Best-selling author and journalist Michael Lewis has a theory on why his 2014 book on the dangers of high-speed stock trading in the United States resonated with international readers.
“All I can figure is that the rest of the world has now come to the point where they’re taking actual pleasure in watching our follies,” Lewis said at a Charlotte appearance Thursday hosted by The Learning Society of Queens University of Charlotte.
“There is a horror story playing out in the minds of foreigners about our financial system.”
In the three nonfiction books he has written about the 2007-2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, Lewis said he has focused on how “bad incentives led to lots of bad behavior.” But he said he doesn’t think much has changed.
The books have made a “lot of noise,” he said. “But I haven’t been able to identify what effect the books had.”
In one optimistic note, he said positive role models – such as the banker he profiles in his latest book, “Flash Boys” – can have an impact on other players in the market. IEX CEO Brad Katsuyama has started a stock exchange designed to treat investors fairly.
“People are inspired by him,” Lewis said. “That is gold.”
Wall Street has been the backdrop of many of Lewis’ nonfiction books, including his debut, “Liar’s Poker,” which detailed his experiences as a bond salesman in the 1980s. But he has also gained popularity for sports books such as “Moneyball,” which was turned into a popular movie starring Brad Pitt.
The main character of that book, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team, didn’t want a movie made about him and called Lewis angrily when production was about to start, Lewis recounted.
“Brad Pitt is coming over,” Billy Beane, the Athletics’ general manager, told Lewis. “My wife is putting on makeup.”
During the hour-long conversation at uptown’s Knight Theater on Thursday, Lewis referenced Charlotte’s role as a major banking center.
“Charlotte banking has got to be a little different from New York banking,” he said. “Banking should be done in the presence of NASCAR, because if you’re doing anything really bad, someone’s going to kick your a--.”
During his stay at a Charlotte hotel Thursday, Lewis also said he spent time “trying to talk someone off a ledge” who is in his book “The Big Short,” which begins filming this year in New Orleans. The person was worried about how actor Ryan Gosling might portray him, Lewis said.
“It was a therapy session,” he said.
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