Los Angeles Times
By Reed Johnson
Nov. 13, 2011
Growing up in New Orleans, writer Michael Lewis learned three lessons that stuck with him for life:
Success and happiness are very different things.
Never become a lawyer.
You don’t need to come from a bookish environment to know how to spin a helluva story.
Maybe the storytelling part, Lewis speculates, stems from another thing New Orleans taught him. With its Creole-Cajun culture and hedonistic ethos, the Crescent City schooled him to view his native country like a skeptical foreigner trying to make sense of outlandish things that appear normal to the rest of America.
“If you grew up in New York you’re unaware how strange Wall Street is,” says the 51-year-old author of “Moneyball,” “The Blind Side” and “The Big Short,” plowing through a bowl of corn flakes on a recent morning at the Chateau Marmont. “It’s like the fish is unaware of the water it swims in. But for me it was just bizarre. It’s funny.”
Lewis today might be the most insider-ish outsider writer alive. With an academic’s grasp of brain-teasing concepts and the skewering wit of a morning drive-time host, he has crafted a distinct personal brand by writing about business matters with both expertise and with a rare accessibility.
For previous generations of journalists, the big narratives were about war, revolution and politics. Today the business of much of the world is business, which helps explain why Lewis’ latest work, “Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World,” (W.W. Norton, $25.95) ranked No. 2 on last week’s New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list and holds that position on this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times list. “Moneyball,” first published in 2003 and recently released as a hit film starring Brad Pitt as iconoclastic Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, was No. 3 among the paperback nonfiction titles on the NYT list, and “The Big Short” was ranked 13th on the same list.
Able to wring juice from the driest of subjects, Lewis waxes about business with the verve that David Halberstam and Oriana Fallaci brought to eyewitness accounts decades ago of Vietnam battlefields and Mexico City massacres. He partly credits his lively prose style to his London apprenticeship as a writer and associate editor with the razor-tongued British magazine the Spectator after wrapping up his studies at the London School of Economics.