Michael Lewis’s work has always straddled the line between straight-up reportage and first-person essayage, but Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt is the first time I’ve seen the latter conquer the former. This has more to do with the timing of the book’s publication than anything else. I admire the work he’s done here, but there are a lot of footnotes that keep undoing any pretense that this book is just about telling a good story.
For example, on page 202, Lewis notes, “When the last history of high-frequency trading is written, Hunsader, like Joe Saluzzi and Sal Arnuk of Themis Trading, deserves a prominent place in it.” Okay, that’s a good idea—wait—why didn’t they get a prominent place in this book? Since you already know about them and everything? And are writing about HFT? This happens several times, Lewis leaving an Easter egg suggestion for this someday-maybe book about high-frequency trading. I’m assuming that’s because he felt it was important to publish this information ASAP. There is a sense of urgency driving the book, though that could just be the adrenaline rush that pumps alongside most writing about financial services—but there’s also a sense of wonder and outrage that’s more present than some of his other writing about similarly outrageous financial issues.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in my eyes, because I do think it’s urgent that more people understand how high-frequency trading works, and that we talk about it, and don’t allow large swaths of the economy to be invested in financial tools that aren’t even adequately understood by the people holding the reins. But it does lend the book an unbalanced feeling, as it’s hard to tell whether Lewis wants you to understand high-frequency trading or just be mad at it. Perhaps both. It’s worth reading (at least this excerpt) anyway.