« Desert Island Discs

Michael Lewis, writer

2020-01-12 | 🔗
Michael Lewis is a best-selling non-fiction writer and journalist. He initially worked for an investment bank, and his experiences of Wall Street excess in the 1980s informed his acclaimed first book, Liar’s Poker. Three of his later books – Moneyball, The Blind Side and The Big Short – have been adapted into Hollywood feature films. He was born in New Orleans in 1960, where his father was fond of quoting the family motto: 'Do as little as possible, and that unwillingly, for it is better to receive a light reprimand than perform an arduous task.' After studying at Princeton and the LSE, he joined an American bank in London, and wrote articles about the quirks of the industry under a pseudonym. In spite of his father’s opposition, he decided to quit his highly-paid job to become a writer. In Moneyball, he examined how a struggling baseball team used intensive data analysis to find undervalued players overlooked by richer clubs. The Big Short focused on the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and his most recent book, The Fifth Risk, is about the Trump administration’s approach to government. Michael lives in California with his wife, Tabitha Soren, and their three children. BOOK CHOICE: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole LUXURY ITEM: A photo album CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Old Days by Chicago Presenter: Lauren Laverne Producer: Sarah Taylor
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pvc sounds music. Radio broadcasts, hallo unlearned event, and this is the desert island discs. Podcast. Every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert, island and for rights reasons. The music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. My castaway this week is the writer Michael Louis for miss it, betrayed her. He started out under a pseudonym spilling the beans on life. On the trading flow, his first book, a wall street expos ache old lie, as poker was a smash it back in nineteen, eighty nine he gave up life in the city for life in his study and has been following him.
I turn or in imagination ever since another thing stories that delight him and, by extension, his readers. They include money both the tail of a struggling baseball team that harnessed the power of data to take on the fat cats at the top of the league and the big short about the roots of the two thousand and eight financial crises. this. Both were adopted for the big screen gaining eleven oscar nominations between them asked about his instinct for hunting out award worthy material. He says the process is so messy that no business school or writing programme would teach it. I just wonder, and I feel- as if I'm a wonder in the world when I find something that immensely interested and I looked to write something about it and see where it goes: everything I've written, started, small and the books simply mushrooms, Michael Louis, welcomed it S. Island discs. Thanks for having me so tell me a little bit more about your creative wanderings, then how do you know when you want something? Good is very good
feeling I get when I know when I write a book in it that I have an obligation to the story, it's so good and if I don't tell it, nobody else will kind of thing. I get that feeling and tell me about that in practice. Then, for example, your recent put the fifth risk doubts about the workings of the: u s government. When did you start telling that story? Well? First, I found out this curious thing and the cure, thing was. What had happened? Would Donald trump was elected president There were rules, laws that have been passed by the congress to ensure that when one president was leaving in another present was coming in. If the transition with smooth our government isn't work like your government, its run by the political people. That president comes in and he has to appoint four thousand people to run this two million person enterprise there isn't a permanent civil service is running the thing, so what they do always is the guy who's are leaving spends minos, six or eight months with several thousand people preparing briefings in each department.
