Michael Lewis Paves the Road to Hell

William J. BernsteinMichael Lewis doesn’t write stories about people he doesn’t like, and he most definitely doesn’t write takedowns. Unsurprisingly, he wants us to believe that Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) committed no crime and further was driven by the very best of intentions: to save humanity from pandemics, global warming, and Donald Trump, to whom he considered offering $5 billion to drop out of the 2024 presidential race. Alas, those good intentions paved the road to one of history’s most spectacular financial blowups.

As usual, Lewis has written a rollicking page turner. Although SBF was promiscuous with media access, no other journalist matches Lewis’s hundreds of hours of interviews and weeks of tagging along with his subject from location to location, a rapport so close that SBF’s parents would ask Lewis exactly what their son thought about the world.

Lewis has come in for no small amount of criticism, some of it well earned, for failing to suss out the sudden FTX/Alameda crack up – more on that in a bit. But in an interview with The New York Times, Lewis makes the credible defense that his accusers, having spent orders of magnitude less time with SBF, should be careful in their condemnations of both the author’s competence and his subject’s character.

Point well taken; although Lewis doesn’t use the term, a thoughtful observer of human frailty avoids what psychologists call the “fundamental attribution error”: ascribing the actions of others exclusively to defects in character and without regard to the surrounding circumstances.