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tv   Authors Michael Lewis Malcolm Gladwell  CSPAN  May 30, 2022 11:00am-11:46am EDT

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analysis of the world of politics with our informative podcast. c-span now is available at the apple store and google play. downloaded for free today. c-span now, your front row seat to washington anytime anywhere. .. michael you and i have done ts many many times. to the point where i don't even think we should. pretend that this is that we should just think of this as an ongoing conversation and just start in the middle. i'm pick up where we left off. you just whispered to i think you have to honor sean. he was another high school classmate who was one of the main characters ofthe blind side and he was supposed to be in your chair . the amazing thing is his
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whole life he never read a book but yet he had the balls to come and do this and he was so much more qualified. but i wanted to just sort of pile on myself here. and add to what he just said. the blind side starts when i fly down to memphis giving a talk about something else and i was thinking about writing something about my high school baseball coach and i thought i want to get in touch with old teammates and sean was an old teammates. i call and hesays i'll pick you up at the airport . and he led me to the blind side story but the first thing hesays when he picks me up, we get in the car . dead serious, he says write your books? and i said sean, i write my books. he says no, i know you're
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like the author and your name is on the book and you're really good on tv. he went on about how he admired my promotional abilities. how i handled the business end of things but then he said who puts the words on the page? and then i said sean, i put the words on the page. he said no you don't, you're a dumb chip like me who sat in the back of doctor francis englishclass and got sees . it really took them forever. he had in his head michael has got this career as an author but he got some trolls in the back who do the words for him and he goes out and he gets to be the author. that was his notion. he could not conceive a person he knew from age 5 to 17 wand went to school with had ended up with this writing career. i think teasing doesn't make
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enough. nobody saw this coming, not even me. >> made the last author sean picked up was james patterson. it was a legitimate question. [laughter] does anyone by the way help you? >> does anyone by the way help me with my words? where do those words come from? >> no, number do you use researchers? >> i once hired a researcher because my daughters needed a softball coach and the softball coach of my dreams co could not take the job as a softball coach unless he had a proper job and admission to it so i said how would you like to be my research assistant and we sat and
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stared each other for the next three years because i couldn't think of anything for her to do. the problem i have with any of that kind of help is that it's in doing this sort of stuff or a research assistant would do that i figure out what the book is in the first place so what are we going to do? people with will fact check and all that stuff after the fact. i have the same book and editor since liars poker which is the book i wrote when i was 27 years old. he's still in my life but he's in his late monday stage of editing awhere he sees the words but he's great. he sees the big picture what the words are kind of my words and you're stuck with my words. >> all of us do this when we think about professions other than our own which is we understand the general shape of the profession but we don't understand how time is
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allocated within it. so people who are doctors think what doctors do is see patients and in fact what doctors do is answer emails and paperwork or they do see patients but it's not this much seeing patients in this much paperwork, it's this much paperwork and computers. writers, people who are writers and writers do this much time iwriting this much timepreparing and it's the opposite . >> i know there are people, you and i iprobably our exceptions but there are people who get upand write every day because they have to write . and this is mainly novels i think you can do that. i can go months without writing serious words on the page. i find it so much of what i do is figure out what needs to be said and what's worth saying and finding characters and just gathering stuff. the actual writing of it, i
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don't want to say it's the easy part but it's kindof easy part . it's, once you're there and you have it all, it's just really not thathard . so yes, you're right. if you look at the camera on my life and probably your life you would be very disappointed. we were sitting there in a few states all by ourselves thinking thoughts. you probably do that more than i am. but i mean, tell me how much time do you spend actually ut sitting down putting words on paper versus everything else? >> not a lot. but it's all about, it's when you talk to somebody and you say that person has just written that section. you know what it's going to look like but it's finding the order of things.