you go to the centre for disease control and as a big book telling you how you prevent a virus from getting out and killing a million americans or you go to the department, and they show you how you maintain the nuclear weapons without setting went off by mistake. So then, I d logical, thinks so like how this place runs and on the other side person is elected, has to prepare to have hundreds of people to go in the day after the election, to listen to all this and trump had that by law. Yet a team of like five hundred people that he found are the day after the election, so nobody so what you had was all these people literally days after election sitting and offices around the federal government, with little finger, sandwiches and diet, cokes and parking spaces set aside and nobody shows up and when I realise that none of these briefings ever happened ever and I could go to the person who maintain the nuclear arsenal and be the first person to hear how it worked. There
as there was at least the beginning of a story, you sharing your tracks with us today, d write to me not How do I write to music? I use music, the tune out the world. I mean. The truth is that I'm a moron about music, I'm not music. and I have a wife whose musical aficionado who's up not only appalled by my taste, but more of that you have me on this point. I I do think if you gave my wife a choice between having sex tape of me released publicly with someone else or my choice of music on desert island death? She would rather have the sex tape out they're moving people find out who she's married to who was the state of my musical saw them? Just apologise in advance for was about to happen. Will my do you know, we don't do that with the thing at the baby saying so all we can do is go to your deskjet still with the fast. What's it going to be, first album I remember ever buying. I must have been ten or eleven years old. As the
first, I remembered guy dancing around to my underpants and I imagine that be doing on a desert island for in the first place, this dance around my underpants and its jackson. Five, I want you back Now, when the justified- and I want you back so michael- lose that drug taking you back to your childhood on to new orleans you or from a family. That's that
for many many years and you credit your neck, full storytelling to your whom time? Why? I didn't know about wrote books where I grew up. I'd invariably will read books where I grew up, so it wasn't puss, whereas they grow up to be a writer, but it was a place where you can grow up to tell stories, and I think it is true that the people who led the most interesting lives are the people who have a gift for telling stories about their lives. They goethe. they d things happen to them and they turn them into narrative and there was just this impulse.
It was in the air that you breathe in new orleans to turn things into narrative. So the place shaped me that way and my roots there, I'm in my roots, are very deep. The first lewis was sent down. There was sent by thomas jefferson to receive the louisiana purchase from the french in one thousand eight hundred and three in, and he wrote the first who was the first chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme court. That's like whatever grandfather when I was a little kid I used to go, spend when I wasn't listening the jackson. Five, I go sit in my The study has talked about how the world work, and he had this thing that he repeated add half a dozen times through my childhood, about who we were the louis family isa. He said you be able to understand it because it's in latin on our coat of arms, but we have a coat of arms and are if we have a family motto, the lewis family motto. Is
and he made me memorize it do as little as possible and that unwillingly, for it is better to receive a slight reprimand than to perform an arduous task. I believe that I thought that it was like the words we live there has until I was about twenty years old. I wrote a letter he just kind of made it up tangier second discounted, What are you gonna to hear why you chosen this This is where my wife reputation takes a huge it. This is like the really embarrassing part. The sextette things can be a lot less than tat. I love it. I love us all.
can I still listen to it, and it's takes me back to about eight hundred and thirteen in the chicago old days, chicago and old days. So MIKE Lucy, the eldest of three children, whom, in new orleans yoke your mother Diana, is a stalwart of new orleans unity life. Tell me a little bit more beta will give you an idea of just what a pillar, the community my mother is then looking paper, the ties pick has been running because it's a three hundredth anniversary of new orleans, a series of the three hundred most important people in
history of the city and my mother was just name one of them, and this is without ever making a dime it's entirely kind of civic activism, she's in the woven herself into the fabric of the city. In all these extraordinary ways. Second, trade about her is that all energy she has thrown into shaping the city of new orleans for the first ten years of my life. She directed at me to try to fix me, and that was catastrophic, that we were at war with each other. Relations were so bitter that when I was maybe three tina fourteen, whereas listen initial chicago and jackson. Five in those other songs, my mother looks at me with like steely eyes, and she said, do you know that for seven years as you have made my life, a sheer hell- and I remember thinking yeah I one this is a if soulless to mothers out their everywhere
I love my mother so much. We are so close now that we went from that too. This is an extraordinary thing, but new orleans saved us because she wants you stopped directing their energy me and starting to fix something else. Everything better. Ok, have to ask you about the fixing she's trying to fix you? What was wrong with me? In my mind, nothing. I was always pre happy with myself, but I caused endless trouble. I was a griffin evangel by the time I was alive. Ten eleven years old have added. We took in what kind of thing there was a period when I was kind of twelve thirteen fourteen where I would routinely get up at seven alarm for like two in the morning. I would sneak downstairs, go out the back door slip onto my banana seated bike and meet two friends on a corner in pitch black and run around the city.
