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 September 20, 2002
I read liar's poker on the sunday i reached my b-school campus, monday was to be my first day towards an mba. I can still recall myself laughing away in the night hoping that neighbours dont find me crazy.
Liar's poker is witty, makes sense either has you aspire to be on the street or makes you nod your head saying "I knew they are all rotten a lot". There are some who cant read beyond page 50, seriously disgusted at the mockery made of a serious bond deal.
What is great about liars poker is the queerness of the characters and the fact that the author in principle hates what he is doing yet in life loves veery moment of it, or at least aspires to. The Human Pirhana is my personel favourite..a Harvard grad and the master of ... speak...its definitely well written.
The book is not about its story, or the philosopical interpretations one may make about it..its simply a adrenalin driven story of a breed of people who thrive on risk, who leave their morals on their bed when they wake up, whose business is to play with money, whose religion is to make money on the seventh decimal place of the value of a bond...who havge guts of steel to be able to have a coffee after suffering a milion dollar loss, and ac as if nothing happenned after they make a milion..of course the do shout it on the hoot and the holler!!!
This is not a finance book, its a book about a breed of people, their life, their world, their religion, where all that maktters is how strong you are inside, how worthy a man (yes) are you, what kind of life do you want it to be...
Read it wheher you are into finance of not, it would be an enjoyable experience.
on November 22, 2000
Not a card game at all but a game of bluff and sizing up your opponent. It is very appropriate that the book starts off with the example of John Gutfreund (CEO of Salomon) trying to engage his chief bond trader in a single round of Liars Poker for 1 million dollars, because it is symptomatic of the egos of the players, the money that was being made and the excesses that characterised what is now generally called the greed decade.
Lewis's perspective is that of an insider as he was a bond trader for Salomon Brothers in their New York and London offices. It's generally a very funny story with some hilarious descriptions of some of the characters and their behavior. Hilarious that is, until you realise that damage was being done to lives, companies and industries. As the author so succintly put it "the range of acceptable conduct...was wide indeed.It said something about the ability of the free marketplace to mold people's behavior into a socially acceptable pattern...this was capitalism at its most raw, and it was self-destructive." That this was true he goes on to illustrate with stories about trades gone bad, deals losing millions, and people skewered for things they had no knowledge of. I guess you could say that this was Darwinian Capitalism, these people had evolved into predators and were at the top of the food chain. Lewis himself says as much "the place was governed by the simple understanding that the unbridled pursuit of perceived self-interest was healthy. Eat or be eaten." It is no coincidence that one of his colleagues was called the Human Piranha!. Naturally, behaviour like this will lead to a messy ending and so it is, with the story culminating with a description of the Stock Market crash of '87 and Salomon itself in trouble.
I read this book at about the same time as 'Den of Thieves' and would recommend both (that is, if you are interested in a historical view of Wall Street; remember these events took place 10-15 years ago). Liars Poker is good for the witty personal perspective Lewis brings, the other book gives a broader view of Wall Street and an investigative journalistic perspective of the insider trading scandal involving Michael Milken et al.
on March 5, 2002
A refreshing look at the investment banking world of the early 80's, when the masters of the universe lorded over all they surveyed (in their own minds anyway). This book was one of the earliest to roll back the canopy of secrecy and respectability, revealing Wall Street at its heart: a bunch of thuggish suits with ivy league degrees, endlessly looking for new and creative ways to legally mug their clients. Though the book is old, the flavor and rhythms are timeless- it's the same old street.
Because Lewis writes dispassionately and objectively, his words hit home all the more. He comes across as a very good storyteller, not much more or less. In my earlier days of getting acquainted with the markets I often wondered how investment banks could hire rooms full of "traders" and have most of those traders be profitable. If trading requires a special talent or mindset, which it definitely does, how is it that all these ivy league guys can be good at trading en masse, especially when they have zero patience and huge egos? The answer is that 95% of the "traders" in the employ of a large investment bank are not trading in the real sense at all. They are either siphoning money from unwitting customers with the help of product pushing salesmen (no different than run of the mill retail brokers, except higher class) or else they are taking a bite out of the bid/ask spread, which is what most floor traders do- they act as slippage extractors, so that the skid you see between your order price and your fill price is what goes in their pocket. This is trading only in a nominal sense, because you are not actually competing with other traders when you do this - you are taking advantage of an engineered market that is geared in your favor. No different than if I sold you high priced potato chips and made sure to grab a big handful myself before handing over the bag.
Surprisingly, Michael Milken was one of the few who came out of this book looking like a winner. The rest of the world wrote Milken off as a crook without actually looking into what he did or how he made a fortune. Lewis gives a clear and lucid explanation of Milken's idea- that the investment world as a whole had its credit rating system upside down due to a skewed perspective of corporate credit risk- and tracks in detail how Milken was able to leverage this single idea with a sheer force of will into billions of dollars in junk bond profits. As a side note, even after reading "Den of Thieves" (an excellent book that chronicles Milken's ultimate fall), I still think that Mike got the short end of the stick- painted as a crook because he was greedy and made a lot of money, rather than any truly harmful wrongdoing. The massive contribution Milken made to the capital markets was to reshape the assessment of credit overall, increasing the efficiency of capital deployment across the globe- worth hundreds of times more than his payout in the long run. This surely gives him claim to a better reputation than the one he's gotten from the press. But he's still a billionaire living in Lake Tahoe, so you can't shed too many tears.
If you read this book and enjoy it, you might want to note that the 1990's successor to Liar's Poker is "Fiasco: Blood in the water on Wall Street," also written by a bond insider whose moral qualms eventually force him to give up his Wall Street ways.
on April 28, 2002
This book is to Wall Street as Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" is to the restaurant business. It's an inside look from someone who not only was there, but lived to write the tale. It's easy to identify with Lewis, who begins his story while he's interviewing for jobs in college. One thing leads to another and he's soon making money and (mis?)-handling millions for his customers and earning the reputation of a "Big Swinging Dick" at Solomon.
Lewis provides great insight into the bond trader's mindset, ranging from the abuse of interns to the creativity required to create a mortgage bond after-market through internal politics and external sales. The traders are continuously glancing at the financial numbers and running "what if" scenarios, imagining the impact on the bond market. The details of the instruments being traded are very well explained, even in financially complex configurations like tranched mortgage liabilities or stripped bonds. Just as much attention to detail is provided in descriptions of the paranoid manic-depressive tendencies of the traders on both the buy and sell sides. Lewis's first "exploding" customer provides a particularly poignant contrast to the equally risky goings on within Solomon.
Lewis really moves the story along. He has a sure hand with dialog and scene setting, and the first person point of view adds to the tension. Thankfully, "Liar's Poker" doesn't get bogged down in psychological or social criticism; there's not even any Monday morning quarter-backing by the author-protagonist. The story is told and the interpretation is pretty much left up to the reader, which I find refreshing.
I also really enjoyed Lewis's tale of Silicon Valley VC through the eyes of Jim Clark, founder of SGI and Netscape, in "The New New Thing". I'm afraid I just wasn't buying Lewis's more recent "Faster", which is much more analytical and much less (auto)biographical.