When the story of Sam Bankman-Fried, the accused crypto fraud man, exploded late last year, there was one upside to the unpleasant affair: Michael Lewis, financial journalist extraordinaire, was already hard at work on a book about him. Surely the author of The Big Short could smell a big, painfully obvious rat who’d bilked investors of millions? Somehow no. His new book is out and the first reviews can’t believe that Lewis fell hook, line, and sinker for a possibly jailbound alleged grifter.
The book is called Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon, and it arrives on shelves at an almost suspiciously convenient time. In his pan for The Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik says it “amounts to a defense brief for Bankman-Fried for his fraud trial in New York federal court, which opens Tuesday — coinciding, as it happens, with the publication date of Lewis’ book.”
Hiltzik does not hold back in condemning Lewis for not condemning his subject, even after his empire crumbled:
Journalism schools will be able to use “Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon,” Michael Lewis’ new book about the collapse of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange and the fall of its boss, Sam Bankman-Fried, as a textbook on the imperative need to approach a subject with a healthy helping of skepticism.
To make a long story short, in this book Lewis doesn’t exercise any.
Hiltzik almost takes sympathy on the once-acclaimed author. “Lewis quite plainly started this book project thinking he could write the definitive foundation story of cryptocurrency as ‘the new new thing,’ to quote the title of one of his earlier books,” he writes. “When the thing collapsed, he was unable to shed his initial enchantment.”
But learning the thesis of one’s book is bunk mid-writing has happened before. Other writers have saved face by writing instead about how they came to see their subject in a new, damning light. Not Lewis, who Hiltzik says “treats Bankman-Fried as sort of an endearing scamp who got in over his head, essentially by an adorable habit of inattention.”
The New York Times wasn’t any kinder. “Lewis, who traveled back and forth from the Bahamas, where Bankman-Fried was based, had, in the months leading up to the disaster, a front-row seat — from which he could apparently see nothing,” writes Jennifer Szalai.
Szalai contends that Lewis may have convinced himself that he wasn’t writing the definitive book on Bankman-Fried:
But this isn’t a book of investigative journalism; this is Lewis’s account of being a fly on the wall — a perspective that’s all well and good when your subject isn’t a billionaire savant who is charged with defrauding people who trusted him. Lewis seems so attached to the protagonist of his narrative that he takes an awful lot in stride.
Both Hiltzik and Szalai instead recommend another, more skeptical tome on the same subject: Number Go Up: Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall, by Zeke Faux. Unlike Lewis, Faux didn’t enter the crypto world thinking it was lefit.
“From the beginning,” Faux writes, “I thought that crypto was pretty dumb. And it turned out to be even dumber than I imagined.”
The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times weren’t Lewis’ only critics.
Michael Lewis has been the most dominant American business author for decades, and it turns out he can’t distinguish between business and fraud. Such an indictment of the generation who validated him over and over.
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) October 3, 2023
Michael Lewis is apparently one of the dumbest people alive. https://t.co/S5MdY0uQth
— Jane Coaston (@janecoaston) October 3, 2023
TIL Michael Lewis is an absolute clown. Imagine spending 6 months intimately connected to those amphetamine riddled sociopaths, getting a front row seat to watch the whole thing collapse and you come away with this take.
Utter Clown. https://t.co/M9iVIbpePl
— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) October 2, 2023
Michael Lewis after spending 6 months with SBF: pic.twitter.com/hxIOLoA3B1
— Ramp Capital (@RampCapitalLLC) October 2, 2023
There is one downside to Bankman-Fried facing his likely comeuppance: Had he not been busted he might have rid America of Donald Trump for good.