In 2009, he received a call from an old contact, a lawyer, who said he had a client Lewis might be interested in writing about. This was Sergey Aleynikov, the former Goldman Sachs programmer arrested by the FBI and ultimately jailed for "stealing code" from the bank. "It's an incredible story," says Lewis, "and I said yeah, yeah, yeah and ignored him for a year and a half." During that time, he mulled over what could be so valuable as to justify what looked, from the outside, like an extraordinary overreaction on the part of Goldman Sachs.
"I didn't understand the code – what had he taken? It was very fishy, the way Goldman Sachs reacted to it. No matter how valuable it was, calling the FBI was a really extreme thing to do. And to do it so quickly. And it was pretty clear from the newspaper descriptions that no one understood what he'd taken." Lewis spoke to a few investors, started looking into high-frequency trading, and was ultimately told about someone who would go on to motor his whole story, Brad Katsuyama, or as he was described to Lewis at the time: "There's this one guy who works for the Royal Bank of Canada."
And in related-ish news:
"I find this story really upsetting," he says over lunch in LA, where his publicity tour just ended. "The idea that the smartest, richest elites of society find this an acceptable activity. This predatory activity…."
Not all of it has been positive. Prominent in reviews of the book has been the critique that Lewis has created a false set of heroes and – particularly from financial journalists – that none of this stuff is new in the first place.
"And that's a ton of horseshit, because I've watched Katsuyama educate the world. It's his story. His knowledge starts in '08. And if you knew this already, why didn't you do something about it?..."
The accident of his career is, he says, that he has been so well-placed to document an industry "that has gone insane. The financial markets have generated this fantastic material. I don't think anything else like this will walk in my door."
Michael Lewis: ‘Wall Street has gone insane’ [Guardian]