Hood ornaments and key covers off cars, and you snap them. It sound like a pistol shot when you snap them and went up. My father found the collection that I'd accumulated over eighteen months. They were maybe two hundred of these thing. I don't know why. I had no sense that anything I did when I was twelve or thirteen or fourteen years old with connected. a way to like what would happen in the future. Will talk more about that in and perhaps about your ambitions that you have yourself back then, but for now it's time to go to the music geothermal disk today, Michael, so it stairway down, let's evelyn and new rules at a very highly developed social seen for kids. Bizarrely so and they had dances, and there was always a point
the dance and everyone who is coming and you're gonna have to decide whether to ask a girl to dance to. It is a line and its if there is a bustle in your hedgerow net it that wine is now seed with, in my mind, with like fifteen moments in my life, why do we keep hugging or do we start dancing and if we keep hugging? That means we like each other I could have told you only a minority would hedgerow was then but a bustle like what the hell's a bus We are doing it hedgerow spring ass, zepplin
stairway to Heaven. Radio foolishness watching the hedgerows very carefully during that track without their bustles Michael Louis, you books have covered fine on spaceball psychology. Yet you studied art history at princeton unit, city. How much van idea did you have when you are young man of what you wanted to do with your life zero, but did it occurred to me that I would have to do something with my life. I can remember seeing all these people, dressed up in it's in going to their interviews to work on wall street? None of that actually appeal to me, but I thought what is it that I like to do and when I was a senior in college, they made me right a thesis. It was a year on commitment, and it was a book length thing in our history department at princeton and I found love where I sit. I like doing this edged fell in love. With the doing of the thing I could. You came to london and studied economics for ten years at the policy and managed job as a bomb dealer in the london office at solomon brothers? Did you feel you fit in when you got there?
answer. That is no because I was always a fraud, because I wasn't there for a career. I was there to get some money and then very quickly. I figured out. I was there to get material, it was so interesting. I knew that they was going to be a story in it. I could pass inside of solomon brothers. I was regard this successful, but I wasn't, except for the first year when I was learning her all worked, I wasn't engaged and it was just a matter of time before I was exposed. You are already telling yourself. This was material in you were going to write it up a year and do it for sure I start taking notes a jog home at night, and I get home at eight thirty at night, and I would right magazine pieces and increasingly they were about the city. The first thing gets published is an up at in the wall street journal, arguing that investment bankers are overpaid. I come into work the next morning and the head of solomon brothers international as well
For me and my desk ashen faced- and he says you have no idea what you ve done, you might be true, he said, but can't say it and the board of directors at solomon brothers has had a crisis meeting about the public relations fall out from this. He said we have to stop and I should like a stop a second and he had the out. He said Could you do it under a different name? Have enough I use my mother's maiden name. So I said it right under the name, Diana bleak. I just had to wait for my bonus tour. At the end of the year and I fled in january, and I wrote the book the next year, they became liars poker net is actually the next song exactly tell us about this next, so, whereas living in london and bought a little house in hampstead on the graveyard, and they were just too little, on the graveyard. In the other little house, my next door neighbor contain dumb the actors Michael Williams and Judy, ditch and Michael Judy became good friends, and as I was starting to write, liars poker, sheep
this song in my hands actually said you got to listen to this, so I started putting on headphones and just listening to the same song over and over and over, and this on our reliance. Poverty, barcelona
by freddy mercury and Montserrat cabal ie, so Michael Louis, the book lie as poker covered the nineteen eighty seven financial crash brought Monday october, the seventeenth. What did it feel like to be inside that moment what is happening with you? It's thrilling because all material nor I fell. I felt as if I was watching the into my story at the core the story was the financial system has become absurd and we can demonstrate that has become absurd because its paying me hundreds of thousands of dollars to give financial advice to see. Various institutional investors. When I have no idea what I'm doing that, nobody in his right mind should be listening to me much less, paying me huge sums of money to do this and if that's happening, something's wrong in the world and that's what it felt like I remember walking around excitedly taking notes on the solomon trading, for while everybody was screaming and yelling in the end, it was a false ending that we wrong I thought there was writing the end of a story, and I was right in the beginning of a story,
I mean, as you say, you were making a fortune. You thought you, you have no idea what you were doing, but you are obviously successful at it and presumably the the people around you might not have felt as you did. What did your positive example? you're, going to turn your back on this. There were two people. got in my ear, when I said I was gonna, quit go right, but my father was the first, so my father, you get in the sense of it he parenthood with a very light touch. I am twenty six When I call it say: you're not gonna, believe it. I have a forty thousand dollar book contract. He heard I'd been paid two hundred and fifty thousand dollars at the end of my second ear solomon brothers, and he said you can't do this, and I said why said: look you can write any time. Wait till you, thirty five, that these people can make you rich weight to your rich
