The Big Money on Michael Lewis

The Big Money, Slate’s business site, runs a nice appreciation of Michael Lewis by its reporter Chadwick Matlin.

Matlin not only is totally right about Lewis, his piece is also a nice essay about business writing and why it’s so often so, well, bleh.

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. At least hundreds, often thousands, of words in his magazine pieces are spent describing Lewis’ characters to set some type of financial and psychological scene. For Lewis, stakes are established by outlining a character’s motivations and then detailing the reactions when the principles and artifacts of Wall Street interact with those desires. This process allows his subjects to become emblems of broader economic themes. In other fields, this technique is the norm; it’s called storytelling. In business, however, Lewis’ type of narrative yarn is rarely pulled off deftly.

Very well put.

If you haven’t yet read Lewis’s masterful Portfolio effort on “The End” of Wall Street, read it now or print it out and take it home.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.