The Big Short

I'm a Stephen King fan - I've read most of his books (and the dude is prolific, this is saying something). And yet I may have just finished the most terrifying book yet and King had nothing to do with it.

Side note - for an actual scary King novel, give The ShiningCujo, or Pet Semetary a try. Also, any of his short stories. I was reading one of his shorts from Skeleton Crew the other night and had to stop. It was dark and too late for that. Watched Rick and Morty instead.

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But on to the book. The 2008 financial crisis and the stuff that led up to is fucking terrifying. While reading The Big Short, there were multiple times I gasped in shock. This is really what happened? This is really how this shit works?

Lewis doesn't just present dry facts on the financial crisis but instead tells the story of a group of traders who foresaw the crisis and got rich off it. Instead of just faceless suits on Wall Street, the story becomes one of a group of protagonists against the evil money machines. It's an effective way to tell the story and he creates full portraits of people like Steve Eisman and Michael Burry (Steve Carrell and Christian Bale in the movie, respectively). The characters are complex and interesting and colorful - lots and lots of cursing... But also surprisingly funny in places. I can't wait to see the film.

Lewis's feat is especially impressive given how dense the material is. Subprime mortgages and CDOs (collateralized debt obligation) are complicated. I honestly only kind of understand, even after finishing the book, but the book points out repeatedly that the people buying and selling the things didn't understand either. And he explains it to the extent that you know you should be really, really frustrated that this happened, and was allowed to happen.

The amount of money discussed in the novel is honestly hard to comprehend, maybe even more so than the complex financial terms and ideas. Trades of millions of dollars become small after a single trader loses $9 billion on one bet. Some of the firms lose tens of billions of dollars. The entire financial system is in upheaval. It's Armageddon.

If this was fiction, it would be unbelievable.

I absolutely recommend the book. Lewis fully explains his characters, on both sides of the debate. I understand more of what happened in 2008. Was there any other way for this to end? Lewis makes this huge clusterfuck small and personal. At one point, some of the main characters are sitting on the steps of a church, watching all the Wall Street guys walking in front of them. Don't they know their lives as they know it are over?

I never got mad while reading it. Just shocked. Also I will probably end up reading other Lewis novels after this, specifically Moneyball  (a surprisingly re-watchable movie that has held up well) and Liar's Poker, about Lewis's own time on Wall Street.