Rod Dreher

Via Jonah Lehrer, here’s a Vanity Fair excerpt from Michael Lewis’s new book, in which a one-eyed California man who always thought his social awkwardness was due to his partial blindness, and who stumbled into becoming a very rich investor. Turns out that his undiagnosed Asperger Syndrome is what accounted for his extraordinary investing skills. Excerpt:

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.” His glass eye no longer explained anything; the wonder is that it ever had. How did a glass eye explain, in a competitive swimmer, a pathological fear of deep water–the terror of not knowing what lurked beneath him? How did it explain a childhood passion for washing money? He’d take dollar bills and wash them, dry them off with a towel, press them between the pages of books, and then stack books on top of those books–all so he might have money that looked “new.” “All of a sudden I’ve become this caricature,” said Burry. “I’ve always been able to study up on something and ace something really fast. I thought it was all something special about me. Now it’s like ‘Oh, a lot of Asperger’s people can do that.’ Now I was explained by a disorder.”
He resisted the news. He had a gift for finding and analyzing information on the subjects that interested him intensely. He always had been intensely interested in himself. Now, at the age of 35, he’d been handed this new piece of information about himself–and his first reaction to it was to wish he hadn’t been given it. “My first thought was that a lot of people must have this and don’t know it,” he said. “And I wondered, Is this really a good thing for me to know at this point? Why is it good for me to know this about myself?”
He went and found his own psychologist to help him sort out the effect of his syndrome on his wife and children. His work life, however, remained uninformed by the new information. He didn’t alter the way he made investment decisions, for instance, or the way he communicated with his investors. He didn’t let his investors know of his disorder. “I didn’t feel it was a material fact that had to be disclosed,” he said. “It wasn’t a change. I wasn’t diagnosed with something new. It’s something I’d always had.” On the other hand, it explained an awful lot about what he did for a living, and how he did it: his obsessive acquisition of hard facts, his insistence on logic, his ability to plow quickly through reams of tedious financial statements. People with Asperger’s couldn’t control what they were interested in. It was a stroke of luck that his special interest was financial markets and not, say, collecting lawn-mower catalogues. When he thought of it that way, he realized that complex modern financial markets were as good as designed to reward a person with Asperger’s who took an interest in them. “Only someone who has Asperger’s would read a subprime-mortgage-bond prospectus,” he said.

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