Sunday, April 27, 2014

Who Is Michael Lewis, & Why Should You Care?

It was probably about 2005, when I first ran across the work of business writer Michael Lewis while prowling around a bookstore or library. His book, Next: the Future Just Happened was out in paperback, and I was looking for a new book to be the summer read for our CP English 11 class. Because I've always gravitated toward non-fiction, as many males do, and because the first story is about a fifteen-year-old kid named Jonathan Lebed - the youngest and first to ever be indicted by the SEC for internet stock fraud - I latched on to Lewis' book and sold the idea to our English department. Since then I've read whatever I can by Lewis, and watched him rise to the top of the charts again and again.

Most people who know Lewis know him from his books Moneyball, about the innovation of Billy Beane and the use of sabermetrics to alter the way small market MLB teams like the Oakland A's play the game, or The Blind Side, about the fascinating story of Baltimore Ravens left tackle Michael Ohr who was basically adopted by a white southern woman named Leigh Anne Tuouhy and her family, or The Big Short, in which Lewis tracks how the economic crash of 2008 happened despite obvious warning signs from people like Meredith Whitney and exposes how a few people almost reluctantly made billions from the fall. Lewis is so skilled at what he does and finds the stories he writes about in an almost eerie string of being in the right place at the right time, as as the case for his first book about the financial crash of the 90s called Liar's Poker.

Michael Lewis truly is a writer of zeitgeist-like instincts, and he has seemed to lead quite the charmed intellectual and literary life. He is as interesting a person himself as are the subjects which he continuously brings to light for the public knowledge. That's what led New York Mag writer Jessica Pressler to profile him as one of the most "significant long form journalists" since someone like Tom Wolfe. He does have the ability to touch a nerve whenever he writes, as can be seen by the recent pushback against his most recent book, FlashBoys, which argues that the work of high frequency traders basically means "Wall Street is Rigged." It's words like this that can get him the press - and the ear of senators. But it's his fascinating insights wound into great storytelling that make him such an interesting figure to profile, as Conor Clarke did nearly six years ago for The Atlantic.

Michael Lewis is just one of those names - like Oprah or Elon Musk or Elizabeth Warren or Michael Pollan or Malcolm Gladwell - that well informed people are talking about. And for good reason.

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