Michael Lewis was born in 1960, in New Orleans. His father worked as a corporate lawyer and his mother was a community activist. He attended Princeton University, where he studied art history. At first, Lewis went on to pursue a career in art. He worked for a New York art dealer after graduating from college, but quit when he realized that very few opportunities existed for an art history graduate working in the arts. Disillusioned with his original chosen field, Lewis went on to attend the London School of Economics in 1985. He pivoted toward a focus in economics and a career in finance, believing this was one of the few ways to make enough money to get by. After graduating from the London School of Economics, he was hired by Salomon Brothers in New York, a large Wall Street investment bank. After some years spent in New York, he relocated to London through the company to work as a bond salesman. On the whole, however, he would look back on this time negatively; in hindsight, he came to see that Salomon Brothers and other such companies on Wall Street were run very inefficiently, with no regard for their investors or for the general American public. He resigned upon deciding that the industry was not for him for these reasons, and went on to begin a career as a financial journalist.
Lewis's first book was Liar’s Poker, published in 1989. The book is about the corruption and inefficiency he observed on Wall Street during his time working as a bond salesman in the late '80s. This first book was very well-received, and became one of the defining accounts of the Wall Street of the 1980s. It also established Lewis’s reputation as a deft and critical voice in financial journalism. In 1999, he published his second book, The New New Thing, about Silicon Valley and its obsession with innovating at a fast pace. This book was not quite as popular, but continued to build Lewis's portfolio of writing about finance. Lewis went on to write Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game and The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game in 2003 and 2006, respectively. These two books helped him to hone his statistical and analytical writing, this time on the subject of the economics of sports. Moneyball even went on to be made into a major motion picture, released in 2011 and starring Brad Pitt.
But The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine stands out amongst Lewis’s many best-selling books for its focus on a particularly difficult-to-understand issue, which affected the entirety of America in 2008 and beyond. In The Big Short, published in 2010, Lewis profiles several people who were able to predict the housing crisis well before anyone else did. Amongst these was Steve Eisman, a pushy and vocal member of FrontPoint partners, and Michael Burry, the socially withdrawn and quirky owner of Scion Capital. These two characters, along with the founders of Cornwall Capital and the aggressive Deutsche Bank mortgage trader Greg Lippmann, recognized the early warning signs of the housing crisis. They decided to bet against the subprime mortgage market, which underpinned the housing bubble. Ultimately, their bet, which was disparaged at the time for being unrealistic and foolish, paid off massively. In The Big Short, Lewis investigates how these few men figured out something that everyone else on Wall Street missed. He also looks into why most of Wall Street failed to see what they did, and what the fallout of the housing crisis was really like. Throughout, he explains the inner workings of Wall Street to his readers, in a way that is clear and easy to understand even for those with no financial background. The Big Short spent a remarkable 28 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It was also shortlisted for the 2010 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award, and was awarded the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Book Award. It went on to be made into a comedy-drama directed by Adam McKay and starring Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt, which was released to critical acclaim in 2015. The film adaptation of the book went on to win the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Film Adapting. Overall, both the book and the film were widely praised for the accessible and honest portrayal of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.
Lewis has also worked for a number of publications. He wrote for The Spectator, New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg, The New Republic, Vanity Fair, and Slate.