The Big Short

by

Michael Lewis

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Michael Burry Character Analysis

Michael Burry is a former neurosurgeon who became the head of Scion Capital, one of the firms that correctly predicted the financial crash and made money from a short position. Burry received initial funding for Scion Capital from the veteran investor Joel Greenblatt (a fan of Burry’s financial blog), and Burry’s investing strategy inspires Greg Lippman, a self-interested trader at Deutsche Bank who also makes a lot of money by shorting the subprime mortgage market. Unlike many of the other protagonists profiled in The Big Short, who generally have a couple of trusted teammates, Burry largely works alone and frequently clashes with his investors. This is how he’s been his whole life—as a child, he often struggled to make friends with other kids. At the time, he blamed his glass eye (which was removed due to childhood cancer), which made him particularly awkward at sports. Later in life, however, an autism diagnosis for his son causes Burry to re-evaluate his own life and self-diagnose as someone on the autism spectrum. Though Burry doesn’t work directly with the people at FrontPoint Partners or Cornwall Capital, his story parallels theirs and follows a similar trajectory: at the beginning, many view him as a delusional outsider but by the end, he has been vindicated and made a lot of money. Perhaps more so than any of the others shorting the subprime market, he faces pushback from within, particularly from investors at Scion (with whom he communicates sporadically and erratically). Though Burry ultimately gets to have the last word with his investors after his investments pay off, he soon quits the financial world and picks up guitar, even though he’d never been interested in it before. This suggests that finance itself was never that important to him—it was more about the goals and purpose that it gave him.

Michael Burry Quotes in The Big Short

The The Big Short quotes below are all either spoken by Michael Burry or refer to Michael Burry. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Outsiders vs. Conformists  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of The Big Short published in 2010.
Chapter 2 Quotes

A lot of hedge fund managers spend time chitchatting with their investors and treated their quarterly letters to them as a formality. Burry disliked talking to people face-to-face and thought of these letters as the single most important thing he did to let his investors know what he was up to. In his quarterly letters he coined a phrase to describe what he thought was happening: “the extension of credit by instrument.” That is, a lot of people couldn’t actually afford to pay their mortgages the old-fashioned way, and so the lenders were dreaming up new instruments to justify handing them new money.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Michael Burry
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

He sensed that he was different from other people before he understood why.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Michael Burry
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Now, in February 2007, subprime loans were defaulting in record numbers, financial institutions were less steady every day, and no one but him seemed to recall what he’d said and done. He had told his investors that they might need to be patient—that the bet might not pay off until the mortgages issued in 2005 reached the end of their teaser rate period. They had not been patient. Many of his investors mistrusted him, and he in turn felt betrayed by them.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Michael Burry
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

After a few pages, Michael Burry realized that he was no longer reading about his son but about himself. “How many people can pick up a book and find an instruction manual for their life?” he said. “I hated reading a book telling me who I was. I thought I was different, but this was saying I was the same as other people. My wife and I were a typical Asperger’s couple, and we had an Asperger’s son.”

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Michael Burry (speaker)
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Howie Hubler had grown up in New Jersey and played football at Montclair State College. Everyone who met him noticed his thick football neck and his great huge head and his overbearing manner, which was interpreted as both admirably direct and a mask. He was loud and headstrong and bullying.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Howie Hubler , Michael Burry
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Big Short PDF

Michael Burry Character Timeline in The Big Short

The timeline below shows where the character Michael Burry appears in The Big Short. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Outsiders vs. Conformists  Theme Icon
Needless Complexity Theme Icon
In early 2004, Michael Burry is another stock market investor looking into bonds for the first time. He performs a... (full context)
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Burry combs through the fine print on dozens of mortgage bonds. He notices that lending standards... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Burry wants to short the subprime market, but the problem is that there’s no direct way... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Burry is already involved in corporate credit default swaps, but he realizes that credit default swaps... (full context)
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Burry calls lots of major financial institutions and finally gets Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs to... (full context)
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Burry realized he was different at a young age. A battle with childhood cancer cost him... (full context)
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Burry starts commenting on a message board about value investing (picking stocks that seem to be... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
As Burry gets more involved watching the markets, he finds it harder to pretend he is interested... (full context)
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As Scion Capital, Burry continues to be anxious about face-to-face encounters with people—he finds that they only ever go... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
Burry decides to attract investors by writing his thoughts online and waiting for people to approach... (full context)
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Burry takes an unusual approach to managing Scion. Instead of taking two percent of assets, like... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
Burry makes risky bets that pay off. One investor describes a classic Mike Burry trade as... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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In early 2005, Burry runs into a problem with this credit default swap plan: the big Wall Street investment... (full context)
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Wall Street’s Culture of Overconfidence Theme Icon
The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Burry arranges things carefully so that he’ll get paid even in the event of a total... (full context)
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In August, Burry writes a proposal for a fund called Milton’s Opus, which involves credit default swaps. None... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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In October 2005, a subprime trader at Goldman Sachs becomes the first of Burry’s Wall Street contemporaries to take a closer look at what he’s doing. Later, in November,... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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...a Wall Street Journal article exposes how many mortgages have been defaulting across the country. Burry expects there will be big changes and greater regulations. He gets an email from an... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...just have to stop rising so rapidly. His plan is basically the same as Mike Burry’s and involves credit default swaps. (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Meanwhile, Burry is able to buy $100 million in credit default swaps from Goldman Sachs. He guesses... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs begin to want pessimists like Mike Burry to buy credit default swaps against triple-B bonds. They then create a “synthetic CDO” made... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Lippmann’s bosses ask him to do what Mike Burry is doing, creating as many credit default swaps as possible before AIG realizes how much... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...they get up to speed, they end up doing something slightly different than what Mike Burry and Steve Eisman do. Instead of betting against the worst tranches of bonds (triple-B-minus), they... (full context)
Chapter 8
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The same day that Eisman reads Grant’s article, Mike Burry is also forwarded a copy of the article from Scion Capital’s chief financial officer. Though... (full context)
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Early in 2007, a child psychologist calls Burry and his wife in for a conversation about his son. The psychologist suggests that Burry’s... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Back in April 2006, Burry is one of the few people in the credit default swap market, and he is... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Burry is in trouble because if Scion’s assets fall enough, big Wall Street firms can cancel... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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In January 2007, right around the time of the Las Vegas convention, Burry has to explain to his investors why Scion is down 18.4 percent when the S&P... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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...owned by Bear Sterns crash, and a publicly traded index of triple-B bonds goes down. Burry contacts major banks and finds they all have “systems problems” or “power outages.” By the... (full context)
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Burry finds his credit default swaps are suddenly in high demand; by July, they are rapidly... (full context)
Chapter 9
Outsiders vs. Conformists  Theme Icon
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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...Hubler wants more credit default swaps, but it’s getting harder because more traders like Mike Burry and Greg Lippmann are buying them. (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Later, on August 31, 2007, Mike Burry takes his own credit default swaps out of the side pocket and begins to unload... (full context)
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Burry reflects on the role Asperger’s has played in his life. Like many with Asperger’s, Burry... (full context)
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The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
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Six months after Burry gives up finance, the International Monetary Fund estimates that U.S. subprime-related assets have lost a... (full context)
Chapter 10
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After his successful bet against the financial industry, Michael Burry wonders what people in the future will think about him. He looks for ways to... (full context)