Posted by kcates in William Cohan, This Time is Different, Michael Lewis, Liar's Poker, Kenneth Rogoff, In Fed We Trust, House of Cards, Henry Paulson, David Wessel, Carmen Reinhart, Bear Stearns, Barry Ritholtz, Bailout Nation
The stock market roared, the regulators stirred, the unemployment rate soared and the banks continued to show great reluctance to lend money.
What else happened in 2009? Oh, right, there was a tremendous binge of book publishing related to the financial crisis that began in the summer of 2008 - and Henry Paulson's version of events isn't even out yet (coming soon - Feb. 1 - to a bookstore/online warehouse near you).
In an article published the night before Christmas, USA Today helped last-minute shoppers out with a list posted under this headline: "Year's best business books to make sense of financial crisis."
I'm not sure how useful it was, however, because it recommends 15 titles, which is a lot of pages for any mere mortal. Ambitious readers may want to sign up first for a good speed-reading course (see Cheech & Chong's suggestion here). It took me a month just to digest one of the year's early releases, "House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street," by William Cohan, which is a terrific inside look at what happened in that particular meltdown. The book isn't short (480 pages) but I liked it because it was written by a former banker who got some amazing access. It's larded with what may be the longest quotations ever published, but keep in mind the glowing NY Times review (by a mixed-metaphor-addled writer): "a chilling, almost minute-by-minute account of the 10, vertigo-inducing days that one year ago revealed Bear Stearns to be a flimsy house of cards in a perfect storm."
"This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly," by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, is a cautionary tale that the Washington Post pronounced required reading: "Everyone working on economic policy should own 'This Time is Different' and open it for a bracing blast of sobriety when things seem to be going well."
Speaking of bracing blasts of sobriety, one of the tomes that got almost across-the-board rave reviews was "Bailout Nation: How, Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy" by Barry Ritholtz, which gets points just for its cover design: an imagining of the Wall Street bull statue turned pig. "Ritholtz may be just the right person to explain the transition to both the disillusioned amateur and the finance junkie," reports the authors of the Freakomics blog, the NY Times says it's "an important book about a complicated subject, and yet you could still read it at the beach," and the WSJ endorses it for its instructional value: "You want to know how we got into this mess and what might still be coming, this is the book for you."
"In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic" by David Wessel, an uber-editor at the WSJ, promises to give you nightmares, according to reviewers for both the Wash Post and the NY Times, who describe it, respectively (and respectfully), as "scary" and a "tale that's nothing short of hair-raising."
None of the above titles were under my Christmas tree, but I did get one I asked for and am chagrined to admit I've never read: "Liar's Poker," the Michael Lewis classic that came out 19 years ago (in a time before subtitles were all the rage) and is what friends tell me is perhaps the best piece of Wall Street writing ever. On Amazon's list of reviews, you can find these words about "Liar's Poker" from Library Journal: "vivid and memorable."
There's also a reader review praising Lewis and ringing eerily relevant today: "He recognizes that he and his fellow traders were being paid far more than they were contributing to society."