As an English major, I’ve never much been a person interested in economics. Economics has always perplexed me as a subject, with its ever-expanding jargon and web of theories (says the current law student…). But at a certain point I acknowledged that I should probably at least have a vague idea of certain economic-related topics as a functioning adult in society, so I decided to read The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I mostly downloaded this audio book because a) it was available on Libby and b) I had heard of (but never seen) the film made about it that came out in 2015. For a week I buckled up in my car, headed off on my daily commute to work, and braced myself to be slightly confused.
And I was slightly confused, but not nearly as much as I expected to be. Strangely, I actually found myself enjoying listening to this? Here I was genuinely liking a book about economics? I was surprised—and also a bit pleased—with myself, but mostly just very impressed with this book. What follows are five by which Michael Lewis wrote a book about economics that an English major actually likes:
A balance between jargon and explanations.
I really appreciated how Lewis seemed to pay close attention to the amount of economic jargon he was using. Often he would explain abbreviations multiple times throughout the book, likely (and correctly) guessing that the reader could use a bit of a refresher. Going into this book I knew barely anything about what was behind the financial crisis of 2007-8. Fortunately, Lewis explains everything in just enough detail so you can understand what’s going on but not so much detail that you end up sitting there confused.
My favorite part of this book is the way Lewis describes all of the people involved. He spends a lot of time detailing the little quirks of their personalities, emphasizing their dynamics and relationships with people around them. I especially enjoyed reading the descriptions of Michael Burry, who was apparently training to be a neurologist before he decided to get into finance. What a bizarre guy!
Now, let me just say that I know this book is about a financial crash that was absolutely devastating. I recognize that the event itself is not humorous; however, that doesn’t mean that humor can’t be found in the telling of this story or the players involved. Lewis is an engaging narrator who knows when to crack a joke in the midst of a bit of a dry spell.
The vague, peripheral inclusion of women.
Part of the rather ironic dark humor in this book for me was also how it inadvertently exposes the fact that this was a situation mainly orchestrated and enacted by men. There were very, very few women players in this ordeal, in large part because very, very few women are in positions of power and influence on Wall Street like that. And gee, I wonder whose fault that is… *cough* our society’s entrenched sexism and gender inequality *cough*. Periodically Lewis would include statements from some of the men’s wives, saying how they just wanted their husbands to be done with the whole ordeal. I laughed out loud at those parts, and honestly would love a book just about what the wives and families of these men were up to and thinking about while all of this was going on.
Granted, Lewis was also lucky in the fact that the story of the financial crisis of 2007-8 is actually wild and makes for an outrageous story no matter how you tell it; however, I do think that the way he tells it makes it much more accessible and entertaining. It kind of reminded me of reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton—Chernow did an excellent job recounting Hamilton’s life, but it was arguably made easier by the simple fact that Hamilton lived an exciting, interesting, and dramatic life.
Overall, I would highly recommend The Big Short regardless of how much you know about this topic or how interested in economics you are. Michael Lewis is a great storyteller who has successfully made even economics seem interesting, engaging, and captivating to this English major.
Have you ever read The Big Short or seen the film? What’s a book that you were surprised you enjoyed? Let me know in the comments section below!