The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday MachineThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
Published by W. W. Norton & Company

From the publisher:

When the crash of the U.S. stock market became public knowledge in the fall of 2008, it was already old news. The real crash, the silent crash, had taken place over the previous year, in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread. Who understood the risk inherent in the assumption of ever-rising real estate prices, a risk compounded daily by the creation of those arcane, artificial securities loosely based on piles of doubtful mortgages? In this fitting sequel to Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis answers that question in a narrative brimming with indignation and dark humor.

Most Americans understand that the housing bubble was a big factor in the stock market crash of 2008, yet I would bet that very few have a real understanding of what took place behind the scenes on Wall Street that led up to the catastrophe. Very few people realize the details of how incredibly risky deals were being made by greedy investment banks who were out for a profit no matter what the repercussions could be. What’s crazy is that the investment banks at the time, and the employees who made important decisions in this area, didn’t fully understand what they were doing either. The Big Short is an incredibly important book, one that traces the timeline leading up to the crash, highlighting key players on both sides, and making it as crystal clear as possible to Americans what went wrong and how a similar catastrophe can be prevented in the future.

I loved how Lewis explained what happened using as simple, layman-term language as possible. Bank speak can be very confusing – there’s an acronym for everything, what something is called often sounds like the opposite of what it actually is, and the information presented is simply not something most people are familiar with from their day to day lives. Yet Lewis took everything that could be confusing or complicated and carefully explained it so that the average person wouldn’t have any trouble understanding what really happened, who the key players were, and why. And for those more familiar with finance and banking terminology and history, fear not – I personally fall into this category, and a lot of what Lewis presents here was brand new information to me. The fact that the book has such wide appeal, both for those completely new to banking/finance stuff and those well-versed in the industry, is a huge plus and lends the book really well to recommendation.

Simply put, I do think that every American should read this book. If, however, reading it just doesn’t sound like something you can commit to, the movie that recently came out with the same title was very good. I didn’t LOVE the movie like I did the book but I think that the movie stayed very true to the book and the key points were highlighted effectively. Also, the acting was superb.

Whether you read the book or see the movie or both, The Big Short is something that is not to be missed. When catastrophes like the crash of 2008 happen, as citizens and consumers the only thing we can really do is look back and try to understand why, so mistakes of the past don’t repeat themselves. With The Big Short, that understanding is made available to everyone in a way that is not difficult to grasp. Highly recommended.

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Mini-reviews (the trying to catch up edition)

Okay folks, I am currently 7 reviews behind, and while that’s usually okay, I haven’t been feeling much like writing lately so at this rate I will literally never catch up.  Therefore, I present you today with several mini-reviews.  These are all library books, so no review commitments involved, and I don’t think any of them qualify for any of the challenges I’m participating in.  So here goes.

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley was an impulse grab at the library, and what a great find it was!  This book kept me on the edge of my seat the ENTIRE time I was reading it, and I can’t recommend it enough.  It is basically the story of the nightmare scenario of a world-wide flu epidemic, and one family’s quest to survive it.  Many things happen in this novel that will terrify you, and will make you think that it’s entirely possible that a flu pandemic could happen for real, but that is what makes the novel so great.  In addition, these characters are written very well, and I promise you that they will get in your head and you will root for them despite the fact that you KNOW there’s no way they can all survive.  So, yes, read this one.  It is pretty awesome.  

