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Monday marks the release of Michael Lewis's The Big Short, a microcosmic look at the financial collapse. Already critics are bursting with superlative praise, calling it the quintessential book on the crash--if not the "single best piece of financial journalism ever written." Lewis first introduced many readers to the concept of financial derivatives in his best-selling book Liar's Poker set in the '80s. What critics find so compelling about this work is its dramatic, character-intensive prose. Here's his interview on 60 Minutes followed by the critical praise for his book:

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Lewis serves as translator for the confused, financially illiterate masses. Which makes his secret to success all the more intriguing: His writing isn't actually about money. Above all, Michael Lewis is a man obsessed with characters. Business journalists are often left with a false choice between writing about inanimate objects—collateralized debt obligations are always a hit—or about stuffy corporations and CEOs—scions, Pfizer, and Bear Stearns, oh my! Lewis has managed to chart a third course. Instead of detailing financial instruments, he finds characters within the underbelly of the market and lets them do the hard work for him.
  • His Fiction Techniques Reveal Truth, writes Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post: "Even discounting for its generalizations and exaggeration and limited frame of reference, however, 'The Big Short' manages to give us the truest picture yet of what went wrong on Wall Street -- and why. At times, it reads like a morality play, at other times like a modern-day farce. But as with any good play, its value lies in the way it reveals character and motive and explores the cultural context in which the plot unfolds."
  • He Lets the Characters Tell the Story writes Michiko Kakutani at The New York Times:
His entertaining new book does not attempt a macro view of the financial crisis, but instead proposes to open a small window on the calamities by recounting the stories of some savvy renegades who cashed in on their conviction that the system was rotten.

Mr. Lewis does a nimble job of using his subjects’ stories to explicate the greed, idiocies and hypocrisies of a system notably lacking in grown-up supervision, a system filled with firms that “disdained the need for government regulation in good times” but “insisted on being rescued by government in bad times.” 
  • He Did Some Old-Fashioned Reporting writes Felix Salmon in a Barnes & Noble book review:
Most impressively, Lewis has backed up his story with an enormous amount of old-fashioned reporting, spending a lot of time with the characters in his book and their families, as well as getting the important complex financial details correct. (Not everybody will understand the grittiest of the details, of course: that's inevitable. But everybody will be gripped by the book's narrative, all the same.) ...
The result is that rarest of beasts in a world drowning in financial-crisis books: a new book which actually breaks news. For instance, Lewis uncovers what could possibly be the single greatest trade that any Wall Street banker ever made.
  • He's a Master Explainer, writes Chuck Leddy in The Boston Globe:
Lewis meticulously explains how Wall Street bond traders effectively duped the ratings agencies into giving mortgage bonds backed by “garbage’’ mortgages their highest ratings, effectively turning Main Street lead into Wall Street gold. The traders then sold these bonds to unsuspecting investors who believed the ratings. These toxic bonds were eagerly insured by the likes of AIG, which would end up on the hook for billions in losses."

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