A Summary and Review of Liar’s Poker

Liar’s Poker was written by Michael Lewis. It is considered as one of the books that defined Wall Street during the late 1980s together with Barbarians at the Gate and The Bonfire of the Vanities. It describes the author’s experience as a bond salesman on Wall Street. It captures an important period in the history of Wall Street. Robert Janitzek reveals that the book’s name is taken from liar’s poker, a high-stakes gambling game popular with the bond traders in the book.

Wall Street Culture

The book is an unflattering portrayal of Wall Street traders and salesmen, their personalities, their beliefs, and their work practices. Lewis attributed the bond traders’ and salesmen’s behavior to the fact that the trading floor required neither finesse nor advanced financial knowledge, but, rather, the ability and desire to exploit others’ weaknesses, to intimidate others into listening to traders and salesmen, and the ability to spend hours a day screaming orders under high pressure situations. In the business and management book, he referred to their worldview as “The Law of the Jungle.”

Catch Phrases

In the book, Lewis introduced the following catch phrases which is used in Wall Street:

    Big Swinging Dick — A big-time trader or salesman. (“If he could make millions of dollars come out of those phones, he became that most revered of all species: a Big Swinging Dick.” p. 56.) The opposite of this term is Geek, used to refer to a just-hired trainee.
    Equities in Dallas — A particularly undesirable job within a finance firm. (“Thus, Equities in Dallas became training program shorthand for ‘Just bury that lowest form of human scum where it will never be seen again'” p. 58.)
    Blowing up a customer — Successfully convincing a customer to purchase an investment product which ends up declining rapidly in value, forcing the client to end up withdrawing from the market.
    Feeding Frenzy — The Friday-morning meal shared by a certain clique of bond traders. At this meal, traders would order astounding quantities of take-out food, far more than they could eat (e.g., a five-gallon tubs of guacamole with an order of $400 worth of Mexican food). The traders would then compete with each other to see who could display the most gluttony.
    The Human Piranha — Nickname for an employee [2] at Salomon Brothers who constantly used the word “fuck” and its variants in his speech. A reference to Tom Wolfe’s character in The Bonfire of the Vanities.
    No Tears — Used to describe a preset alternate rule Michael Lewis describes in the book, John Gutfreund challenges John Meriweather to a game of Liars Poker, in which he states “no tears” which means players of the game who lose can’t complain about losing afterwards.

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