The best financial history books

Why am I passionate about this?

By the late nineties, I had lost faith in the industry where I had made a living for twenty years. Deregulation on Wall St and in the City had left investment banking with a business model riddled with conflict of interest. The rewards spiralled out of control and the businesses became too complicated for the regulators to supervise. I have a doctorate in history and had been a top-ranked investment analyst in several sectors. I took an idea to Penguin and my first book, The Death of Gentlemanly Capitalism, was published in 2001. I've since written six more, and contributed regularly to the Financial Times and BBC.      


I wrote...

The Bank That Lived a Little: Barclays in the Age of the Very Free Market

By Philip Augar,

Book cover of The Bank That Lived a Little: Barclays in the Age of the Very Free Market

What is my book about?

Boardroom feuds, grandiose dreams, and a struggle for supremacy between rival camps at one of Britain’s biggest banks: Barclays' journey from an old Quaker bank to a full-throttle capitalist machine had it all. It is also a paradigm for Britain's social and economic life as the City moved from the edge of the economy to its very centre. The Barclays story is at the heart of that rise, creating unprecedented prosperity for a tiny number before leaving their reputations in tatters. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Liar's Poker

Philip Augar Why did I love this book?

This is the book that lifted the lid on Wall St’s roaring eighties. It’s funny, personal, and true to life. It exposes the basic truth in investment banking: the customer comes second. "Who do you work for, this guy or Salomon Brothers?" a shame-faced Lewis is asked by his boss after inadvertently selling a bad bond to an unsuspecting client. It’s a question that every investment banker faces at some time in their career and it’s all laid bare in the book that established a genre.

By Michael Lewis,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Liar's Poker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Michael Lewis was fresh out of Princeton and the London School of Economics when he landed a job at Salomon Brothers, one of Wall Street's premier investment firms. During the next three years, Lewis rose from callow trainee to bond salesman, raking in millions for the firm and cashing in on a modern-day gold rush. Liar's Poker is the culmination of those heady, frenzied years-a behind-the-scenes look at a unique and turbulent time in American business. From the frat-boy camaraderie of the forty-first-floor trading room to the killer instinct that made ambitious young men gamble everything on a high-stakes game…


Book cover of Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves

Philip Augar Why did I love this book?

This is the definitive book about events in and around the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, the most globally significant banking crash since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The centerpiece is the brilliantly told, ‘in-the-room’ drama of the weekend Lehman Brothers collapsed. Tense and fearless, it is a vivid characterisation of the big beasts responsible for both the disaster and the rescue and of the desperate interplay between them. 

By Andrew Ross Sorkin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Too Big to Fail as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BBC SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE 2010

They were masters of the financial universe, flying in private jets and raking in billions. They thought they were too big to fail. Yet they would bring the world to its knees.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, the news-breaking New York Times journalist, delivers the first true in-the-room account of the most powerful men and women at the eye of the financial storm - from reviled Lehman Brothers CEO Dick 'the gorilla' Fuld, to banking whiz Jamie Dimon, from bullish Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to AIG's Joseph Cassano, dubbed 'The Man Who Crashed the…


Book cover of Fool's Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan and How Wall St. Greed Corrupted Its Bold Dream and Created a Financial Catastrophe

Philip Augar Why did I love this book?

The Great Financial Crisis of 2008 might look like a storm that blew up out of nowhere but it had been brewing for a decade or more in the murky world of structured credit. Written by one of the first journalists to see the problem coming and skillfully unravelling complexity through the story of a small band of derivatives experts, Fool’s Gold shows the unintended consequences of financial innovation as it spun out of control. 

By Gillian Tett,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fool's Gold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From award-winning Financial Times journalist Gillian Tett, who enraged Wall Street leaders with her news-breaking warnings of a crisis more than a year ahead of the curve, Fool’s Gold tells the astonishing unknown story at the heart of the 2008 meltdown.

Drawing on exclusive access to J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and a tightly bonded team of bankers known on Wall Street as the “Morgan Mafia,” as well as in-depth interviews with dozens of other key players, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Tett brings to life in gripping detail how the Morgan team’s bold ideas for a whole new kind…


Book cover of The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.

Philip Augar Why did I love this book?

Discrete, mysterious, and powerful, Wall St’s great financial institutions shaped corporate America in the 20th century and none more so than Lazard Freres. But towards the end of the century, as competitors scaled up, Lazard was distracted by a power struggle involving hard-charging Wall St bankers and an inscrutable French billionaire. Who really played the winning hand? This book reveals all!