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i was watching that movie, the movie gentlemen's agreement which it i thought was a movie about this and he said it's actually a movie about hollywood writers trying to glamorize their profession. the bold of the movie is our hero struggling to write a magazine article and ripping the pages out of his typewriter throwing them at the wall. that's a good third of the movie. do people actually do that? but wait, michael. i do have some questions. we are in new orleans and i was thinking about you cause i do this for my sins, this newsletter tand i imagined if one were to take a tour and do memphis, atlanta, birmingham, what 10 books
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would you read in preparation ? for each city i gave a different and i had readers suggest and for new orleans the question was what this book to be and i answered the obvious ones but then i said the real one i wanted hasn't been written yet. it's the book michael writes about new orleans. >> did you say that in public? >> pressure is on. what isthe michael lewis book about new orleans ? >> i have a voice. i came down, i first thought the only thing meaningful i've ever written about this place was a long magazine place about katrina. >> which was so brilliant and so informed by the fact that you were from new orleans that i want it more. >> so did i but i didn't have it.
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i gathered strength and move family down here and the string is all in a box and maybe one day. but you know, it's it was such a peculiar job that you don't realize what you get out of here. this place is informed by writing in so many ways . not least of which i mean, i think that all the books are, it's a person with an odd view of the world coming into a circumstance nobody recognizes as odd and the reason i have the odd view of the world is i grewup here . not the orsouthernmost city of south america. and over and over, i'm reminded of how strange this place was. i have not spoken to my publisher about writing a book about this place but
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coming here during katrina i didn't think like, the material is pretty good. so right now, i'm about to use, i was, i do a podcast. i'm a wholly-ownedsubsidiary . it's called against the rules. they spent a total joy to do. it reaches a completely different audience than the book. it works different muscles . and this season the idea of tthe podcast is every season we take a character, an authority figure in american life whose status is volatile and examine what's happened to that character and why. the first season is about referees in american life, the second season is about coaches and the third is about experts. i was sitting around with two producers the other day and
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they were saying you know, it would be nice in past seasons you have anthings that are personal stories and they work realwell . is there any like expertise a you developed when you were a kid that we might, that might be a way in and i started thinking about what i actually learned as a child and how different that once from what people in other places might look at. i didn't learn how to do anything that was a bendable skill. i learned the difference between a second cousin once removed first cousin twice removed. nobody in america knows the difference between those two things. but i thought there was a moment i have a fun experience where something i learned that i really did learn here like was of interest and they said what was it?
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when i was 15 years old i was the king of the on mardi gras organization and for a period of i don't know, six weeks after baseball practice i go over to the house of this little old lady near our school whose job was to train royalty. these people still exist. mardi gras kings and queens go to them to learn how to sit on a throne.there is a way to sit on the throne and learn how to greet subjects and learn how to waive a sector and walk around regally. i was learning how to do this . with a completely straight face and the woman who was teaching me explained to me that she learned all this stuff in uaeastern europe where she trained actual royalty but they were all gone so she had to come here because this is the last place where you have enough customer base.
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>> know who your customers are, that's one of the principles . >> flashforward whatever it is, 21 years. and i'm a friend of mine who edits one of the newspapers has asked me to come over and cover one of theircollections . and i get there and i land and he says i want you to come to dinner because there's someone i want you to meet and he gave me an addressthat was in his house. he said show up here at this time . no further instructions. so i show up at this house and knock on the door and princess diana opens the door . yes. and it's just her. and she's on the house with charles and it's a little flat that's down the road from kensington, wherever she was supposed to be. >> were you married at the time? >> know. she opens the door and you
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know, my job was on the floor. i was juststupid. it just struck dumb and i said i know you are . and she leads me into the house and we're having just a drink together before and any of dinner party shows up and she goes out the back door. but what are you going to say to princess diana? i said you and i have something in common. and she said what? i said we're actually both royalty. you're about to lose that status but i was king of squires. and i explained to her that they taught me how to do stuff and she brightened. she said they haven't taught me how todo anything .
