Michael Lewis is good at explaining things. From my perspective, he’s especially good at explaining things that otherwise don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It’s maybe that mastery of the otherwise elusive that explain why I’ve never read Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, the 2003 book about the Oakland Athletics organization’s revolutionary approach to baseball management that is probably Lewis’s best-known work. I already had a handle on sabermetrics and other deep statistical analysis in baseball by the time Moneyball was released, so I didn’t necessarily require the knowledge boost Lewis could provide. Subprime mortgages and heuristics in judgment and decision-making, on the other hand? There was a big empty space in my brain where those subjects might have lived. Lewis, to my mild shock, was able to stock those barren shelves.
The defining quality of Lewis’s writing is inquisitiveness turned into information turned into clear conveyance of that information. Lewis is a person who has discovered a fascinating story that explains a previously inscrutable facet of modern life, and he can’t wait to spread that discovery to anyone who will listen. He makes a notably good talk show guest for that very reason. Instead of dryly hitting talking points about whatever book he’s there to promote, he exudes the intellectual eagerness that got him to dig into a subject in the first place. As he speaks about what he’s learned, the fact spill out of him, and it feels like witnessing a quick, fevered writing process, words assembled on a page as a deadline looms.
There’s a journalistic solidity to the work Lewis does. The quality combines with his fascination for systems to make him something of a seer. His recent book The Fifth Risk delves into abdication of governance undertaken by the current wannabe despots misplaced in the executive branch of the U.S., a move away from basic civic leadership as a matter of both laziness and principle. The disaster of 2020 resides in those pages like an approaching fiend. Lewis is in no way alarmist, nor does he overtly editorialize. He simple types out the truth in a way that allows the rest of us to follow along. In a tumultuous time, few skills are more valuable.
Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “My Writers” tag.