GOOD Books: On Wall Street
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The past couple weeks have brought some unwanted attention to a couple of New York’s most infamous blocks: Wall Street. With protests spreading from the 10005 zip code across the country, the financial sector’s mistakes over the past half-decade are being made extremely public. The people are angry, and now it’s up to the Bull and the government to answer.
But before you sit down to write your own ‘We are the 99 percent’ page, read up on Wall Street’s inner workings with this week’s GOOD Books. From a biography of the dollar to fictional accounts of the trading floor’s best scandals—and explosions!—these books provide a crash course in the state of the American economy. Be warned, though: it's possible the books on this list may make you even angrier with Wall Street than you were before. But at least you’ll be enraged and informed.
Biography of the Dollar: How the Mighty Buck Conquered the World and Why It’s Under Siege
By Craig Karmin
272 pages. Crown Buisness. $25.95.
What’s this whole Wall Street fuss about, anyway? It comes down to one green rectangle—and hopefully for you, there’s at least one example as close as your back pocket. In a capitalist world, everything comes back to the dollar. That little piece of paper bearing a picture of our first president is the basis of all our financial problems and gains. Craig Karmin’s Biography of the Dollar provides an amusing survey of the past and present roles of the U.S. dollar in six loosely-linked chapters. Through visits to a currency-trading hedge fund, the nation of Ecuador (which adopted the dollar in 2000), mid-19th-century American banks, and 20th-century powerhouse J.P. Morgan, Karmin’s biography provides a basic and entertaining background to that little slip of paper currently causing a lot of national strife.
The Big Short
By Michael Lewis
266 pages. W.W. Norton & Company. $16.60.
Michael Lewis’ debut novel, Liar’s Poker, was an autobiographical account of his time as a trader. The experience prompted Lewis, disenfranchised with the greed-is-good attitude of 1980s-era Wall Street, to leave the financial world and become a writer who later would make his career by turning an economic lens on everything from stocks to sports. Lewis is known for his narrative gift when it comes to topics most lay readers would otherwise find dull and too complicated to understand. In The Big Short, Lewis takes his microscope back to the life he left, focusing not only on what went wrong leading up to the 2008 economic crisis, but on the outside players that bet against the odds and benefited when everyone else fell down. What differentiates The Big Short from other books about the start of the economic crisis is that Lewis focuses primarily on the players that cashed in during 2008, not the ones who lost out. One might be tempted to ask, "Why didn’t they do anything to stop the crash?" Read and find out.
Too Big to Fail
By Andrew Ross Sorkin
640 pages. Penguin. $12.24.
At the time Lehman Brothers' collapse in 2008, financial journalists were scrapping together book proposals chronicling the contemporary economic crisis. New York Times financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin pulled together a three-page proposal over the weekend, putting him in position to release one of the first major looks at the crash. Sorkin gives readers a minute-by-minute account of the financial crisis from the point of view of Wall Street CEOs watching their past decisions return to rip their worlds apart. Sorkin’s access to the players at Wall Street’s center provides an unparalleled account of the drama and turmoil of the recent economic disaster and how a small group of greedy, egocentric Wall Streeters set the landscape of the global economy.
By David T. Lender
234 pages. Brindle Publishing. $11.69.
David T. Lender has 25 years of experience in the financial sector, so he is well prepared to write fiction set on Wall Street. In his novel Bull Street, Lender combines his knowledge with quick-paced, adrenaline-inducing narrative. Richard Blum, a young Wall Streeter with good intentions, teams up with a jaded billionaire to bring down an insider-trading ring. After aligning himself with the good guys, Lender’s protagonist spends a lot of time in the board room, but almost as much evading gun shots and explosions. Hopefully, Lender’s time as a Bank of America managing director only provided field experience in the former.
By H.T. Narea
464 pages. Forge Books. $18.24.
Rounding out this week’s pair of Wall Street novels is H.T. Narea’s financial thriller—who thought that would ever be a genre?—The Fund, which features Kate Molares, a laid-off Bear Stearns trader. While that part Molares' situation may be all too familiar for some in today’s economy, the rest of her life isn’t: she morphs from a former Wall Street accessory to a government intelligence expert who tracks down international financial terrorists by using her past knowledge of the biz on transglobal adventure, from Cuba to Venezuela to Connecticut.