Then you can leave and write your stories. I can remember very vividly I was sitting on the solomon training, for when I was talking to him. He was back in new orleans. I was in london, he was in new orleans and I remember looking at the older people around me. I thought defined here another ten years and on them, which the likelihood that I'll leave and write my stories couldn't imagine any there also trapped by the money they were making billions of dollars a year. They had families, and so I knew that, if I didn't do it, I wouldn't do it was a fear of getting myself into a situation where money would matter more to me than it should that was at the bottom of it it's time for some amazing. What are we going next, when there were into my soundtracks that I've been writing to for the last thirty years, and at some point I discovered this song is dire. Rates romeo and juliet. This is a song that has managed to live on
virtually all of my soundtracks, even after I added so when I go right now, when I go home and probably gonna start another book and I'll pull out my soundtrack and I'll get rid of half a solid on it. This is on it will remain dying streets romeo and juliet louis lifelong interest in baseball. Inspired you to write money, bull, the art of winning an unfair game. It was made into a film and eventually, a verb which is very impressive, and it looked at how different sectors of the baseball community we using statistics
and how one of the puritans began when so many games. What was that secret? They found a different way to value people. Would it me about the story? Wasn't the baseball, although I enough of an interest in baseball. What was curious to me was that you had this thing that people have been doing for a century playing this game. Been analyzed by millions of people. There was statistics attached to every move they made on the job, and yet this team was able to look at these people in a completely what way and find value in them that they that even know they had and so for me. It was a story about how poorly markets value people and how they can be so misled, and so wrong headed the value of human being. There always moments where I think that's book, I can remember when this became a book. It became a book win,
I was interviewing the players of the oakland ays, trying to figure out how much they understood about essentially the science experiment. They were in the middle of It was after one other games and was waiting for the player an interview to come out shower and so is washing his place compel shower and so was first I'd seen naked and they were such an awful site. They were like so not athlete several mad fat ankles. I thought: how could you be a professional athletes with fat ankles? They all looked wrong, stanfield sixth disk mighty chosen. I can asked knowing nothing about music and having taste that can be called into question by musical snobs, and I met my wife nineteen ninety six names, tabitha sovereign and she was the face of mtv when I met her and was just had more
free credit in the rock and roll world than anybody walk on the planet. We ve been set up on a kind of a blind dinner date and we talk about all kinds of things not about music, and she said to me on having dinner with friends, to mark the sum lawyers were in seattle. I thought she said: does meet us at this restaurant. So we get to the restaurant and one references outside waiting for and he's wearing up purple valori jacket and it's got long, cascading dark locks. My first thought was This is so great that a lawyer can wear that kind of thing. I was introduced my italy, so I just think it so great that you are wearing matt. You are able to pull it off and he's look at me like strangely it, but that that moment passes and then we spend the next three hours. Having dinner, I adore them. Guy he's just the best. I can see why he would be a successful or even, though, is wearing this purple valori jacket. Now, at the end of the dinner my now wife's,
to me like what was that about? Like the purple- and I said my this thought lawyer is she sent me he's- were that's peter buck? He's the guitar sees a ferrari em. I almost said Sorry am I kind of new, but I didn't know because that's who I am so she put this song in my hand. So We know who I am was and its losing my Legend is bad said
I am I'm losing my religion and peter, but would go into play your wedding, but it was a plan is picked up. The guitar start playing, but from that moment on, my wife was pretty sure that my musical tastes and understanding would be a source of cost embarrassment to her when she might. Yeah. It needs is like one bad thing happen after another, and it really is no end to it. You don't dixie inspired your next book. She's a superstar, softball player, watts well. Do you exploring there and do think any of her friends will speak to you again, while this book is still work in progress. I am writing it now and it's it's a little memoir of notches raising D see, but it's a memoir of youth, the tells a story of which happened, a youth sports in america, which is just a bizarre and, and credible story. It's a world where market has opened up for child athletes that has become far more elaborate and complicated and expensive
and then it should you don't really how a version of it here. It's all, driven by fact that colleges give three billion dollars a year wayne scholarships and the the colleges the only way to get into now, unless you are a perfect student, is to be an athlete, and what about finance seeming did she enjoys. I think she loves a sport, but the process of having profession lies when she was twelve and put in a very intense pressure cooker situation for five years, where she was on stage constantly. I think that that part of it was not so joyous saw she's not done with she now figure out what college she's going to its the market. Part of it is over, I think, she's back to enjoying it, but it did take. person, who was doing something purely for pleasure and turn.
