Liar’s Poker

If someone had tried to sell me the true-life story of a ‘Big Swinging Dick’ I’d have nodded politely while I reached for the mace. If they’d then explained that this particular B.S.D. was a bond salesman on Wall Street, I’d have been far less scared but no more interested. Luckily a friend insisted I read this book and leant me a copy, otherwise I would have been deprived of a truly gripping read.

Whatever your feelings about the banking industry, they are guaranteed to have been challenged by the end of this book. It gives up the real insider information on the trading floor, including stories of greed, daring, stupidity, brilliance and even – whisper it quietly – compassion. Dealing in other people’s debt suddenly seems like the best (if dirtiest) job in the world.

The action follows the rise and rise of the author’s own career in the London offices of Salomon Brothers, charting the transformation of a timid trainee with everything to learn into a man who dreams in market indices. Some of the most amusing anecdotes derive from Lewis’ time as a fledging salesman, new to Europe and the wiles of traders – the most dangerous of all being his own colleagues.

Having ‘blown up’ his first and only customer (trader talk for putting a customer out of business) he realises he is a kid learning to drive in a Jag. ‘I was telling people what to do with millions of dollars when the largest financial complication I had ever encountered was a three hundred and twenty-five dollar overdraft in my account at the Chase Manhattan Bank.’ But there are plenty more cars in the garage. ‘None of my activities made so much as a dent on the bottom line [of the bank…]’ he writes. ‘But all were highly entertaining.’

And entertaining it is. The pace of the book is so fast-moving and the humour so down-to earth that it’s virtually unputdownable. Even a foray into the complex and murky world of mortgage bonds, half-way through the book, failed to lose me. That this friendly, honest, and engaging writer should have been so successful in the jungle environment of the banking world is as pleasing as it is surprising, and anyone considering a career in the industry will find much to learn in the pages of this book. It’s a definite buy.

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