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Liar’s Poker

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Liar’s Poker

Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street

W.W. Norton,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Racy account of the rise and fall of Wall Street’s premier investment bank and how its bond salesmen ruled the roost.

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


In this period of New Economy prosperity, it’s easy to forget that the United States experienced a similar era of unprecedented wealth creation just over a decade ago. But back in the 1980s, no one had ever heard of Silicon Valley. Wall Street was the center of the universe and, for a time, one investment bank was its undisputed king. Liar’s Poker chronicles the rise and fall of Salomon Brothers: its infamous swagger, its aggressive expansion and subsequent decline. The book is written from an insider’s viewpoint by Michael Lewis, now one of the world’s best-known financial journalists, but a bond salesman for Salomon Brothers during its most colorful period. It is a tale of a business and a culture that few of us will ever venture into or understand. And although Liar’s Poker is a historical snapshot of Wall Street, the hubris of its characters and the swift reversals of their fortunes ring especially true today, in this age of the internet millionaire. getAbstract recommends this book to businessmen, executives, students and lay readers alike.


The Gunslingers

“One hand, one million dollars, no tears.” So said John Gutfreund, chairman of Salomon Brothers, to bond trader heavyweight John Merriwether. The challenge to Merriwether was clear: One hand meant one game of Liar’s Poker, one million dollars meant one million dollars and no tears meant that the loser could not complain about the loss. Merriwether could play for those stakes, but as a cagey trader himself, he knew that Gutfreund had a reason to suggest the game. Why else would the chairman challenge the acknowledged “King of the Game”?

But such doubts were irrelevant. The code of the bond trader was the code of the old Wild West gunslinger – you accept all challenges. Even one as seemingly ridiculous as betting $1 million dollars on a poker game, where the best hand is made from the digits in the serial numbers on dollar bills. The game is played by a group of people ranging in size from two to 10 people. Each player holds a dollar bill and tries to bluff the other players about the serial numbers printed on its face. The game starts with a bid from the first player. The game continues with the next player bidding a higher number or issuing a challenge...

About the Author

Michael Lewis, a former bond salesman, is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He has written one other book about Wall Street, The Money Culture, and the bestseller, The New New Thing.

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