Or into someone who is doing something for other reasons: taxable music. What's it going to be? Well, my wife tried to educate me. She tried to get me better about music and we would go to concerts because our friends were playing and she usually backstage passes and we went when our first child was may be. Three quinn is our first, not twenty. We took quinn and we went by stage to kneel young charity. Music festival was to raise money for kids with disabilities. I was aware it was a philanthropic event, but I wasn't quite sure what the cause was. We're backstage talking r m, and I notice that
all the parents who had little kids were running onto the stage to sit behind the ban. That was about to play, and I thought well would be cool for quinn to be able to sit right behind the band when they're playing. So I am aware, as we had its way how bad the story is. So does be aware that I know what I did was bad. I apologize if it acts I saw. I took my child by the hand and sat right behind any better programme was about play and they start playing the song better man and I look around and I realize all the other little kids or disable kids. The level of modification in social embarrassment was a as high as its ever been in my wife. Never lets me forget it and this is the song, the triggers them
sooner aims. pearl jam on better man might lose. He returned to the money markets as a source of inspiration for your books, repeatedly the big short boomerang flash boys. I wonder how you feel about the future of finance, as we know it. If you ask me that when I wrote lars poker, I would have said the interesting things just happened. The stories over there, no more books to be written about this, it turned that this thing that had happened in the financial world, this financial allocation of economies, where all of a sudden, all the kids from the most
the schools wanted to go work on wall street when they got out of school, where all of a sudden what people could charge for being in investment banker, aura private equity, prisoner of venture capital, were going through the roof. It's just continued and gotten more and more pronounced and sits at the heart of the police,
oh and economic life after the big short, I thought it was done all over again. I thought now we figured out that we ve got a real in the financial sector. It's gotta be shrunk, it's gotta be less important. It's not actually productive enterprise. The societies will figure out how to put this thing back in its box and they haven't. So I assume the future of finance is to generate some other spectacular story for me to tell at some point d trend its most unsettling to me. Is that- and we see it in our politics- is there's been such a decline in trust in both your society
Eddie and my society, trust in institutions, trust and other people, and the entire financial system depends on trust. The reason we re able to get out of the last financial crisis is governments were trusted, so governments could step in, say, aright, yes, city groups about to go down, but will back city group, so you don't have to worry about that anymore. If you don't have an ultimate trusted authority, then you get a different sort of crisis where its crisis that's hard to stop, and that's the thing that we like worries me, because I think that we are drift being into a situation where governments won't be trusted and what that looks like and what constitutes a generous. I don't know, but it seems to me the direction. Rather, it was time for me to cast you wait a desert, island ted. You can't you cope with being stranded. I enjoy my company, but not that much, I think I'll be fine.
