside and Moneyball) but it has something that is often a feature of "first works" in a writer's career. It is deeply personal, and Lewis's Liar's Poker has more of Michael Lewis in it than the other books by a fairly substantial margin. I really enjoy the book, and think that the personal elements of the storytelling are a big part of what makes it engaging and fun. The book has some serious moments, and some droning storytelling that doesn't seem to have as much of a point as it could. It's hard to say how some of the stories, which seem fairly redundant in expressing opulent or hierarchal elements of the corporate culture, are supposed to work in the book, and so it is easy to wonder if the editorial judgment was really there. This is, again, a standard feature of first works. That said, I think that this is a worthwhile read, for those who are interested in finance or even simply those who are interested in the sort of good stories that Lewis is famous for telling. Engaging and fun, I find Lewis entertaining and thoughtful, and the fact that his personality is carried across so heavily in this book makes it a really fun read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nitesh Kanthaliya

    A great book which shows first hand experience of a trainee when he enters the bond market when it was at its peak. It showcases the care (pun intended) that Salomon Brothers and like took of their clients. A person with a portfolio of less than 100M is a scapegoat and guinea pig for the trainee's On the Job training. The fat paychecks that the bond traders and bond salesmen draw for duping the clients basis the fact that they know a little more than the clients is quite hilarious. However, in d A great book which shows first hand experience of a trainee when he enters the bond market when it was at its peak. It showcases the care (pun intended) that Salomon Brothers and like took of their clients. A person with a portfolio of less than 100M is a scapegoat and guinea pig for the trainee's On the Job training. The fat paychecks that the bond traders and bond salesmen draw for duping the clients basis the fact that they know a little more than the clients is quite hilarious. However, in due course of time, through continuous learning, when you develop good relationship with clients and your conscience haunts you and you learn the trade secrets, you would eventually want not to dupe the clients :P. Another interesting track in the events take place when you realize how office politics destroyed a firm, that could have been a leader in other market segments, such as money market. Overall, an interesting read if you want to know about how life is for a trader/bond salesman and why do companies fall due to internal politics. Food for thought - Would you want to be a part of office politics, rise in life(maybe) and nosedive (maybe) [ Ranieri, Gutfreund] or you would want to shy away from the politics, do your work and go with the paycheck after every month and repeat the process month after month [Dash]

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    This was a fascinating book to be reading in the midst of the biggest financial crisis of the past 75 years. Liar's Poker records the author's experience as a bonds trader for Solomon Brothers, at the height of the 80's trading explosion - an accurate, and frightening, account of the ludicrous nature of the whole industry. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the book is the attitude of the traders: to make money at any cost, regardless of the consequences. In this world, it was perfectly accepta This was a fascinating book to be reading in the midst of the biggest financial crisis of the past 75 years. Liar's Poker records the author's experience as a bonds trader for Solomon Brothers, at the height of the 80's trading explosion - an accurate, and frightening, account of the ludicrous nature of the whole industry. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the book is the attitude of the traders: to make money at any cost, regardless of the consequences. In this world, it was perfectly acceptable to "blow-up" (bankrupt) a customer with a trade, because the company would make a hefty commission, regardless of the outcome for the others involved in the trade. It's easy to see how the groundwork for our current financial mess was laid in this environment. Lewis talks about how new sources of income were constantly being made by cutting up bonds into new derivative securities - similar to the derivatives used from the sub-prime mortgages. When they mortgages collapses, so did all the derivative securities - but the obfuscation was deep enough so that many, many people bought those derivatives who should have known better. Overall, Liar's Poker is well-written and entertaining enough to recommend to anyone, but it's also a disturbingly enlightening lens through which to see our current financial struggles.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    I liked Moneyball, and The Big Short is one of my favorite books, but Liar's Poker was disappointing. Since it is a story about life in an investment bank, I expected Wolf of Wall Street-style parties and debauchery, but none of that happened. In fact, nothing much at all happened in this book, which describes Lewis' brief tenure as a bond trader at Salomon Brothers in the 1980s. A third of the book is about the training program, another third is about Lewis' year as a "geek" (a junior trader) and I liked Moneyball, and The Big Short is one of my favorite books, but Liar's Poker was disappointing. Since it is a story about life in an investment bank, I expected Wolf of Wall Street-style parties and debauchery, but none of that happened. In fact, nothing much at all happened in this book, which describes Lewis' brief tenure as a bond trader at Salomon Brothers in the 1980s. A third of the book is about the training program, another third is about Lewis' year as a "geek" (a junior trader) and the remainder about his final year as a "big swinging d*ck" (a producing trader). The plot is episodic in nature, rather than a narrative with a plot. There are also lengthy sections about the history of the mortgage bond and junk bond markets. These sections were interesting - I didn't know that these markets essentially didn't exist until the 1980s - but they interrupt what little flow the main story has. Unlike Moneyball, which focuses on Billy Beane, and the Big Short, which focuses on a handful of hedge fund managers, Liar's Poker does not develop any one character. We are introduced to a host of people, but there are no central figures in the story. On the whole, Lewis provides an interesting look at the inside of an investment bank and some of the history of bond trading, but it paled in comparison to the other books Lewis has written.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ahinch

