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Rediscovering Michael Lewis October 21, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.
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Recently, I came across a copy of Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game while browsing around the bookstore bargain bins. All in all it was a pleasant surprise, especially considering that I stopped following the author precisely because he began to venture into sports journalism.

I was first introduced to Michael Lewis’ work by my dad. Late in the 1990s, as I started to take a real interest in my dad’s work — at the time, preparing a company for an IPO — he passed on a few books to me in the hope of kindling my enthusiasm. To my collegiate eyes a lot of the material was way over my head, but of the books that stood out one author in particular caught my attention: Michael Lewis. Not that I knew him from Adam; it just so happened that he was the husband of one-time MTV correspondent Tabitha Soren, which in all my naivete seemed to be a very big deal.

Liar’s Poker and The Money Culture were the first books bearing his name I would get my hands on, and they they were truly eye-openers. These weren’t the stereotypical business guru-esque treatises about Wall Street. True, they were packed with much of the information one would expect from such material (albeit of the “insider’s perspective” variety), but with a difference. These were candid, incisive, often irreverently funny and above all else interesting. Lewis evinced such a knack for cutting to the quick and making the inner workings of corporate finance and wheeling-dealing come alive that at least for my reading list I knew he was a keeper.

Some time later, my dad would tell me that — wouldn’t you know it? — Michael Lewis’ most recent book would be something I would particularly like. He was correct, of course. The New New Thing wasn’t a book about business or finance; rather it was a book about technology that told the real story behind the Silicon Valley darling that was once Netscape. I recall not so much reading the book but devouring it, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page. For a technophile, it was simply the book to read. The following year, Lewis would come out Next: The Future Just Happened, another equally tech-oriented book about the internet that I picked up as soon as it hit Philippine shores, and to which I credit my brief infatuation with Gnutella.

I lost track of Lewis’ work thereafter — by design rather than circumstance. His 2003 offering, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, signaled yet another shift in the direction of his interests, this time toward sports. Granted, the book was about how rigorous statistical analysis was changing the way that professional baseball was being played, and thus seemed interesting enough; yet for all that it wasn’t my cup of tea (sports journalism to a lesser degree, but certainly baseball in particular). Given his track record for switching gears every few years and sticking with his new flavor of the month — from finance to technology and now to sports — I decided it was time for the ride to come to an end.

Which brings me back to The Blind Side. In a sense, I was right: by writing this book about American Football it’s quite clear that Michael Lewis still doesn’t have the sports journalism bug out of his system, especially considering the way it articulates how the left tackle position has transformed professional Football over the past twenty years. At the same time, it’s unmistakable that I have been so painfully wrong: it isn’t the subject that makes a writer, but the writer that breathes life into his subject of choice, in this instance a Memphis kid named Michael Oher who may just become the next greatest left tackle the NFL has ever seen. I had thought that my affinity for Lewis’ other books derived from what they were about. To some extent, this is true. But I see now that even more than the subject matter I was drawn to them because Michael Lewis simply writes so well, be it about money, finance, the internet or defensive strategy in American Football. This is why The Blind Side was so unexpected — it may have been a sports book, and an unconventional one at that, but its mix of human interest story and sports analysis is more than just entertainment. It’s downright intelligent.

Some writers are one-trick ponies: they generally write the same thing cast in ever-so-slightly different ways. In this Michael Lewis is different. He’s probably as versatile as they come, which in and of itself is a breath of fresh air. Or easy to take for granted. That much I intend to remedy well and soon: I already acquired a copy of Moneyball, and can’t wait to read it.

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