Michael Lewis left life as a bond salesman for famed Wall Street investment bank Salomon Brothers for the publishing world in the 1980s, a move that would shake up the landscape of financial journalism forever.
Lewis, today one of the premier writers of the 21st Century, will visit Utah on Sept. 24 for a one-hour event at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City. The event, “A Conversation with Michael Lewis” starts at 8 p.m., and is part of the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics’ Sam Rich Lecture Series. Tickets are available for purchase through ArtTix. For University of Utah faculty and students, $5 tickets are available for purchase this week by visiting room 234 of the union or by stopping by ticket tables at the David Eccles School of Business.
Lewis’ first published book in 1989, “Liar’s Poker,” is a personal account of the culture of bond traders and also a history of the rise of Salomon Brothers, which created the market for mortgage bonds in the 1980s.
He went on to publish other bestsellers, including “Moneyball” in 2003, which told the story of the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager Billy Beane, who used sabermetrics to assemble a winning team, despite a lack of money to attract top-tier players.
Another one of Lewis’ notable works is “The Big Short,” published in 2010, chronicles the housing and credit bubble and shows how some of the top names in the financial business profited by the financial crisis from 2007 to 2010. A film version of the book starring Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carrell is set to debut in December.
His resume includes several more well-known titles, including “Boomerang” in 2011 and “The Blind Side” in 2007, the story of Michael Oher, an impoverished teen who was adopted by a classmate and rose to become one of the hottest recruits in college football. The book became an Academy Award-winning film starring Sandra Bullock.
Lewis is also a frequent contributor to the New Republic, New York Times Magazine, Slate, Vanity Fair and Bloomberg.
Lewis spoke to the U about his upcoming trip to Utah —and some of the themes that might come up during the event at Abravanel Hall.
Q: University of Utah students will surely recognize your name as an author. But many might not realize that you got your start as a bond salesman. What made you want to trade in finance for a career in writing?
A: I’d gone into finance with a desire for a career not in finance, but in writing, so it wasn’t all that difficult. My problem was that I didn’t really have anything much to write about: finance provided me with my first material.
Q: Your latest book, “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt” has caused some controversy, in your suggestion that the marketplace is rigged by high-frequency trading in the forms of front running, market manipulation and insider trading. The FBI announced an investigation into these issues the day after your book release, while Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman Mary Jo White stated in congress in 2014 that markets “are not rigged” after she was questioned about your book. As a journalist, what’s it like to see your work evoking important public conversations and potential policy changes to improve the public good?
A: It’s actually a little disturbing to me when anything I write creates a noise in public because the process of writing the book feels so private. When I’m working on it I don’t imagine public conversations about it. At most I imagine some reader taking pleasure in it. It’s nice to think that a piece of writing might move the world in some good direction. But I’ve learned the mere fact that it creates a noise doesn’t mean that it will have any effect at all, let alone the effect the writer might have wished for.
Q: You’ve watched Hollywood A-listers bring your books to life on the big screen. From Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in “Moneyball” to Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling, who are scheduled to appear in “The Big Short” in 2016, your work has now transcended from the bookshelves to film. What’s it like for you to see your work on screen? Are you able to play a role in helping to ensure the films maintain the vision you had for the books when you wrote them?
A: A total delight, but I have nothing to do with the movies. A movie is so different from a book—it’s more like a short story. If an adaptation is going to be any good, the writer and director will need to break the book and re-make it. Suspecting I would be no good at breaking something I’ve made, I stay out of the process altogether.
Q: You’ll be spending a full day in Utah in September. Have you visited the University of Utah campus before? What’s on deck for your visit in addition to your speaking engagement?
A: I have not. Is the woman’s softball team any good? If so, I want to meet the coach, and solicit instructional tips. (I have daughters I coach.)