Everybody’s Talking About the Wrong Sam Bankman-Fried Book

Lewis got more access to Sam Bankman-Fried than anyone, but his book doesn’t tell a new story. It’s a perfectly serviceable primer for people who haven’t been following the FTX saga (I’ll probably give it to my dad, and he’ll probably love it) but for readers who have been following this case, it’s a familiar yarn. Stale, even. Part of this is the inevitable consequence of choosing a subject who loves the spotlight; if you’ve read any of the prodigious reporting on SBF from the The New Yorker, Vox, Bloomberg, New York magazine, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Forbes, and so on and so forth, there’s no big ah-ha moment to be had, just a few moderately interesting new anecdotes told in an engaging way. Anyone who has read anything about Bankman-Fried knows the same broad strokes going in as they do going out.

What’s worse, Going Infinite suffers immensely by comparison to another new book covering the SBF saga. Bloomberg reporter Zeke Faux’s rollicking Number Go Up: Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall, which came out this September, is the far superior guide to understanding the FTX debacle, and Bankman-Fried himself.

It is worth noting that both Faux and Lewis’ books open with the writers confessing that they’d been initially taken in by SBF, and describe conversations they’d had with him before his downfall, but there is a key distinction. Lewis recounts how impressed he’d been without hinting that he no longer feels that way. Faux takes a different approach. The opening line is a quote from Bankman-Fried: “I’m not going to lie,” SBF promises Faux. “This was a lie,” Faux writes. This accomplishes two things: first, it signals immediately to the reader that Faux now gets it, that he knows Bankman-Fried was full of it. Second, it’s funny.

The Credulity Police could certainly ticket Faux for some transgressions; as he confesses in Number Go Up, he is the author of a softball profile of SBF for Bloomberg Businessweek, one in which he didn’t even consider scrutinizing how FTX worked as a business. (He also ends up spending $20,000 of his own money on an NFT and gets swept up in that scene’s ridiculous enthusiasm.) But Faux breezily fesses up to everything, emphasizing that he wasn’t onto Bankman-Fried before the rest of the world. “I’d like to tell you that I was the person who exposed it all, the heroic investigator who saw through one of history’s greatest frauds,” Faux writes. “But I got tricked like everyone else.”

Instead of treating Bankman-Fried like a fascinating puzzle to pore over, Faux pegs him as a cross between a nerd and a troll. Instead of keeping focus solely on SBF, he places the ex-FTX CEO within a broader menagerie of crypto freaks, including Heather Morgan, also known by her rap name “Razzlekhan.” Like Bankman-Fried, Morgan was a strange kid who grew up to be an awkward adult who lived eccentrically, loved attention, and ultimately found herself pleading “not guilty” to jaw-dropping financial crimes. (Morgan and her boyfriend were arrested for allegedly laundering $4.5 billion in stolen cryptocurrency.)

Shortly after Morgan’s arrest, there was a rush of interest in turning her story into content—a Netflix documentary from the Tiger King crew is in the works, in addition to a podcast and a fictionalized series. Faux points this out as an example of how frenzied public interest in crypto true crime had become, not as evidence that there are layers to Morgan that are worth so much careful attention. He presents her appropriately: as an audacious buffoon, no more and no less.

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