By William D. Cohan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Tycoons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A grand and revelatory portrait of Wall Street’s most storied investment bank

Wall Street investment banks move trillions of dollars a year, make billions in fees, pay their executives in the tens of millions of dollars. But even among the most powerful firms, Lazard Frères & Co. stood apart. Discretion, secrecy, and subtle strategy were its weapons of choice. For more than a century, the mystique and reputation of the "Great Men" who worked there allowed the firm to garner unimaginable profits, social cachet, and outsized influence in the halls of power. But in the mid-1980s, their titanic egos started…


Book cover of The Great Crash 1929

Philip Augar Why did I love this book?

What does a book written in the 1950s about a financial crash in the 1920s have to tell us about modern finance? The answer is ‘everything you need to know.’ This financial classic, barely 200 pages long, shows how greed, hubris, and illusion brought about Wall Street’s first great crash. Today’s financial products might be more complicated than those in Galbraith’s book but the tricks of the trade are not. This elegant account is a ‘must-read’ for anyone wanting to understand the people and institutions who drive markets.        

By John Kenneth Galbraith,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Great Crash 1929 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'One of the most engrossing books I have ever read' Daily Telegraph

John Kenneth Galbraith's now-classic account of the 1929 stock market collapse remains the definitive book on the most disastrous cycle of boom and bust in modern times.

Vividly depicting the causes, effects, aftermath and long-term consequences of financial meltdown, Galbraith also describes the people and the corporations who were affected by the catastrophe. With its depiction of the 'gold-rush fantasy' ingrained in America's psychology, The Great Crash 1929 remains a penetrating study of human greed and folly.


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God on a Budget: and other stories in dialogue

By J.M. Unrue,

Book cover of God on a Budget: and other stories in dialogue

J.M. Unrue Author Of The Festival of Sin: and other tales of fantasy

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an old guy. I say this with a bit of cheek and a certain amount of incongruity. All the books on my list are old. That’s one area of continuity. Another, and I’ll probably stop at two, is that they all deal with ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances—those curveballs of life we flail at with an unfamiliar bat; the getting stuck on the Interstate behind a semi and some geezer in a golf cap hogging the passing lane in a Buick Le Sabre. No one makes it through this life unscathed. How we cope does more to define us than a thousand smiles when things are rosy. Thus endeth the lesson.

J.M.'s book list on showing that somebody has it worse than you do

What is my book about?

Nine Stories Told Completely in Dialogue is a unique collection of narratives, each unfolding entirely through conversations between its characters. The book opens with "God on a Budget," a tale of a man's surreal nighttime visitation that offers a blend of the mundane and the mystical. In "Doctor in the House," readers are plunged into the emotionally charged moment when an oncologist delivers a life-altering diagnosis to a patient. The collection then shifts to "Prisoner 8086," a story about the unlikely friendship that blossoms between a prison volunteer and a habitual offender, exploring themes of redemption and human connection.

The heart of the book continues with "The Reunion," a touching narrative about high school sweethearts reuniting, stirring up poignant memories and unspoken feelings. "The Therapy Session" adds a lighter touch, presenting a serio-comic exchange between a therapist and a challenging patient. In "The Fishing Trip," a father imparts crucial life lessons to his daughter during an eventful outing, leading to unexpected consequences. "Mortality" offers a deeply personal moment as a mother shares a cherished, secret story from her past with her son.

The collection then takes a romantic turn in "The Singles Cruise," where two individuals find connection amidst shared stories on a cruise for singles. Finally, "Jesus and Buddha in the Garden of Eden" provides a satirical, thought-provoking encounter in the afterlife between two spiritual figures. The book concludes with "The Breakup," a nuanced portrayal of a young couple's separation, told from both perspectives, encapsulating the complexities of relationships and the human experience.

God on a Budget: and other stories in dialogue

By J.M. Unrue,

What is this book about?

Nine Stories Told Completely in Dialogue is a unique collection of narratives, each unfolding entirely through conversations between its characters. The book opens with "God on a Budget," a tale of a man's surreal nighttime visitation that offers a blend of the mundane and the mystical. In "Doctor in the House," readers are plunged into the emotionally charged moment when an oncologist delivers a life-altering diagnosis to a patient. The collection then shifts to "Prisoner 8086," a story about the unlikely friendship that blossoms between a prison volunteer and a habitual offender, exploring themes of redemption and human connection.

The…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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