Disappointing Nonfiction

Catching up on two weeks’ worth of books …
LIAR’S POKER by Michael Lewis would probably have worked better for me if I’d read it when it came out in 1989, but it loses a lot of punch now that it’s no longer current. Lewis’ account of his years at the Salomon Brothers investment firm when it was the King of Bonds through it’s implosion at the end of the decade gives a very good sense of Wall Street’s “Big Swinging Dick” atmosphere at the time (which I doubt has changed much) and how much investment success is just smoke and mirrors (Salomon’s efforts to go global fell flat because they relied so much on their rep to win customers—and dealing with overseas clients who didn’t know them, they had nothing special to offer), but it badly needs a narrative spine. Rather than the firm’s collapse or any other event, the core is Lewis’ personal experience at the firm, and it doesn’t really have an arc: he started, worked there, left when he decided to move on. Certainly readable (and in hindsight Salomon’s brilliant idea to use mortgages to back securities has a whole new aspect), but it just didn’t grab me.
In 1968: The Year That Rocked the World Mark Kurlansky argues 1968 was a 12 month span different from anything before or since as youth protests erupted everywhere from France to Columbia, Walter Cronkite came out against Vietnam, Czechoslovakia erupted in the Prague Spring, LBJ stepped down, Nixon took the White House, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King got shot, the women’s movement became news and even movies and theater boldly went where they had never gone before. As a history, it’s good, but as TYG says it’s “bombastic”—Kuriansky tries to hard to prove 1968’s uniqueness (working in The Graduate which came out in ’67, or NOW, which formed in ’66)—and in insisting that it couldn’t possibly be repeated, he comes close to grumbling about kids saying off his lawn.

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