    I found this worn down bestseller in the investing for dummies section at the library. I read it in a few days and I have a short attention span so it's a good read. This could be easily made into a movie and the author has written books such as Blind Side and Moneyball which were turned into movies. This is all about the life of a Wall Street bond salesman in a big firm called Salomon Brothers, the firm basically, in the 1980s. It mixes biography with the rise and fall of a company. The company I found this worn down bestseller in the investing for dummies section at the library. I read it in a few days and I have a short attention span so it's a good read. This could be easily made into a movie and the author has written books such as Blind Side and Moneyball which were turned into movies. This is all about the life of a Wall Street bond salesman in a big firm called Salomon Brothers, the firm basically, in the 1980s. It mixes biography with the rise and fall of a company. The company still exists, so maybe not fall, but it's decline as being the top dog. A lot of ruthless horrible people just trying to make money basically. If you are new to investing, it's a good read since it talks about some concepts that you may not have heard of such as junk bonds and selling mortgage bonds. I had to look up some of the terms. All the short quick stories of where the term big swinging dick came from and him talking to his trader friend like two old Jewish grandmothers is entertaining. Just a lot of entertaining crazy day in the life of a big shot type of thing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Franco Da Costa Gomez

    Really, really wished I had read this book about a year and a half ago when I was about to start my job-search in college. The first few chapters describe what I went through perfectly, I was nodding along the whole way. That didn't last too long though as I definitely got lost in all the jargon/technical speak/employee names later on in the book and ended up rushing to finish it. Good read though, and I learned a lot: I do not want to work in finance and never should have wanted to work in finan Really, really wished I had read this book about a year and a half ago when I was about to start my job-search in college. The first few chapters describe what I went through perfectly, I was nodding along the whole way. That didn't last too long though as I definitely got lost in all the jargon/technical speak/employee names later on in the book and ended up rushing to finish it. Good read though, and I learned a lot: I do not want to work in finance and never should have wanted to work in finance. I'm extremely lucky/happy to be where I am right now. Even in business, a lot of times the big breaks are pure luck and those in charge have no idea what they did right. Innovation on one’s part will inevitably be caught up to, it’s your job to protect yourself and manage the process and speed at which this happens. Good quote from the book: “Wall Street,” reads the old gag, “is a street with a river on one end and a graveyard on the other.” This is striking but incomplete. It omits the kindergarten in the middle. -Fredrick Schwed, Jr., Where Are the Customers’ Yachts?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pranit Bauva

    Student perspective: I am very new to investment banking, and I found this book really great. It tells many things about what happens inside of investment banks. Of course, a little bit background of finance is required (khanacademy.org is enough) to understand things. The best things I liked about this book is that the author shares all the actual trading incidents that happened and how they made money by exploiting each situation. This book also explains some things about corporate structure (I Student perspective: I am very new to investment banking, and I found this book really great. It tells many things about what happens inside of investment banks. Of course, a little bit background of finance is required (khanacademy.org is enough) to understand things. The best things I liked about this book is that the author shares all the actual trading incidents that happened and how they made money by exploiting each situation. This book also explains some things about corporate structure (I have never worked in an actual company so this was new to me), all the office politics and power games. This book gives a perfect picture about how a typical trader/salesman's thinking when he/she is at work. I would highly recommend this book to students who are looking out for internships/jobs in the investment banking sector.

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