|One languid afternoon last July, I rang up Michael Lewis, the legendary author and all-around lovely guy. I’d come of age professionally during the aughts at Vanity Fair, back when and where Lewis was publishing some of his most seminal work—particularly Wall Street on the Tundra, a giant piece about the capsizing Icelandic economy (which he blamed, in part, on fascinating gender dynamics); and It’s the Economy, Dummkopf!, a tale about the collapse of the German financial system, which had an equally bizarre excrement leitmotif. Close readers will note how the artful headlines of that era have subtly influenced some of our work here at Puck. (Though, no… defenestration wasn’t ever on the tip of Graydon’s tongue.)
At the time of our chat, Lewis was embedded on a giant reporting venture with a subject whom he referred to only abstractly on the call. My partner Teddy Schleifer had already alerted me that the subject was indeed Sam Bankman-Fried, the richest self-made Gen Zer on the planet—the fast-talking crypto princeling who made money, and lots of it, in a way that few understood and even fewer scrutinized, particularly since his patronage was fast becoming voluminous. I didn’t press Michael on the subject, but I could hear the obvious excitement in his elegant, Southern-twinged voice. Indeed, I’ve spent the better part of a career being inspired by the rush that emanates from a journalist pursuing a great story. Anyway, Michael is a remarkably kind and polite New Orleanian, and I wanted to reciprocate his manners. I didn’t press him on the matter of his reportage, and instead privately looked forward to the publication of the book.
The intervening year, of course, reshaped the entire S.B.F. narrative and, resultantly, the arc of his tome: FTX turned out to be an elaborate house of cards, S.B.F. himself was disrobed as a petulant fraud, and his autumn trial was breathlessly hailed as the most anticipated since… (name one…) Trump, Madoff, O.J., etcetera. In the meantime, now everyone was looking forward to Michael’s new book. Cleverly, the publication date of Going Infinite was timed to the commencement of the proceedings.
And then something funny happened. The book, based on a remarkable level of access to Bankman-Fried, hit a peculiar chord in the culture. Many felt Lewis had been bamboozled by his subject—or worse, co-opted. Some wondered if he’d sold out for yet another bestseller, or merely been blinded by his incredible proximity and the wealth of extraordinary material. On some level, broad swaths of readers wanted a one-note takedown commensurate with S.B.F.’s own downfall. Others, perhaps, were unaccustomed to the novelty of an author who has spent a career searching out singular genius instead chronicling a unique charlatan. One way or another, for an author accustomed to near-universal acclaim and adoration, it must have been a jolt.
What has Lewis made of his critical reception—and, more importantly, the incarceration of his subject? In Michael Lewis Has More Thoughts on S.B.F., my partner Bill Cohan chats with Michael about all of it: the reviews, the parents, S.B.F.’s testimony, and more. You might consider the conversation equivalent to liner notes on one of the major bestsellers of the year. At the very least, it’s the sort of fourth-wall deconstruction you should expect from Puck.
But if you only have time to sink into one piece on this first weekend of December, I’d urge you to turn your attention to Lauren Sherman’s typically brilliant story, The Brothers Arnault, which captures the modern essence of the sort of corporate raider that Lewis began his career chronicling. The peerless Bernard Arnault utilized a combination of effortless French panache and brutish American takeover tactics to build LVMH, the ~$400 billion behemoth, which trades the honor of being the largest company in Europe on a quotidian basis with the maker of Ozempic.
These days, Arnault is thriving, his empire is blossoming, and yet he has the same challenge that Rupert Murdoch faced for a decade: succession. Lauren details the latest intrigue and offers a vivid cartography of what it all means. Do the career highlights of each Arnault indicate whether they are destined for the throne? Indeed, that is one of the great stories of our time, and precisely what you should expect from Puck.
Have a great weekend,