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i said they taught me of the way the scepter and she said you know ulhow to waive sector ? she said would you teach me? so we walked around. she put her hand on my hand and we walked around, it was a pretty big living room and we found a couple of forks and i showed her the way you lead with your elbow and the way you need to follow with your eyes and thewhole thing. she was completely into it . so the whole point of this story in addition to eating up five minutes. [laughter] when i was asked by my npodcast producers what did you learn in new orleans to become an expert in that might be like different and get us back to new orleans, that's the thing i learned. it's all i have was that kind of thing and every day you
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pull it out of your back pocket and it works but most of the time it was a different and impractical .hildhood >> there's nothing wrong with that. >> know, there's nothing wrong with that. there's everything right with i that. i would argue that i feel it aless and less as i live outside new orleans where i've become more esassimilated in normal american society or but i can remember thinking when i left here and i went to princeton. it wasn't princeton, was when i was on the cost and had to leave princeton and find something to do with myself and the world. i was watching the way the world was once you're out of school . and especially new york but everybody wanted to go to work on wall street and everybody's working on their careers . and i came from a place where you really work defined by
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what you did for a living. you really work defined, you are defined by who your mama was and what school you went to. it was genuinely a place that's turned on family values. there was not a lot of talk about worldly success. probably because there wasn't a lot of worldly success but partly because it was a somewhere between a stagnant and stable place. and i tell this often. my father is sitting in the front row. this will give you an idea of the spirit and i told you this before in which i grew up. up to the age of about 17 you would every now and then say to me you'd recite the lewis family model for me and he told me it was on a coat of arms which is preposterous when you hear what the lewis family motto is. three words in latin, whatever they are. and the point of the story is i believe tim m.
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i thought this was true. he said the lewis family motto is due as little as possible and that unwillingly. but wait, for it is better to receive a slight reprimand that you perform an arduous task. >> i don't know where you u pull that out of. i still know where he got it from what i thought those were the words we live by. but we were so happy. and the childhood was so happy. all of a sudden i'm thrust into a world that's not this world. and it was broadly financial success america, new york. and it's very successful. people are making a lot of m money and they're so unhappy. tthey're so miserable . most miserable college
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class isone people wanted to know they were going to wall street and i said what's wrong ? people have no interest in economics andthey go to wall street . rich successful and miserable lives. so right from the start i have a view of that world that is a little different. i think it's screwed up. like why is this, why is this success. and that there's no question that leads to liars poker and there's no question that leads in particular to a kind of armor that i had about they never persuaded me this was important. even though they let me in and made me successful person for a few years and they were going to give me money . i could never really bought in it seemed so cockeyed and miserable. >> a screwed up and let and happy person and the result was the most scathing indictment. they will never make that mistake again.
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kn[laughter] >> there's some real truth to that. they couldn't understand. i told you the story. i don't have any luck stories left to tell you i haven't told you but i can remember of the bewilderment of the wall street people when i was wanting to publish stuff. i've been writing some magazine pieces before i got there and couldn't make a living. i got that job and it paid me a lot of money and it was cool, you'll write about it one day . always in one ear and out and through a fluke, i was like crazy successful for the first 18 months. and i can explain why that happened but it had little to do with me knowing anything but they thought i knew what i was doing and i didn't know what i was doing but it was generating many tens of
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millions of dollars forthe firm . so i was sort of protected. so i didn't think'anybody's going to fire me. they couldn't fire me, i was too profitable. i started writing stuff that in retrospect was reckless. i wrote a piece in the wall street journal, op-ed page arguing investment bankers were overpaid and on the bottom it said michael lewis is an associate of solomon brothers and when i arrived at work the next day the head of the whole company international was there ashen faced waiting for me. saying like, i mean, i felt bad. he said we've been up all night with the board of directors trying to figure out what to do about this because it's beingreprinted all over the country in newspapers and you can't say we're overpaid . and i said we are overpaidand he said yeah but you can't say it . and it waslike what can you
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do . >> stopped for a second. how old are you at this point west and mark. >> 24. and a job in wall street this is your first real job out of college. >> real job out of college. depends on how you count them but i was a stock boy at the wildenstein art gallery and i wore a suit to work for six months. i got tired of that and then i worked as a cabinetmakers apprentice for 4 months i left rich teenage girls through europe for three months. and then except for that class sso you're making an intense amount of money and your first impulse is to turn on the institution and to just not just you, you could have written an article saying i'moverpaid . no, we're overpaid. you're like samson.
