The Big Short is a legitimate thriller. That’s how this book about the 2008 financial crisis became a hot Hollywood property. And the book’s characters — sketched with fascination and precision by author Michael Lewis — are what attracted the all-star team of A-List actors starring in the movie. (Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, etc.) But where most thrillers deal in espionage or murder, Lewis crafted his pulse-racing narrative from the unlikely (and esoteric) material of Wall Street’s Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and Credit Default Swaps (CDSs).
The hard-to-explain cogs in this tricky machine weren’t the only obstacle Lewis faced in bringing the story to brimming life. (Tricky is probably an understatement, since many of the world’s most sophisticated financiers were caught with their pants down by the financial implosion.) Lewis’s other obstacle in creating suspense was that everybody already knew what happened. That’s sort of a problem for a thriller — a big fat spoiler alert that’s gone viral. But Lewis performs his magic with the aforementioned characters. Lewis’s extraordinary portraits of the people involved give us a sometimes painfully human micro look at a macro event — and that’s his remarkable trick. Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Blind Side and Flash Boys among others, writes about value better than anyone else on the planet.