Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Book Review: The Big Short

I had initially planned to do a line by line dissection of the piece of shuddering inanity which was this article in Conservative Home. Written by Christian Guy simply by reading it I am personally driven to wanting to take drugs, if only to escape, for a few moments, the raw horror that was reading it. Boneheaded to the point of being mendacious, even now I crave sweet release from its flawed assumptions, and lines like this:
People take drugs for a variety of reasons, but in the CSJ’s experience there are some common drivers: chaotic and dysfunctional families, leading to family breakdown; educational failure; the hopelessness of welfare dependency and entrenched worklessness; severe personal debt; and a criminal justice system which can make drug and alcohol abuse more likely, not less.
Its always wonderful to read something like this, from a man who almost inevitably has close friends who regularly use illegal drugs (we all do, statistically speaking), and yet is too blinkered to realise that the reason most people take drugs is because drugs are god damn awesome, that's why so many people take the ones which are legal (alcohol and tobacco being the most common of a very wide field).

Anyway, t
he moronic gibberings of the Director of Policy for the Centre for Social Justice (I guess getting a real job was a bit tough) aside, I thought I'd focus instead on the superb gibberings of Michael Lewis and his book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.

I have an ongoing fascination with the financial crisis, in large part because I'm fascinated by almost anything which I struggle to understand. There are lots of books written about the causes and many of them are excellent, Too Big to Fail probably having been one of my favourites until now.

The book is largely about a group of guys who were smart enough to do the math and realise that sub-prime mortgages were a really really bad idea. So much so, they realised, that they would inevitably cause massive damage to the financial system. Realising this, they all positioned themselves to become extremely wealthy in the event that this collapse happened, a bet which I'm sure they're all very glad they made.

Two things struck me about this book, first, it is a superbly personal tale of a time which is usually discussed through the lens of obscure financial products, or individuals too high up the ladder to really engage with on a meaningful level. The characters in this book are much closer to the ground, and thus are significantly more interest.

The second is that this book is really honest about the fact that the financial sector as a whole is a morally corrupt place, staffed by people who have no interest in the security of tomorrow, if they can make a buck today. I realise this is not a surprise, but the way it is laid so bare by the characters in the book is almost painful in how stark it really is. People within the financial sector had to work really hard in order to lie to themselves about the insecurity that sub prime was creating within their industry, willful, wanton lying.

The the process of this self deceit the "bad" characters in the book (read: those in favour of sub prime) are cast as fools, or worse, willing participants in a system they know is flawed.

If I had to lay a criticism at the door of this book, is that there is a need for the author to have taken just a little longer in explaining some of the concepts which are regularly used. This would have made the book more useful for me as a reader, but ultimately, in the world of Wikipedia, I can get by somehow.

Overall a fascinating read and an insight into the largely hidden world of "shorting". Certainly made me want to go and set up a hedge fund.



  1. I had been looking for an interesting book on the financial crisis that would also help me understand it just a little better. This book does not disappoint. It reads as an unfolding drama and explains many aspects of the subrpime mortgage mess along the way. Although this book focuses mainly on the subprime mortgage aspect of the crisis, it provides other valuable insight into how the financial firms operate and think.

  2. Glad you found this of interest Espana! All his books are superb. This is probably the most focussed though.