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you're going to take down everyone. >> but i wasn't even thinking. i was thinking i'dlike an article in the wall street journal ? i wasn't even thinking that would have some effect. this is an interesting point to make, we're overpaid and ea why only overpaid . i lay that out. my state of mind was such that i kind of thought when i walked into work the next day they'd all be saying my god, you got an article in the wall street journal. nobody said that . they said instead you've got to stop writing and i said i'm not going to stop writing so he said okay, can you write under another name so i wrote under my mother's maiden name for along stretch . my mother's maiden name is diana bleeker of munro and that mollified them. they actually said dno one swill ever guess a woman is
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made up here, they don't think like that but when i sent to them i'm out of here, i'm going to go write a book about wall street i told them. their response was knocked boyou can't write about this or don't write about us or we are afraid, none of that. they didn't care bosses who were seeing me out ut the door . they were worried about my mental health. they said they took me in a room and said we're just io worried about you. you're going to make a half million dollars next year and you might run the nofirm one day and they saidyou're out of your mind no, i don't know what i'm doing . and i really like doing that. they couldn't understand where i was coming from. and where i was coming from was here. that's why theycouldn't understand it . i remember i happy place that wasn't like this . and so whatever it was about this childhood was still with
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me and that protected me because otherwise i'd have believed what they were saying about me and the importance of this and money would have become a substitute for something else . i just had to live my life there, that's what would've happened. >> you recently rereleased brokers as an audiobook which means you both had to go back and read it again . am i right western mark are you like me, do you reread your old books? >> you don't reread them. >> i don't. i can't. you would have had to. >> it's an odd thing that you can't because right before you finish the book you're rereading it obsessively. you're dreamingabout it, thinking about it, going back line editing . and it's the minute it's and i completely lose interest. like to the point where the e
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book is painful for me and i don't want to talk about it. so i never, i mean i have to. i had to have flipped through it before i went on like a paperback tour and i remember hi this because i was going on the paperback book tour for liars poker. i had to fly back from london to new york and i havea book on my lap . i'll be on tv talking about it and kind of an oil man type from texas comes in sits next to me. looks down and says you're reading that book andbefore i could stop him he said i read that book , it sucked. cynical after. and i remember thinking i'm going to spend eight hours trying to avoid infiguring out how land . i remember flipping through just so i didn't forget anecdotes. but never since.
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what happened was jacob weissberg was going to be up here in a couple of hours and we had been talking about doing what you've been doing which is an audiobook with pushkin which is a produced audiobook. it's more interesting than that. you've gone so far as your the voices of yourcharacters in the book. i don't think i'll ever quite get there . i don't like recording what i'minterviewing . >> they make tape recorders that are this date. >> it makes people self-conscious and a lot of times i'm moving through space and doing things with them . it's just hard. it just makes it much less natural interaction. anyway, what are we going to do? if we're going to do one of
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these folks what are we going to do and the rights toliars poker reported to me and i said why don't we do this ? we'll start withsomething . so the other piece of this is my daughter quinn was a junior in harvard told me that friends of hers had been made to read the book by people they had interned with on wall street because it was still relevant somehow. that was curious to me because i thought it's just changed so much. so the combination i thought well, let's see what's inhere . and three months ago we recorded it and released it a few weeks ago. the experiencewas not what i expected . it was, i mean there's a reason you don't reread your books. >> so you're rereading it for the first time and how many years ? >> 33 years. >> walking through your reaction to the rediscovery of your work.
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>> very similar to the experience i had yesterday when i went back to the is an ornament school where i was and talked to students as i was walking the halls. all of a sudden i have these placed associations memories that i have not even know i had. every corner of the place is some story. in the book and i started reading and like to progress in i remember what i was readingwhat i wrote that and i was imitating it . it didn't sound quite like me. when i was reading the h education of henry adams because i thought in preparation of writing this brutally frank memoir, i don't know. i'd never written a book, never written anything longer than a couple thousand words. i started to read other supposedly brutal right memoirs. i had a stack of them. so i have this odd experience as i was reading the first couple of chapters.
