The best books on financial trading and the global financial system

Who am I?

I'm a sociologist at the University of Edinburgh, and for almost fifty years I’ve researched a large variety of topics, from the story of the guidance systems of nuclear missiles to the instantaneous auctions that, today, determine the ads you are shown online. But I keep returning to the topic of trading and the global financial system. The processes that lie behind this shape our lives in profound ways, but they are often both complicated and opaque. We need reliable guides for them, and the authors and books that I am recommending are among the very best guides!


I wrote...

Trading at the Speed of Light: How Ultrafast Algorithms Are Transforming Financial Markets

By Donald Angus MacKenzie,

Book cover of Trading at the Speed of Light: How Ultrafast Algorithms Are Transforming Financial Markets

What is my book about?

In today’s financial markets, trading floors on which brokers buy and sell shares face-to-face have been replaced by lightning-fast electronic systems that use algorithms to execute astounding volumes of transactions. Trading at the Speed of Light tells the story of this epic transformation. MacKenzie shows how in the 1990s, in what were then the disreputable margins of the financial system, a new approach to trading—automated high-frequency trading or HFT—began and then spread globally. HFT has brought new efficiency to trading, but has also created an unrelenting race for speed, leading to a systematic, subterranean battle among HFT algorithms.

Trading at the Speed of Light offers a unique glimpse into HFT’s influence on global finance and where it could lead us in the future.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London

Donald Angus MacKenzie Why did I love this book?

Chicago’s famous ‘open-outcry’ trading pits were packed with hundreds of traders making deals with each other using eye contact and hand signals, or simply shouting out their bids and offers. Anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom did something quite extraordinary. She studied these pits ‘from the inside’ (as a trader’s clerk) and then went on to examine the electronic trading that was starting to replace them – herself becoming a trader. Her book represents anthropology at its most skilled and offers a fascinating glimpse of the lost world of face-to-face trading (nearly all of Chicago’s pits are now closed). 

I researched Chicago’s pits myself in the years in which they still flourished, but not in the depth that Zaloom achieved. I’m in awe of her fabulous fieldwork.

By Caitlin Zaloom,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Out of the Pits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In "Out of the Pits", Caitlin Zaloom shows how traders, brokers, and global financial markets have adapted to the digital age. Drawing on her firsthand experiences as a clerk and a trader, as well as her unusual access to key sites of global finance, she explains how changes at the world's leading financial exchanges have transformed economic cultures and the craft of speculation; how people and places are responding to the digital transition; how traders are remaking themselves to compete in the contemporary marketplace; and how brokers, business managers, and software designers are collaborating to build new markets. A penetrating…


Book cover of Fool’s Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe

Donald Angus MacKenzie Why did I love this book?

The global financial crisis that erupted in 2008 was a shocking event. Britain’s cash machines came within a few hours of stopping working, and the global banking system would have collapsed were it not for unprecedented multi-billion-dollar government bail-outs. Gillian Tett, trained as an anthropologist, became a financial journalist but kept on applying her fieldwork skills. Almost alone in her new profession, she grasped the huge risks that were developing underneath the radar and wrote about them in the Financial Times. Her book, Fool’s Gold, was one of the first books written about 2008’s giant crisis and remains one of the best. 

To my mind, Tett is the world’s top financial journalist, and I’ve always learned a great deal from her pioneering in-depth reporting.

By Gillian Tett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fool’s Gold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A truly gripping narrative . . . The fact that Tett is able to reproduce such raw private communications is a tribute to her journalistic abilities' Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times

'Her blow-by-blow story is an impressive piece of detective work. She pulls back the curtain on a closed, unaccountable world of finance' Will Hutton, Guardian

In the mid 1990s, at a vast hotel complex on a private Florida beach, dozens of bankers from JP Morgan gathered for what was to become a legendary off-site meeting. It was a wild weekend. But among the drinking, nightclubbing and fist-fights lay a more…


Book cover of The Big Short

Donald Angus MacKenzie Why did I love this book?

It’s very hard to tell the story of complicated events, and the global financial crisis that broke out in 2008 was certainly very complicated. Michael Lewis, though, is a brilliant storyteller. The Big Short, which was made into a fine film, focuses on the savvy (but often eccentric, even obnoxious) traders who bet against the sophisticated financial instruments that were at the heart of the crisis. Their story, fascinating in itself, cuts through all the complications and reveals the scary dynamics that gave birth to the crisis. 

If you read The Big Short or watch the film, you may think that their portrayal of what went on in the run-up to the crisis is over-the-top. I’ve researched those events myself, and let me tell you: it’s not. Crazy things happened, and Michael Lewis is a great guide to them.

By Michael Lewis,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Big Short as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The real story of the crash began in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn't shine and the SEC doesn't dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower- and middle-class Americans who can't pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren't talking.