For a few days. I wanted any trouble, listen to say music over and over and over again can that's what I'd do already. I look forward to learning how to fish. I think the first thing I do is figure out how to have a feast like less figure, how to make this fun. The first experience would be that it would be like what resources are here and what can we do with him? Ok path. It will give you one more piece, music to take with you. What you gonna be like of my children have watched a peculiar away. I live my life and live my work life by choice. All very musical. They think it's curious, and I said, listen to this same so track over and over and over- and I said quinn whose now twenty years old in the south more in college,
I need some stuff for my next soundtrack, any music. You can think of that. Might work for your dad to write to and her judgment was impeccable. She completely new. What would get me going? What would get me into the right had space the kind of music that work in a way that even I dont know- and this was the first time she sent me- and I thought
how great it isn't. My kid knows, and its roller coaster, bible, egypt, tickets, bleachers close to sue Michael Louis, I'm sending you away and you can take with you three books, the bible on the complete works of shakespeare. You can also have a book of your choosing what will happy confederacy of dances by John Kennedy to which is not just a brilliant comic novel, but it is these
the best description of the new orleans I grew up in its ever been written. You cannot have a luxury ice in something to make your time on the island more enjoyable. Would you like torn between a photo album that would pictures of all the people. I love so I'd have those associations and a palatine bike, but then I figure that I'll get plenty of action eyes right mission run around the island and probably calories will be scarcely saw, probably become a boss
anyway, just naturally we ve, so I'm a girl with a photo album photo. Album is nice choice and finally, which of these discs, which one would you save, above all the others have yet to chicago old days the statement of intent right there you go Michael Louis. Thank you very much for letting us here. Your dazzling discs, thanks for having me, don't take too long before you come back and get me hello. you join that put with Michael louis? There are more than two I was in desert island discs available to listen to in our archive michael mentioned that he live next door to deign judy damage when he says
you didn't at the london school of economics, she's been castaway, three times on our island also in archive is the economist and director of the alessi damon. Who sheffield. She spoke to kirsty young in twenty eighteen, diminishing the london school of economics and political science. I believe together is full title and it has. proud tradition of being right at the central debates regarding the rule of the states in society, william beverage, you have the same position as you did. He lay down the foundations of the welfare state, of course, in the early forties, might I ask you just to play a little parlor getting with me? If you were to put yourself in his shoes, what do you think he would make of the welfare state and the position it since in the uk, I launched a project at the policy this month to rethink the welfare state in light of beverage. Its descent the fifth anniversary this year, and I think beverage would be maize did how much the welfare state had grown
think there are many elements to it that he never have envision too, and I think he thought of the any chest, for example, as a sort of in case of emergency, as opposed to a preventative, health care and comprehensive healthcare system. I think he'd be amazed. How the role of women has changed and have a welfare state has changed to support women. I think he would be. based at the size of the welfare state. I think he look at an aging society in the demographics and I think he would say it's time for a reform and to rethink Do we have a welfare state that is both affordable It also meets a very different set of needs in a modern economy. You spent, I mean a good, healthy chunk of your careers, very senior civil servants who opponents secretary department for international development. I wonder this is this. Is this current debate? How individuals guard against their sort of personal freedom,
patients, maybe even their personal views and opinions starting to seep into what they choose to expose. The MR too, because ministers have to rely very heavily on experts in their department because they come they gotta get across a brief very quickly. Having could ministers in good civil servants always consider an array of options when they're looking at policies, there is never just one answer There are usually many ways you can solve a problem and they each have costs and benefits. was that at a time when you set across having done that's meticulously and saw company, he chose that you're kidding. I can only say athlete. Yes, yes You know what their democratically elected and I'm not so that's their prerogative, bad policies. tend to get undone eventually. So that's the democratic process They mean sheffield talking to Kirsty young next time. my guest will be deemed seem campbell? The F director of women's football hoping join us then
Henry ably disappeared from his home on the edge of windows from forest somewhere around the end of june. Twenty nineteen. Please don't leave me Just need you to get in touch. What we uncovered is a mystery That has sent us deep into england past. to an area steeped in witchcraft, the occult secret government operations right- are covered in something that might indeed be altogether otherworldly. This is the whisper in darkness. Available now on BBC sounds.
Transcript generated on 2022-06-08.