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the introduction, the first chapter i wrote last so it wasn't the first chapter. you get to chapter 2, i could see all. now i'mhenry adams . now i'm george orwell. now i'm mark twain. now i'm tom wolfe. i was hearing the voices of the writers whose book i was reading and i was imitating. not plagiarizing, just their voices are in my head . >>that book doesn't feel like a michael lewis book ? >> as you get into it there came a moment where i didn't think someone else. and i also thought oh, this is less objectionable and i don't exactly where the moment was and it was mid chapter 6. >> happening in that? >> it's the first time i'm ripping off the customer for salomon brothers . i don't i'm ripping them off but i'm ripping them off and it's funny, the story.
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the guy loses his job. because of something i put into but i was so absorbed with my own experience i forgot about how i was supposed to write and i just pulled it. and what was happening is i was psending in chapters to the publisher two at a time. the response was so enthusiastic i wasthinking maybe i can do this . what was actually the backdrop of this is it was so odd was what i had sold the publishers was actually a history wall street where i appeared to be in for a few pages. the book ended up something completely different than t what i intended back to god. and i bought some point i sat down and i thought my experience was i'm going to try that. but i had onehand on other writers .o i was not, i had no sense that i could just be myself. and what happened as i was writing is a gathering
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confidence in just being myself. which says that bookhas never left me . at some point i don't know. think about how different you are now from when you were a when you started writing but here i am a sweaty mess in eg the beginning reading all these other writers, trying to figure out how you do this stuff. borrowing their voices. when i write a book now i avoid reading things. i don't want anything in my head . i read the stuff i have to read for the book but nothing that might influence how i, i don't read anything. so i was getting to the point middle of the book where i was learning how to write a book. it's not something you should do, you should know how to write before you write a book but icould see the moment where that's me . here we are. and off we went. >> i want to follow up.
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you said at the time you were writing 32 years ago, you would have said that you were writing a book that was an angry book, and indictment of wall street. does it read to youtoday like and i meant against wall street ? >> know, it reads like afunny book about wall street . here's an essential truth about what we do. you think you wrote the book you wrote eauntil the readers read your book and they tell you. you write the words and the readers decide what theymean . to the extent if you try to ou muscle them around too much you just lose them so you have no influence. it's a mark of a good book that you leave a hole for the reader to walk into and exercise some judgment about what the book is. and you get radically differentresponses to a book
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. it'snot a bad sign, it's a very good sign . about the moral consequences of my life, it doesn't speak well. if you had asked me going in what the purpose of what you're doing aside from you want to be a writer , i have this thing that had eaten at me since i was at princeton. and it comes back to this place . this idea that you were supposed to sacrifice the best in you for some idea of success . was really offensive to me. i had friends who had real passions when they were in undergrad. a roommate who was just born to be an oceanographer. spent his summers and would t home, talk about nothing will but what was underwater and junior year he is supposed to go work at goldman sachs and just makes a beeline for wall street and spends his career as a money manager and didn't care one way or another about
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whathe did . i watched people make that mistake and i thought if i just demystify this for people and show how silly it kind of is that my roommate will read this and he'll go be an oceanographer. i don't need to do this, this is not important work it's a little silly. you're not having a lot of value to the world. you can make money . instead what happened was that it happened right away. four months after liars poker was published i had 1000 letters. i need 1000 letters from college student staying dear mister lewis, i read your book about how to get ahead on wall street more enthusiastic than ever and thank you for writing it and can you give me any more tips that aren't in the book. it's also true that people this culture especially, the english don't do thisbut we do it turn almost every book into a how-to book . that people just don't have to read, they want to find
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the lessons in the book so the lessons in the book was how to get a head on wall street. that surprised me. but subsequently i seem to ea think those are two things happen with other books where people read them a l,completely different way. >> keep in mind i think liars poker is absolutely brilliant but the youthful mistake you made was thinking that in showing the kind of superficiality pointlessness of wall street that you were doing them a disservice but in fact that'swhat they needed to be more appealing . what kids thought was wall street makes you a lot of money but it's deadly boring and you said actually it's kind of fun. it's crazy and nutty. i can both make money and continue to be a frat boy and it'll all work out. that's what you are telling them.
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when does the movie wall street come out? >> around that time. >> and was the one that leo dicaprio did? of wall street.t' >> that came out much later. >> they are three points on the continuum. those two movies are doing a much more randy is absurd version of the same thing which is there pretending what wall street is is all of these hijinks. and in fact the famous scene where leo dicaprio was there with matthew mcconnaughhay chest pounding. you're having three martinis in the middle of the day,this is not happening . >> it did have this artifact but the first thought was wild. i can't believe i got away with this. like this book work.
