My students sometimes ask me for recommendations on books or papers that may help them deepen their understanding of a topic we cover in class. Here are some I like:
- Financial History
Manias, Panics, and Crashes by Charles Kindleberger
Kindleberger's excellent book covers a range of Western financial crises with a focus on the early modern era. Rich with detail, it covers each crisis as a case study, describing the political, cultural and monetary backdrop of each situation. As a believer in the adage that "history repeats itself," I found the book extremely helpful to pattern-match historical manias like the South Sea bubble with modern bubbles like cryptocurrency. My only criticism is that the book is dense--it requires a lot of focus for me to get through a chapter, although in part that's because my mind always goes on tangents comparing what I read in the book with what's going on in the present day. Not necessarily a bad thing.
Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed
A History of Interest Rates by Sidney Homer and Richard Sylla
This is essentially a history textbook covering what data we have about interest rates from ancient times to the present. Examples include surviving records of interest rates from Sumeria, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome on the one hand, to detailed records of Western financial centers like early modern Amsterdam and London on the other. Rather than simply providing tables of rate data, the book contains extensive historical context and anecdotes I like to use when teaching. When reading this book, I was surprised at how little things have changed when it comes to rates. It's a good pickup for someone who works as a macro investor, bond trader, or monetary policymaker. Definitely not for the lay person.
Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber
This book chronicles the history of debt, and the notion that records of debt transactions predate the use of money. In contrast to "A History of Interest Rates" above, Graeber's book includes much more commentary on the moral and societal dimensions of debt--including historical perspectives on usury, debt forgiveness, and the relationship between debtors and creditors. The author is known for being a central figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement, so the book is also useful in providing a left-leaning perspective on the topic.
A humorous book on the anatomy of financial fraud. If you want to learn how to recognize (or put together) a scam, this is the book for you. I found it engaging and easy to read. Again, relevant in modern times due to people's infatuation with cryptocurrency.
- Recent Financial History
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar
This book is about the hostile takeover boom of the 1980s, culminating in the takeover of RJR Nabisco. To me, it's an example of the best of financial history writing--entertaining, educational, and thought-provoking all at the same time. It's the best book I've read on private equity and junk bonds. I recommended it to my brother, a doctor, who couldn't put it down. If you're a transactional lawyer, I highly recommend this book as it describes the era that produced many "innovations" in corporate law, such as poison pills and dilution provisions.
The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
Another entertaining story, this time about the fall of Enron. Very accessible to a lay person, although I want to caution the reader that some things demonized in the book (such as mark-to-market accounting) are perfectly fine if used in their intended contexts. It's one of the books that I want to go back and re-read now that I understand finance much better.
When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein
The Greatest Trade Ever by Gregory Zuckerman
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
- History of the Euro
These books are similar in that they both present parts of the bear case for the formation and existence of the euro. Neither is written by a European--Bernard Connolly is British and Ashoka Mody is American. Since much of the historical and economics commentary about the euro among European elites is positive, I've found it useful to recommend these books to my European students in particular to get a different perspective from what they get from their peer group.
The Rotten Heart of Europe by Bernard Connolly
Written by a former Eurosystem/ECB staffer, this book presents context for the formation of the euro that you won't see anywhere else. Rotten Heart of Europe dives into the ambitions, idiosyncratic personalities, and political foibles of the leaders who built the euro. It covers the period prior to the formation of the euro up to its inception, beginning with the European Economic Community in 1957. Although it's a dense read, it is totally worth it if you are a currency trader, global macro manager, a European, or just a student of financial history.
Eurotragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts by Ashoka Mody
This book is like the above, but includes a later period of history--the post-2008 euro crisis. As a Europe analyst during that time, this book was a useful window into the political forces that were in play from the 2012 to pre-COVID period. I often recommended individual chapters of this book to my students.
Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd
The Essays of Warren Buffett by Lawrence Cunningham (or any other author)
This is just a collection of Buffett's investor letters going all the way back to 1977, but organized by topic. Many of the letters are absolute gold, for example those that talk about issues with EBITDA and the cash-flow implications of acquiring insurance companies (the core of Berkshire's business after Buffett joined). To me this is a must-read for any finance professional, and insightful for a lay person that has a real interest in finance. Like Paul Graham and Howard Marks' essays, you can also get these for free by going to the original author's main website. I got the printed book because it's easier to carry around and read for me.
The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
The Most Important Thing by Howard Marks
Fooling Some of the People All of the Time by David Einhorn and Joel Greenblatt
Margin of Safety by Seth Klarman
The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros
The New Market Wizards by Jack Schwager
Reminiscences of a Stock Operator
Inside the House of Money by Steven Drobny
The Invisible Hands by Steven Drobny
Market Wizards by Jack Schwager
- Culture of Wall Street
- Risk and Uncertainty
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Radical Uncertainty by John Kay and Mervyn King
The Great Rebalancing by Michael Pettis
Trade Wars are Class Wars by Matthew Klein and Michael Pettis
Principles for Navigating Big Debt Crises by Ray Dalio
Can "It" Happen Again? by Hyman Minsky
Essays of Irving Fisher
The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics by Richard Koo
This book goes into great depth on Japan's extended post-1989 recessionary period. Koo describes his theory of balance sheet recessions, and how monetary and credit easing in this environment won't produce expansionary results, as the BOJ's easing during this period failed to. A useful book for anyone that wants to understand the mechanics of a recession better, including how to identify types of recessions, how companies behave during these periods, and what policy measures are likely to be effective and which ones won't.
- Commodities and Electricity Markets
The Prize by Daniel Yergin
The King of Oil by Daniel Ammann
The Merchant of Power by John Wasik
- Venture Capital
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson
The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick
Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham
- Corporate Governance
The Responsible Company by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley
- Blogs and Annual Reports
Stephen L. Jen
- Guides & Primers
Salomon Brothers bond primer
Mauboussin Base Rates
- Useful Papers
- Reference Books for Financial Professionals
The Secrets of Economic Indicators
The Handbook of Mortgage-Backed Securities by Frank Fabozzi
The Handbook of Fixed Income Securities by Frank Fabozzi
The Handbook of Municipal Bonds by Frank Fabozzi
The Handbook of Infrastructure Investing by Underhill
Distressed Debt Analysis by Moyer
Investment Banking by Morrison and Wilhelm
Renewable Energy Finance by Santosh Raikar and Seabron Adamson
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