on June 21, 2004
I picked up this book as it is highly popular among investment bankers. I am not an investment banker and do not intend to be one but I was keen to find out what makes Wall Street special. The book not only satisfied my curiosity but also was pleasantly amusing.
The author traces the glorious and gloomy times of Salomon Brothers, a big financial enterprise in which he worked long enough to be able to tell this tale and become a rich man. He explains some financial innovations of Salomon brother's in lay man's terms, which makes this book very readable for all.
The author's self-deprecating humor and his vivid analysis of the people he came across in his organization make the account entertaining.
Whether or not the author's opinions on technical matters in this book are meritorious-I am not qualified to say. If you are a finance novice and curious to find out about life in that universe, you will find this book worthwhile.
on May 26, 2004
This is the author's coming of age story, set in the world of investment banking in the 1980s. As a growth and wisdom book, it's pretty good, but it's really a non-fiction version of Tom Wolf's Bonfire of the Vanities. Of course what makes it interesting is that Michael Lewis came of age by successfully trading bonds for Solomon Brothers.
Among other aspects of the firm, LP describes Solomon's Mortgage Bonds department, its influence over the savings and loans, and the effect of Fed Chairman Paul Volker's 1981 decision to let interest rates float. Lewis does a brilliant job of explaining how this lead to S&L's selling their mortgages in order to fund investments in higher yield securities.
Here's the catch: Liar's Poker appeared before the S&L debacle but it laid out all the signs needed to predict the disaster to come.
Much of the hand wringing over S&Ls in the early 90's could maybe have been avoided if the warnings given in this book had been acted upon. To be fair, the warnings are clear but they are implicit. Lewis never actually projects the current state of the S&L industry into the future, even if he does mention that the basic problem with mortgages (short term funding of long term loans) is not solved.
on September 28, 2002
While Lewis does a fine job as he writes a personal memoir of his time at Solomon Brothers in the mid-1980's, he soon loses focus of his main storyline. Lewis wanders off for three chapters to describe the creation of a home mortgage market and the personalities involved. It is as if Lewis or his editor suddenly decided that the amusing anecdotes of life on Wall Street were fine pulp, but needed to be framed in the context of historical substence in order for the book to be seen as respectable. (Ironically, Lewis's account of the rise to power of Michael Milken is more gripping, perhaps because Lewis was more directly affected by Milken's ambitions.) The evolution of equities as an investment is ignored almost completely, leaving the reader to wonder how, in the span of two years or so, the equities department of Solomon Brothers could go from "powerless" to surviving the layoffs started days before the crash of '87 to being the reason Solomon Brothers had its worst year in history. The author is inconsistent in his granting of pseudonyms or anonymity, naming a great many employees by name while protecting a chosen few. All in all, Liar's Poker is a quick, sometimes amusing account of Lewis's time at Solomon Brothers, but little more.
on March 20, 2011
It is an enjoyable read. It should be no surprise to people who have read other books by Michael Lewis, that he tells a story with humor and is just a great storyteller in general. Poker's Liar is another one of those books. Though sometimes I get the impression that he goes over the top or exaggerates in the language he uses in this book. All in all I would still recommend it, though I enjoyed "The Big Short" more, this one is still pretty good. The book takes you inside the organizational culture of an Investment Bank "Salomon Brothers", which Michael Lewis had worked, as a Bond Salesmen. The book is quite descriptive, interesting and really gives you a feel of what it is like to be a Bond trader or salesmen at that firm during the 1980s, however it is not very informative if you are looking to learn some Finance from reading this book.
I read this book back when it was a best seller. Lewis gives us a great insight into the world of Salomon Brothers. In the 1980s Salomon Brothers and their bond traders were at the top Wall Street. The head of Salomon, John Gutfreund was considered the King of Wall Street. John Meriwether the chief bond trader, was the master of the universe. Early in the book Gutfreund challenges Meriwether to a million dollar game of liar`s poker.You become instantly gripped, by what is happening at Salomon Brothers. The message that Lewis is trying to relay, is that Wall Street was growing into a monster. Years later, Meriwether was involved with a multi billion dollar failure at Long Term Capital Management.
on February 24, 2000
... that Mr. Lewis describes, and worked for the fixed income trading desk, so I know for a fact most of his descriptions are pure fiction. As for the rest, he has taken three years of events, embellished and exaggerated them, and presented them as if they occurred in a single day, creating an image of out-of-control mayhem in the company.
Mr. Lewis is a mediocre writer at best, lacking in financial expertise, and interested solely in pulp gossips and self-promotion. If you wish to read an actually well-written book on Wall Street, read "Barbarians at the Gate", "Market Wizards" or "Money Machine" - skip this trash.
on May 5, 2004
Liar's Poker, written by Michael Lewis, describes life on Wall Street during the 1980's and the four years the author worked for Salomon Brothers. Lewis discusses the evolution of the bond market, how mortgaged-backed securities came to exist, and the misfortunes of missing the junk bond market. The fantastic character portrayals are absolutely hilarious and they make the book come to life. Liar's Poker depicts many business ethics issues such as gender and race discrimination, consumer and investor protection, and hostile work environments.