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i was cringing at what i was reading. i was taking a pen to it and julia partner the editor stopped me from changing the book because ai would have changed quite a bit. so that was the firstreaction to it . the second reaction was how much funnier i was when i didn't think i was being funny htthen when i thought i was being funny. what when ithought it was being funny wasn't very funny . i knew as i was writing it i .as vastly amused by myself i was laughing the whole time and the parts where i thought i was most amused by myself were not the parts that most amuses the reader . the next thought i had was how much, where i could see placeswhere i had screwed up the story . and the truth about it is the holding is the material wasso good it was idiot proof . i had such good material that i could make a lot of mistakes and get away with it .
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and i just saw the mistakes as i went through it. >> it has to be clear one of the greatest titles. all great titles follow one simple rule which is there must be a puzzling and pleasing contradiction between two word titles. there mustbe between the two nouns in the title there must be a pleasing but puzzling contradiction. violentspring . unsafe at any speed . liars poker. poker is a game in which we live so what does the game of liars look like play by liars. what does that mean. >> you already thought more about my title. i thought about it ever. and one of the things we did
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when i was starting to record the book is i went in there to our storage facility. when i do a story i toss everything into a box and toss the box into the attic so i didn't know what was in the liars poker box and i opened the box and at the top was a middle of folder which just said title ideas on that had a lot of stuff on it but they were all written out. before it was liars poker, it was almost bonds of passion. >> you literally wouldn't be on the show . >> so they were like 50 really bad titles before that one. so that happens. >> anyway, what are we doing?
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>> we have one minute 48 seconds left. you could give us one more story, we could ask one question. audience, one question from the audience. the pressure is reallyhigh here . does anyone want to step up? >> so i got a minute. i want to say this, that of all the books i've written the one where if you put the camera on me while i was writing it i looked most like a writer in a movie was the premonition. i never felt so much like just a conduit, just like the story just flowed through me. i can't tell you very much about the book abut i can tell you about the back story of the book. it's supposedly about the pandemic, it's actually not about the pandemic . sort of like through three characters we are seeing the lglitches in our system that lead to the response that we have.and i stumbled.
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i had in mind before i wrote the book before the pandemic i have this idea that i was g going to just oomy next book i was going to start with a character and let the story worry about itself and see this character that i found it so compelling. that we would follow that character anywhere. and the character is in a situation and i have a character in the situation and then the pandemichappened . i have that in the back of my mind going into the pandemic. i've written a book called the fifth risk which is the risk, federal government and how we neglected it for r generations and what would happen if something bad happens so that's the kind of ingredients going into this . and i found i think three of the best characters i've ever had and certainly the woman is the center of the book may be the bestcharacter i've ever written .and it's
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, what i discovered was actually just a joy. that'swhere i get the joy, writing about the characters . it was just it sounds weird because we were in the middle of this grim. but the nine months i was working g on it, six months i was writing it easily the most joyful six months i've ever had as a writer. i think it comes off the page. it's like a fun bookabout the pandemic . >> i shouldn't say anything. >> we've got people coming on after us is the problem. >> one more question. >> got to cut it off. what were you going to say the? wrap it up here? >> i should wrap it up. i was going to ask you whether if you were writing a book about the pandemic today different would it look?
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>> such a dreary subject the pandemic itself but the stuff leading up to the pandemic is so interesting so i don't think i would write about the pandemic . i have even thought about it. i knew i was going to do this, the trip was i was going to tell everybody it ' was a book about the pandemic and it wasn't but i don't know. it's still a failed response. you go about analyzing the failed response may be aythat would be it in a different way. >> people are looking at me with daggers in their eyes. so i want to thank you. for being part of our continuing conversation. this is probably our seventh.
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>> i know we've got some great conversations going on out there but we want to get right into this next panel which is going to be a real compelling one. you might remember about a year ago or a little over a year ago winter of 2021 the texas power outage that made the national news and was such a disaster. this next panel is going to talk about aid


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