Michael Lewis creates a fresh, character-driven narrative brimming with indignation and dark humor, a fitting sequel to his #1 bestseller Liar's Poker. Out of a…


Book cover of Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street

Donald Angus MacKenzie Why did I love this book?

From the 1980s onwards, one of the best ways to get rich has been to land a job as an investment banker or other highly paid financial professional. You might have thought that this required an economics degree and advanced mathematics, but one of my students discovered that what a leading investment-management firm most liked about her was that she was a near-professional-level cellist! That’s an example of what the famous sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls ‘cultural capital’: skills, tastes, and so on that are highly regarded (even if not directly relevant to the job at hand).

Karen Ho landed a job at an investment bank but seized on it as an opportunity to gain insights into what it took to become successful at the pinnacle of the global financial system. She has also researched in-depth the processes by which students at elite Ivy League universities such as Princeton and Harvard went on to work in America’s top investment banks, and the high-paying but gruelling and surprisingly insecure jobs they went into. She offers us remarkable insights into an apparently rarefied world that affects the rest of us deeply.

By Karen Ho,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Financial collapses-whether of the junk bond market, the Internet bubble, or the highly leveraged housing market-are often explained as the inevitable result of market cycles: What goes up must come down. In Liquidated, Karen Ho punctures the aura of the abstract, all-powerful market to show how financial markets, and particularly booms and busts, are constructed. Through an in-depth investigation into the everyday experiences and ideologies of Wall Street investment bankers, Ho describes how a financially dominant but highly unstable market system is understood, justified, and produced through the restructuring of corporations and the larger economy.

Ho, who worked at an…


Book cover of Taking the Floor: Models, Morals, and Management in a Wall Street Trading Room

Donald Angus MacKenzie Why did I love this book?

Taking the Floor is the story of a 20-year intellectual odyssey, by Daniel Beunza, one of the world’s most insightful analysts of the financial system. He delves in-depth into the organization of a Wall Street trading room, beginning with him negotiating access to it when he was working on his PhD. He also reveals how later conversations with key people in the trading room made him rethink many of his first impressions, showing him that what he took to be a typical form of organization was actually very deliberately designed to be unusual. 

I particularly admire Beunza’s nuanced take (co-developed with the sociologist David Stark) on how traders use mathematical models. Traders are far from the naïve users of models that they are often portrayed as being, and instead often use models in a sophisticated way, not as guides to the truth of markets but as insights into what their competitors are thinking. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can relax because over the years Beunza has also become sharply aware of how easily the elite world of finance can succumb to misjudgments and amorality.

By Daniel Beunza,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Taking the Floor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An inside look at a Wall Street trading room and what this reveals about today's financial system

Debates about financial reform have led to the recognition that a healthy financial system doesn't depend solely on how it is structured-organizational culture matters as well. Based on extensive research in a Wall Street derivatives-trading room, Taking the Floor considers how the culture of financial organizations might change in order for them to remain healthy, even in times of crises. In particular, Daniel Beunza explores how the extensive use of financial models and trading technologies over the recent decades has exerted a far-ranging…


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The Squiggly Line Career: How Changing Professions Can Advance a Career in Unexpected Ways

By Angela Champ,

Book cover of The Squiggly Line Career: How Changing Professions Can Advance a Career in Unexpected Ways

Angela Champ Author Of The Squiggly Line Career: How Changing Professions Can Advance a Career in Unexpected Ways

New book alert!

Who am I?

Although I’ve worked in many professions and industries, a common theme in all my jobs is that I love helping people succeed in their careers. I’ve started or sponsored employee networks that focused on professional development, I’m a certified coach that focuses on propelling a client’s career, and I am a conference keynote speaker on the topics of careers and leadership. Everyone deserves to have a great career that makes them want to jump out of bed on Monday morning and that provides a good living and lifestyle. I love to make that happen!

Angela's book list on accelerating your career

What is my book about?

When we're children, we're asked what we want to be when we grow up. But what if there isn't just one career for us in our lifetime? What if we can have a squiggly line career that spans professions and industries?

This book will guide job seekers on the traits and tactics needed to change professions, and show hiring professionals how to find candidates with the skills to do the job!

The Squiggly Line Career: How Changing Professions Can Advance a Career in Unexpected Ways

By Angela Champ,

What is this book about?

When we are children, people ask us what we want to be when we grow up. The question elicits all sorts of dreams as a kid - "I want to be a ballerina" or "a firefighter" or "an astronaut." It becomes daunting as we grow up and start feeling pressured to make a choice that could affect the rest of our lives. What if we're not meant to follow just one path but, rather, pursue a squiggly line career that moves us across professions and industries? Filled with examples of real life squiggly line careers and interactive exercises, this book…


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Interested in financial crises, organizational behavior, and the financial crisis of 2007–2008?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about financial crises, organizational behavior, and the financial crisis of 2007–2008.

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