Despite releasing Going Infinite, a book that will inevitably sell more copies than most could dream of in a lifetime, Michael Lewis seems to be having a pretty bad week — and he’s doing it to himself.
First, the renowned author called FTX “a great real business” during a 60 Minutes interview to promote the book, which concerns the crypto exchange’s ex-CEO Sam Bankman-Fried. It was an odd point that seemed to stick in the public’s craw, but actually, most of the interview was hard to watch.
It’s unclear why anyone who witnessed the collapse of FTX and Alameda Research would consider Bankman-Fried’s blunders “a great real business.” The entities were less business and almost exclusively criminal enterprises. It wasn’t successful at much more than wire fraud, bank fraud, and gambling with customer funds — poorly.
So it’s fair to say that when Lewis made the comment, expectations for the book on the eve of publication were tempered — if not completely dashed — for many in the finance industry.
The Guardian released a profile of Lewis that same day. It wasn’t exactly flattering, either. The worst moment comes when Lewis brings up the recent allegations against his other book-turned-film, The Blind Side.
For the uninitiated: main protagonist Michael Oher is adopted by a classic Southern football family (American football, that is) who eventually push him to succeed in becoming a professional player. However, Oher has recently claimed the book’s narrative was totally fabricated: he wasn’t adopted and the family that had him under conservatorship took advantage of him.
In response to these allegations, Lewis lashed out at Oher, suggesting he’d suffered a change in personality after playing football for years. Lewis said that he was taking advantage of how the public would react to the claims.
To say it was a nasty, unnecessary outburst is a euphemism.
Going Infinite committed as many sins
After watching and reading consecutive embarrassing interviews from Lewis, it’s hard to imagine anyone going into a book with more concern and dread than me starting Going Infinite. Unfortunately, I was still unprepared.
It’s safe to say that Going Infinite is more a memoir of the author’s time with Bankman-Fried than a critical examination of the alleged multi-billion dollar fraudster. Egregious errors and bumbles are littered throughout the book.
Most important to me were the threads that Lewis didn’t pull on, as opposed to the few that he did. Lewis has failed to ask enough questions to Bankman-Fried’s inner-circle. Confusing and important moments are glossed over, like when co-founder Tara Mac Aulay and other employees abandoned Bankman-Fried early on in the days of Alameda Research. Lewis doesn’t bother to question whether SBF is a reliable narrator (he isn’t), despite others involved explicitly stating, “It’s not hard to see [everyone is] being played by [Sam] like a board game.”
Pedantic and obvious attacks are made on John Ray III, the man leading the liquidation of FTX and Alameda’s assets, alongside law firm Sullivan and Cromwell. The idea that a law firm specializing in bankruptcy for large corporations is doing it for the money isn’t even an open secret, it’s undeniable.
(If you want to learn about Sullivan and Cromwell and its history of making ungodly sums of money throughout American history, there’s other, better books for that, like Gangsters of Capitalism.)
Another clear issue for me was Lewis’ treatment of the effective altruism movement as a bonafide religion as opposed to the cult that it is.
In Going Infinite, Lewis also briefly discusses Bankman-Fried’s support of a small-time Oregonian EA politician, Carrick Flynn. Bankman-Fried paid nearly $1,000 for every vote that Flynn managed to get, in an election that he lost. The FTX founder says the defeat “didn’t bother him”… and that’s the last we hear about Carrick Flynn and the failed election. This was quite unfortunate because it’s one of the sole interesting moments in a nearly 300-page book.
Michael Lewis spat in the face of opportunity
The worst part of all this is that, as opposed to many of Lewis’ books, such as The Big Short, Going Infinite is boring. Revelations are few and far between, the tidbits that are new are watercooler gossip-levels of interesting, and the tone of the entire book is that of a naïve child droning on about their day at school.
It’s hard not to fall asleep reading the book. I took two naps while trying to get through it.
This is to say that if you’re looking for a frothy, troubling, fascinating ride, Going Infinite won’t cut it. I had the opportunity to read Zeke Faux’s Number Go Up last month and assure you that while similar in length, the book is far more exciting — which is mental, considering that no one had more access to Bankman-Fried and his collapsing empire than Michael Lewis.
I know I can’t convince everyone to skip this swing-and-a-miss of a memoir, but if you’re going to force yourself to read someone incessantly make excuses for a grown ass man, one of the greatest financial criminals of a generation, at least try to avoid his horrendous interviews while you’re at it.
Otherwise, you might end up disliking the author as much as the book itself.