Tuesday, February 17th, 2009...12:45 am
Two Great Articles by Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis is an author who is best known for writing Liar’s Poker. The book is an account of his experience working as an Investment Banker at Solomon Brothers in the mid 1980′s. Lewis’ remarkable stories about the excesses of fiancé quickly became Wall Street lore. Lewis has also written about Sillicon Valley (The New New Thing, Next: The Future Just Happened) and Sports (Moneyball and The Bline Side). Lewis best skill as a writer is revealing fascinating but nuanced stories in such a way that you need little prior knowledge of the subject to be amazed. It just so happens that the topics he writes about are some of the things I am most passionate about.
I think I first read Liar’s Poker the summer after I graduated high school. I’m not really sure who recommended it to me but it was one of a few books about Wall Street that I plowed through (Monkey Business and Barbarians At The Gate being some of the others). These books planted the seed in my mind (followed up by a few uneventful internships) that finance was kind of lame – especially when compared to the start-up and digital world that Lewis wrote about in his next few books. Incidentally, my buddy Parsa, who has done well for himself in finance, recently mentioned to me that his interest was first peaked by those books I lent him back in the day!)
I share all of this because Lewis recently wrote an article in the December issue of Portfolio Magazine titled “The End“. In the article he pulls no punches as he figures out how the era of Wall Street that he so pointedly documented in Liar’s Poker finally crumpled. As usual, Lewis breaks it all down in a way that makes lots of sense and it’s a great read. This paragraph about Liar’s Poker got to me the most…
I had no great agenda, apart from telling what I took to be a remarkable tale, but if you got a few drinks in me and then asked what effect I thought my book would have on the world, I might have said something like, “I hope that college students trying to figure out what to do with their lives will read it and decide that it’s silly to phony it up and abandon their passions to become financiers.” I hoped that some bright kid at, say, Ohio State University who really wanted to be an oceanographer would read my book, spurn the offer from Morgan Stanley, and set out to sea. Somehow that message failed to come across. Six months after Liar’s Poker was published, I was knee-deep in letters from students at Ohio State who wanted to know if I had any other secrets to share about Wall Street. They’d read my book as a how-to manual.
I want to let Lewis know that his book had his intended effect on me. I made a conscious decision to pass up Wall Street to chase opportunities in sports and start-ups (my passions) which I am still doing today. I often think about this career choice (afterall, blogger = thinker = second guesser). Maybe one day I’ll be able to buy him a drink and let him know that.
The second article, The No-Stats All Star, was published in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine. It is about Shane Battier, a forward on the Houston Rockets. Apparently, Battier does a extraordinary job helping his team win and is one of the most efficient and productive players in the NBA. The only problem is that this doesn’t show up in Battier stats. Just like Lewis does in Moneyball when dissecting the Oakland Athletics, he explores how the Rockets front office evaluates players and devises strategy by mining data and statistics that have been otherwise overlooked. The insight in the article is awesome. Battier seems as deliberate and mental as any athlete in pro sports. In fact, after reading the article, I think he might be a genius. I remember a special code that you could use in the video game NBA Jam where you could see the probability of each shot as you take it. Apparently, Battier has that code engrained in his dorsal shaped skull! His tendency to not shoot half court heaves is mind boggling and scarily efficient!
I just read both of these articles tonight and they are two of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in awhile. If you enjoy them as much as me than you should check out some of Michael Lewis books. Here are some of my notes that I jotted down after reading The Blind Side last year.