Lewis begins by describing John Gutfreund, Chairman of Salomon, and the Liar's Poker game. Gutfreund is portrayed as a manager that was both feared and respected. He was once a trader and managed Salomon with a trader mentality. Traders by nature are gamblers, so they are willing to take bets, or better yet, they are risk takers. Gutfreund apparently loved playing the game, Liar's Poker, because if a person was good at it, he was probably a good trader as well. The game is played predominantly by Salomon traders whereby a group gathers in a circle holding a dollar bill close to the body to hide the serial numbers. One player begins by making a bid such as "three fives," which means that all the players in the circle have at least three fives in their serial number. The player to the left can either challenge the bid or up the bid by saying three sixes or four fives. Only in a challenge do the players reveal the serial numbers on the bill. Essentially, it is game that rewards players for their ability to bluff or deceive the other players. Lewis uses the game to illustrate Salomon's corporate culture and its leadership.
Liar's Poker does a fantastic job explaining how the mortgage trading business originated and how Salomon/Ranieri created mortgaged-backed securities. Lewis also details more stories about his escapades after the training program. The book is easy and fun to read because it is presents an accurate picture of Wall Street firms. Business ethics issues are presented through the text. The issues that are identified in this report are sexual and ethnic discrimination, hostile work environments, and unethical business practices. Many more ethical issues are present in the Liar's Poker. This book should be read by anyone hoping to join a Wall Street firm or simply a trading environment.
on December 10, 2003
This is a great book. A home run. While I am not an industry insider, I did read it while I was getting an MBA from the Michigan Business School and enjoyed it a great deal. It provided a great deal of background to what I was learning in various finance classes. Mr. Lewis helped me see the people who make these markets work and move and that it isn't faceless formulas free of emotion finding perfect prices; rather it is ambitious men (and women) ferociously and sometimes crazily pursuing their own financial interests.
The book is amazingly funny without being slapstick. There are some amazing images - not only the Meriwether games of Liar's Poker, but the food being delivered to the physically rotund mortgage bond traders, the bond trader who felt like the price would rise and then kept buying billions of dollars in bonds to prove himself right. I loved reading about the training he received and what he was taught about selling bonds and how those folks really do view their customers. Some of the institutional stuff is a bit dated (but still valuable as history), but the human stuff still rings fresh and true because people and still, well, whatever it was they were back then.
If you just want an entertaining read - read this book. If you want to read about the early go-go years in the bond trading and the pre-boom boom years on Wall Street - read this book. If you want to learn about some of the big names in finance and what they did - read this book. You get the idea. I am saying you should read this book and you will be glad you did. Really.
on November 16, 2003
When you were young, your parents probably instilled you with a respect for adults. Michael Lewis performs a public service by showing that adults don't always deserve this respect, and sometimes even behave worse than children. Indeed, as Michael puts it, Wall Street is a vast playground where corporate executives can be bullies and rob people of their lunch money.
The truth is that young people accepting their first job on Wallstreet probably have no idea what they're getting into. After four years in the meritocrasy that is academia, most college students are unprepared for the brutal darwinian slugfest that awaits. College professors do not offer instruction on how to deal with abusive managers, back-stabbing coworkers, and double-talking executives. New hires (i.e. geeks) are beaten and kicked until they either learn how to fight or perish. Life is cheap on Wallstreet.
This book is a definitve recount of the madness which typified the 1980s. Michael lets us rid shotgun with him on his journey through the capital markets. Along the way, we meet strange indigenous animals like the Human Piranha, Sangfroid, and Dash Riprock. We learn the native language (i.e. f---speak) and observe a tribe of bond traders engaged in ritualistic gluttony. Michael does not try to shield our eyes. Rather, he provides the reader with an uncensored look at Salomon Brothers and life in the trenches.
Michael's sketch of John Gutfruend, Salomon's then CEO, is both droll and insightful. In so many words, Gutfruend was a king without clothes. He smoked cigars and affected a british accent to convey the image of an English gentleman. He worked very hard to give the impression that money was secondary to the "contributions" that Salomon made to the business community. Yet, the minute that Gutfruend ascended to the throne he initiated an IPO that would both line his own pockets and enrage the founders. Gutfruend was also responsible for a number of disasterous mistakes, like trying to open an office in London in an effort to become an international bank. By the end of the book, there is no doubt that Gutfruend is naked.
If there is a message to Liar's Poker, it's that finance is a zero-sum game. What this implies is that your broker is not necessarily looking out for your best interests; he may be looking out for his own. As the E*trade commercial so aptly put it, "if you're broker is so smart, why does he work for a living?"
on July 15, 2003
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.