It was too late for that, of course. I was already sitting across from him at a place called Saul’s, where we’d come for breakfast following a two-hour hike near his home in the Berkeley Hills. But after a few phone calls, it became clear why he might favor that particular approach.
“He’s intoxicating because of his intelligence,” said Billy Beane.
“It’s a pinch-yourself honor to be written about by him,” said Meredith Whitney. “I’ve never met anyone like him. Even in the same sphere as him.”
“I think Michael Lewis is the best satirist writing in English and has been for the last couple of decades,” said Tom Bernard, who has considerably mellowed since Lewis dubbed him the “Human Piranha” and “the grand master of Fuckspeak” in Liar’s Poker, Lewis’s first book. “I think of him as the reincarnation in the United States of Evelyn Waugh.”
If he’s a satirist, he’s one who gets quite close with his subjects. “He basically had a key to our house,” says Leigh Anne Tuohy. “Whenever he came to town, we made him go to church. We said, ‘If you want to talk to us, you’re coming to church.’ ” To their dismay, Lewis, an atheist, resisted conversion. “Lord knows we tried,” says Sean Tuohy. “We had people praying for him.”
Billy Beane has similarly misty memories. “We sort of became a triumvirate, me him and Paul,” he says. “He became sort of a nonpaid colleague.”
When I sit down to write, I like to think everybody is going to love me.
And Lewis keeps in touch. In the summer, he and the Human Piranha go biking in Aspen, and when the Piranha wrote a novel, Wall and Mean, Lewis introduced him to an editor at Norton, which published it. When the Lewis family went to Miami last year, they stayed in an apartment belonging to Jim Clark, the Netscape founder and protagonist of The New New Thing. He still sees Morry Taylor, a.k.a. “the Grizz,” whose quixotic presidential campaign he covered in 1996. “The New Republic has never sold as many magazines as when Lewis was writing about me on the campaign trail,” Taylor says proudly. “And the goofy editor was yelling at Michael, ‘Hey, I sent you out to write about the campaign, why do you keep writing about the Grizz?’ Because the other people are boring, that’s why.”
Lewis recently had dinner with Taylor and his family. Afterward, the Grizz asked to speak to Lewis’s daughter Dixie, alone. Dixie came back grinning, her 4-year-old hand clenched tightly around a present Morry had given her. “It was a hundred-dollar bill,” says Lewis, cracking up. “He told her to spend it on a night on the town!”
Lewis has been criticized for falling too much in love with his subjects. But with people like these, how can he help it? “Michael Lewis is an incurable romantic,” says Taylor. “That’s why he’s been married three times.”
Until not long ago, Lewis was still simmering over an actual “lost wax” profile of him that highlighted precisely that fact, a 1997 Vanity Fair story in which the writer Marjorie Williams quoted mostly his jilted lovers. “If you’d have put me in a room with anybody from that place ten years ago, I would have taken a swing at them,” Lewis says. And today? “That writer’s now dead, so what are you going to do?”
Lewis was 36 back then, as handsome and privileged as a popular guy in a John Hughes movie. He was about to marry his third wife, the MTV correspondent Tabitha Soren, and publish his fourth book, and the Vanity Fair article appealed to peers in the industry who resented his seemingly effortless success. “I once asked him, ‘What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?’ ” one ex told Williams. “And he said, ‘Not getting elected president of the Ivy Club at Princeton.’ ”
Even Lewis will admit that he has led something of a charmed life. He was born looking like something out of a Brooks Brothers catalog, grew up in a well-to-do, generations-old New Orleans family, and has aged in that way that Robert Redford has, in that he looks now basically the same but somehow more solid. “He’s a direct descendant of Lewis and Clark,” says Taylor. “That’s on his dad’s side. On his mother’s side, Thomas Jefferson. Or whoever it was that bought Louisiana from the French. His dad is a lawyer. His grandfather was the first Supreme Court justice of Louisiana. The whole family is very southern, the hospitality, the prim and proper, all of that.”
He managed to get into Princeton despite being a far from stellar student in high school. “He had such bad grades,” says his mother, Diana Monroe Lewis, who is in fact a descendant of James Monroe. “But he always had the verbal skills,” she added. “He could talk his way out of any situation.”