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab was an audiobook find, and I didn’t know anything about it going in.  So I was surprised to realize that it is an honest-to-goodness mystery, a young adult mystery yes, but definitely more of a mystery than anything else.  As I don’t read a lot of mysteries, it took me awhile to get involved with the story, but involved I did get eventually.  It is about a girl named Carly who was murdered a year ago, and her ex-boyfriend Neily and cousin Audrey coming together to attempt to solve her murder.  They both have an interest to do so because Neily was suspected to be the culprit and Audrey’s dad actually was convicted for the crime (and was in jail for life because of it).  I didn’t love this book but I didn’t hate it either.  It was just sort of a mildly entertaining way to pass the time in the car for me, to be honest.  But if you like young adult fiction and you like mysteries I suppose you would enjoy All Unquiet Things.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon is a book that’s gotten a lot of love in the blogosphere, and with good reason.  Chabon is an extremely talented writer, and his observations and explanations of his own experiences are spot-on and so fun to read.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter about circumcision (his discussions with his wife, Ayelet Waldman, about deciding whether to have their son circumcised are laugh-out-loud funny) and the essay about how when he was a child, children were given much more freedom just to play and enjoy the outdoors (so true).  I highly recommend this book to anyone, woman or man, and I dare you not to love it.  Now I plan to go out and read Ayelet Waldman’s book about similar topics (I think) entitled Bad Mother.

SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner was another audiobook selection, and I listened to it because years ago I listened to its predecessor   on a long roadtrip with my husband and we both really enjoyed that experience.  This is one of those books that I was highly entertained by, yet after finishing it I can’t tell you anything specific about it.  Is that bad?  Either way, I liked it, even though I didn’t find it as compelling as the first one, and I recommend reading it if you enjoyed Freakonomics.

Finally, The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone was another impulse library find.  It is a book about veganism (she is obviously a vegan), and the first half is all about why you should be a vegan, and the second half is recipes.   I have been flirting with vegetarianism (though not veganism – not sure I can go that hardcore) for pretty much my entire life, and this book definitely gave me a lot to consider.  I especially liked the section where Silverstone listed out many of her favorite meat and dairy substitutes, by specific brand, flavor, etc.  It is a really helpful guide for those completely new to veganism or even vegetarianism.  I don’t know a lot about vegan cooking, but the recipes sounded extremely good, and perhaps for the experienced vegan the book might be worth a look just for the recipes.  I plan on cooking at least a few of the recipes in the near future, and although I’m not a vegan convert yet (or even a true vegetarian), Silverstone has definitely given me a gentle push to try out more vegan recipes and products.

So there you have it!  It certainly feels good to get those books reviewed and cross them off my list.

Also, happy July 4th to those of you here in the U.S.!  Enjoy a day filled with fun, family, friends, and fireworks!

The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilites for Our Time
Jeffrey D. Sachs
December 2005
Penguin
416 pages
Nonfiction, Economics

Reading The End of Poverty really illuminated for me the fact that economics is just not my thing.  I may care about these issues, I may be passionate about the idea of ending poverty forever, and I may THINK that this book will help me to reformulate my ideas and beliefs about how this can happen.  While all these things are true, I still had a really, really hard time with this book.

I hate that.  I feel as though I’m not smart enough to grasp the concepts Sachs set forth here.  I know that’s not true, but this econ thing is just not for me.

Why don’t I attempt to explain the premise of the book?  Basically, after Jeffrey Sachs spent twenty-some-odd years advising different countries on how to deal with their economic issues, he decided that it’s actually possible, and in fact would be remarkably simple, to eradicate poverty on this planet if we do the right things.  Sachs first spent several chapters detailing the work he’s done in other countries, what’s been accomplished in some of the poorest places in the world and what has yet to be done, and then puts together a systematic and common-sense analysis of what we can do, what we NEED to do, to eradicate extreme poverty from the face of the earth for good.

I most enjoyed the chapters detailing Sachs’ work with different governments and economics experts around the world.  I found it fascinating to read about the progress that has been made in some places, in such short time periods, with little aid from other countries.  Obviously a lot more needs to be done, in those countries and others, or he wouldn’t have had to write the book, but the progress that’s been made in some places is remarkable to read about.

But when Sachs starts talking facts, figures, and graphs, my eyes start to glaze over and I have a hard time getting the information into my brain (and making it stay there).  I’m sure most of what he put forth makes perfect sense, but I had an extremely rough time analyzing his arguments.  I am just not good with all the numbers, plain and simple.

I feel like I’m smarter for having read and attempted to understand this book.  And there were parts I definitely enjoyed, definitely learned something from.  But generally, economics is just not my thing, and I suppose I need to be okay with that.