The Friday Podcast: Michael Lewis, Financial Disaster Travel Journalist

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Michael Lewis
Tabitha Soren

"At bottom, I'm not all that interested in money," Michael Lewis tells us on today's Planet Money.

It's peculiar that I've written financial books and worked on Wall Street. ... I'm interested in something else, and I guess that other thing is character and action and the general drift of societies. Money, because people care so much about it ... is this great prism through which to view people.

On the show, we talk about the long arc of Lewis's work.

In the '80s, he wrote a book about the people who created mortgage-backed securities. Last year, he described people who bet against mortgage backed securities and got rich when they collapsed in the financial crisis.

In his next book, he'll profile some of the places that got hit particularly hard in the crisis.

We're having this global financial crisis. The cause in the various countries is all basically the same thing: it's incontinent credit. It's money washing in at terms that shouldn't be offered, to people who should never be lent money in the first place. ... But in each place, the symptoms are completely different if you look closely.

So I thought, here we have an opportunity to create a genre: financial disaster travel journalism. We are going to learn about the places through the prism of their financial affairs. They're all subjected to a temptation: a pile of money in a dark room. Do what you want with it. ... They want to do different things in different places. Those are social portraits. They're masquerading as financial pieces.

For a preview, see his Vanity Fair pieces on Ireland, Iceland and Greece.

Podcast bonus: Allow us to recommend last week's Planet Money podcast "Egypt's Military, Inc." It's particularly relevant in light of today's news that the military will be running the country.

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