The Rise and Fall of Sam Bankman-Fried

Book review of Michael Lewis’ Going Infinite. I recommend.

The subtitle of Michael Lewis’ newest book reads, “The rise and fall of a new tycoon.” The tycoon in question is the crypto-boy-wonder Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the failed cryptocurrency exchange FTX, now on trial in Federal court in Manhattan.

For a short time, Bankman-Fried was considered the world’s richest billionaire under age 30, until his empire suddenly collapsed in November 2022.

The book was published earlier this month, the very day Bankman-Fried’s trial began. To launch the book, Lewis appeared on the CBS program 60 Minutes the weekend before. His interview can be found here.

Going Infinite currently sits at No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. You will know Lewis from his previous bestsellers such as The Big Short, Flash Boys, The Blind Side, and Moneyball. I’ve been following Lewis’ career since his first book, Liars Poker, back in the 1980s. Lewis is a gifted writer with a rare talent for explaining complicated, technical subjects, like crypto and high finance. He doesn’t disappoint here.

Lewis had unparalleled access to the wunderkind when he was still on the rise, and then immediately after the fall. Lewis visited the infamous penthouse condo in the Bahamas where Bankman-Fried lived communally with his fellow FTX executives.

From this lofty perch, they dreamed of taking over the worlds of finance and politics while making the future better through their “effective altruism” brand of left-wing philanthropy.

Having seen him up close, Lewis takes the side of Bankman-Fried more than most in the media, and clearly he set out to write a much different book than what eventually became Going Infinite.

Lewis covers it all, the humble beginnings, the meteoric rise, the dabbling in politics, and the sudden collapse into bankruptcy and criminal charges.

One thing that stands out in Lewis’ book is how uniquely unqualified Bankman-Fried and his band of mostly twenty-something minions were to run a worldwide multi-billion dollar financial empire.

I first became interested in the story because of the political angle. For a short while, Bankman-Fried was one the Democratic party’s largest individual donors. He and his FTX friends gave money to candidates of both parties here in Minnesota.

All that’s left unwritten is the final chapter, pending the trial verdict. That, and the next home of the tungsten cube.