The rise of FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried has been a great story. The better it breaks out.

Michael Lewis wasn’t planning to write a book about cryptocurrency. He stumbled upon this thread in the fall of 2021, when a friend who was planning to do business with FTX — one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world — asked Lewis, as a favourite, to check out its young founder, Sam Bankman-Fred.

Two weeks later, Lewis met Bankman-Fried for the first time. The couple took a picnic in the hills near Lewis’ home in Berkeley, California, and Lewis was fascinated by the eccentric, unruly-haired young man who was worth tens of billions of dollars and was sought after by powerful investors and politicians.

“A few hours later, I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen to you, but I just want to watch,'” Lewis recalled.

Lewis didn’t realize it at the time, but he did get a front row seat to a sprawling scandal with huge financial, political, and legal ramifications.

FTX has exploded in spectacular fashion: Federal prosecutors have brought a slew of charges against Bankman-Fried, accusing him of money laundering, bribery and masterminding a fraudulent scheme to embezzle billions of dollars in client funds. (He has pleaded not guilty.) When Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas last December, Lewis was there, watching him for about a year.

Lewis has written about financial disasters before, in books that explore the subprime mortgages that blew up the American economy (“The Big Short”); the perilous world of high-frequency trading (“Flash Boys”); and how the 2008 financial crisis bounced around the world and destabilized the economies of places like Iceland, Ireland, Greece, and Germany (“Boomerang”).

But the story of how Bankman-Fried rose to become one of the youngest billionaires in the world, and then saw his empire crumble, presented new challenges for Lewis. He said, “It’s the first time there’s a protagonist who isn’t trusted by the reader, or who comes into the story with so much baggage.”

In a recent interview from the Bahamas, where he’s been writing, Lewis talked about his upcoming Bankman-Fried book, “Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon,” which Norton will be releasing on October 3. and a condensed version of The Conversation.

So what do you do in the Bahamas?

It’s a sweep of the end of the book. There are three or four people closely related to this story who said, six months ago, come back in six months and we can have a free and frank conversation. Since they caught Sam I’ve been back three or four times, and it’s gotten better and better because everyone’s a little looser.

You were following him closely before his legal troubles began. When did you first feel that his company was in trouble and possibly fraudulent?

I prefer not to answer this question. I want the reader to experience surprise when reading it. Part of the surprise will be my own experience. In October there will probably be a trial, and each side will take on a set of facts and tell very different stories. I think I can tell a story which is a better story in any respect, which includes all the facts and which will put the reader in the position of being the juror.

When it got caught, were you worried it might blow up your book, or improve it?

I hate to say this. It is horrible. It doesn’t reflect well on me as a human being, but my first thought was, “Oh my God” — it was like a lock clicking into place — “Now I have the story.” It never occurred to me for a moment that it would blow up the book. I thought about how messy this would be, as a writer, because I was so involved. Nobody watched this the way I was, so was I somehow going to be drawn into this? But I was allowed to do my own thing, and it was one of the most exciting creative experiences I’ve ever had.

I kept visiting Bankman-Fried. How has his legal status affected your access to him, and do you feel he’s more guarded in his conversations with you?

It’s the perfect topic. He’s been confined to his house an hour away from mine with an ankle monitor. He can’t go anywhere. It’s incredibly comfortable, as long as they keep it there. So, as long as he welcomes me home, that’s fine. I saw him about every two weeks.

How did it affect the nature of your conversations with him after accusing him of fraud, and did you change your feelings about what he says and how honest he is?

I won’t say more than that, but I will say that the conversations now are no different than they were before. They were rich and interesting before and they are rich and interesting now. The nature of the conversation has not changed. They are actually longer. Instead of talking to him for 45 minutes because that’s all he has, I now talk to him for four hours.

Does your coverage contract hold that this is a public scandal? Are there lawyers trying to get your feedback, are there business competitors trying to find out what you know?

I prefer not to talk about it. Don’t give me trouble, I’m trying to finish the book.

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