Michael Lewis — Inside the Mind of the Iconic Writer (#427)

“The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.”
— Amos Tversky

Michael Lewis is the best-selling author of many books, including Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Blind Side, The Big Short, The Undoing Project, and The Fifth Risk. Both of his books about sports became movies nominated for Academy Awards, as did The Big Short, his book about the 2008 financial crisis. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and three children.

His critically acclaimed podcast, Against The Rules, returns with season two on Tuesday, May 5. Last season, Michael explored the attack on referees in sports, financial markets, newsrooms, courts of law, and the art world.

This time around, Michael focuses on coaches: why the role of coach has expanded beyond sports in American life and why everyone seems to love coaches. Each episode examines a different kind of coach. From money coaches and voice coaches to college coaches and even the one who changed his own life, Michael delves deep inside the vast world of the coach. Can a good coach level the playing field? What is the secret to effective coaching? What role do coaches have in creating unfairness? Can everyone be coached or are some people beyond help?

Please enjoy! 

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

This podcast is brought to you by UCAN and Readwise. More on both below. 

#427: Michael Lewis on the Crafts of Writing, Friendship, Coaching, Happiness, and More
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear an episode with another iconic writer? Listen to my conversation with Malcolm Gladwell in which we discuss routines, habits, and tools, how to make your stories relatable, and why he eats as little as possible in the morning. 


SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Michael Lewis:

Website | Podcast

SHOW NOTES

  • A story about the first time I was (kindly) rejected by Michael Lewis. [08:06]
  • How handing in a book report almost got Michael kicked out of middle school. [09:35]
  • What Michael’s thesis advisor at Princeton thought about his writing as an undergrad. [12:39]
  • How did Michael develop the ability to write without studying it directly? [16:38]
  • What was it about writing that got Michael hooked enough to keep submitting content to various publications even when he’d get more rejections than acceptance? [23:24]
  • Was it a hard decision for Michael to give up a high-paying job at Salomon Brothers to gamble on a career as a first-time author in 1989? [25:46]
  • Unintended consequences: Michael wrote Liar’s Poker as a cautionary tale with humorous overtones, but a lot of young people entering the workforce read it as a how-to book. [33:57]
  • In his own life, how does Michael think about ambition? By what metric does he measure success? [36:45]
  • Maximizing self-satisfaction, optimizing the writing process, and learning to sing. [41:00]
  • When you’re a developing writer, there’s no underestimating the value of having an honest, earnest editor on your side who isn’t afraid to give you impolite feedback — whether it’s Michael Kinsley or John McPhee. [45:45]
  • On the merits of productive laziness. [53:20]
  • One good question Michael asks himself to help determine if a potentially worthwhile project should proceed. [58:37]
  • An example of how feeling an obligation to the material resulted in a project that grew from an idea for a few pages in a magazine about baseball to a book about the way markets value people: Moneyball. [1:00:38]
  • How has Michael self-consciously cultivated the narrative that he’s “one of the happiest people” anybody knows (including fellow writer Walter Isaacson), and how does this direct his interactions with others? [1:06:37]
  • Since Michael’s perpetually cheerful disposition disarms conversations that invite complaints before they even begin, what conversational prompts emerge instead? [1:11:53]
  • Who are Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky — the subjects of Michael’s book The Undoing Project — and what has he taken away from studying their somewhat tempestuous relationship? [1:14:15]
  • Among the small group of friends with whom Michael shares his work in progress, how does he phrase his requests for feedback? [1:21:01]
  • Michael gives us a sneak peek of what we can expect from the upcoming episode of his Against the Rules podcast in which he interviews The Inner Game of Tennis author Timothy Gallwey and delves into why the coaching methods outlined there can be applied across disciplines — from playing tuba to hitting a softball. [1:24:48]
  • Now that he’s dipped his toes in the waters of podcasting, are we going to see a decrease in Michael’s literary output? [1:33:39]
  • What does Michael’s exercise regimen look like? How does pandemic exercise differ from non-pandemic exercise? [1:38:56]
  • Books Michael has gifted most. [1:44:08]
  • What would Michael’s billboard say? [1:49:05]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:51:07]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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18 Replies to “Michael Lewis — Inside the Mind of the Iconic Writer (#427)”

  1. Hi Tim. I sent you a lengthy pm on Instagram in a desperate, anxiety attack moment today. You may never see it. Writing it out helped. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for being a light in the dark. I’m so scared, but I know you’ve been to the depths and have returned, that gives me such hope.

  2. What a great person! I can only urge everyone to listen to the Against the Rules podcast on which i binged right after I heard your talk! Tim, Thanks for this excellent interview!

  3. Maybe I missed it, but it sounded like Lewis credited Michael Kinsley with launching the careers of a dozen great writers and we didn’t hear who the rest of them were. Would love to know who they are. I can imagine great editors creating the kind of “coaching tree” that a lot of great coaches have.

  4. That was such an awesome episode! Thank you Tim and Michael! I especially loved the bit about “body states” and inner game coaching and all the fiction books suggestions!

    1. Another awesome guest. Great questions and stories. Liked the background on Liars Poker. And the evolution of the Moneyball project.

  5. Might be my favorite of your interviews! Informative and entertaining. Love his family motto.
    Maureen

  6. I was totally uninterested in this dude until your interview with him. Thanks to your very successful podcast, I will be checking out his. On a separate note, I just finished listening to a podcast series called Finding Fred (Carvell Wallace on Fred Rogers) that was so poignant. It spilled a lot of light on modern social psychology, emotional intelligence, and personal struggles that evade what we may see as privilege. It also made me think about how we define who successful people are – and as I listened to your show for the ###th time, how skewed our perspectives can be toward white dudes within certain income brackets. I love and learn so much from your show Tim, but I continue to question society’s perception of success.

  7. Hey Tim,
    I can’t thank you enough for introducing me to Michael Lewis.
    Inspiring and enlightening podcast.

  8. Thanks Tim for that podcast, Great guest and great questions. Very interesting outlook on life and his approach to it.

  9. Dear Mr. Ferriss,

    Thank you for organising the interview. I did not understand the meaning of “There’s the smart person; they delivered the clever put down there.” Does that specific sentence mean any of these – Is he ignoring his past or hiding it or giving equal importance to both victim and hero in him? If that is the case, how does it help in crafting his character and he becoming a better person? Can you please explain?

    Regards,

    Sreenivas
    Victoria, Australia

  10. Do as little as possible, and that unwillingly.
    For it is better to receive a slight reprimand than perform an arduous task.

    I’ve been a huge fan for many years. I’m now an even bigger fan. Wonderful interview.

  11. Favorite non fiction author in well driven interview… Kudos to all involved in making this happen, especially the host-guest duo! Thought proving and enjoyable, thanks and best regs from Poland!