The best books to understand the political power of contemporary finance

Why am I passionate about this?

How did I – as a scholar of German literature – turn to economic topics? That had a certain inevitability. When I left for Paris in the early nineties, reading traces of anthropological knowledge in literature and aesthetics of the 18th century, I came across economic ideas on almost every page, in natural history, in medicine, in philosophy, in encyclopedias, in the theories of signs and in the teachings of beauty. There was circulation, communication, flows of exchange all over the place, and the Robinsons were the model. This reinforced the impression that the human being was engaged in aligning himself with homo oeconomicus. The question of  modern economics has therefore become unavoidable for me.


I wrote...

The Ascendancy of Finance

By Joseph Vogl, Simon Garnett (translator),

Book cover of The Ascendancy of Finance

What is my book about?

In my next-to-last book, I show how the dynamics of modern finance capitalism has always rested on a constantly evolving relationship between private creditors and the state. Combining historical and theoretical analysis, I argue that over the last three centuries, finance has become a "fourth estate," marked by the systematic interconnection of treasury and finance, of political and private economic interests.

Against this historical background, l focus on the latest phase in the financialization of government, namely the dramatic transfer of power from states to markets. I explore how policy has actively enabled a restructuring of the economy around the financial sector. Political systems are "imprisoned" by the regime of finance, while the corporate model suffuses society, enclosing populations in the reproduction of financial capital.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World

Joseph Vogl Why did I love this book?

Focusing on the financial crisis of 2008 Adam Tooze’s book shows the transition from a geopolitical to a geo-economic world order in which the political destiny of old nation states is determined by the needs of international financial industry – including the rearrangement of global governance and the erosion of democracies.

I admire the way in which Adam Tooze demonstrates the entanglement between financial capitalism, crises, and the rise of populist and right-wing movements in Europe and the US.

By Adam Tooze,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Crashed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE LIONEL GELBER PRIZE
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018
ONE OF THE ECONOMIST'S BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A NEW YORK TIMES CRITICS' TOP BOOK

"An intelligent explanation of the mechanisms that produced the crisis and the response to it...One of the great strengths of Tooze's book is to demonstrate the deeply intertwined nature of the European and American financial systems."--The New York Times Book Review

From the prizewinning economic historian and author of Shutdown and The Deluge, an eye-opening reinterpretation of the 2008 economic crisis (and its ten-year aftermath) as a global event that directly…


Book cover of Stabilizing an Unstable Economy

Joseph Vogl Why did I love this book?

Minsky’s thesis on financial instability is a brilliant intellectual blow against the liberal legend concerning the balancing powers of (financial) markets.

It suggests that manifest crises and breakdowns are not simply caused by external tremors, by fiscal or political coups de théâtre; rather, they are brought about by the parameters and endogenous movements of the financial economy itself.

Unlike cybernetic and self-regulating systems, the financial market is inclined to be spooked by its own tranquillity and destabilized by its own stability. The very efficiency of its functioning turns out to be utterly dysfunctional.

By Hyman P. Minsky,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Stabilizing an Unstable Economy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Mr. Minsky long argued markets were crisis prone. His 'moment' has arrived." -The Wall Street Journal

In his seminal work, Minsky presents his groundbreaking financial theory of investment, one that is startlingly relevant today. He explains why the American economy has experienced periods of debilitating inflation, rising unemployment, and marked slowdowns-and why the economy is now undergoing a credit crisis that he foresaw. Stabilizing an Unstable Economy covers:

The natural inclination of complex, capitalist economies toward instability Booms and busts as unavoidable results of high-risk lending practices "Speculative finance" and its effect on investment and asset prices Government's role in…


Book cover of The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times

Joseph Vogl Why did I love this book?

This book is one of the most comprehensive presentations concerning the history of capitalism from early modern times up to the present.

It deals with the mutual reinforcement between capital accumulation and state apparatuses and shows how precisely the dominance of finance and accumulation crises caused the decline of powerful capitalist states.

By Giovanni Arrighi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Long Twentieth Century traces the relationship between capital accumulation and state formation over a 700-year period. Arrighi argues that capitalism has unfolded as a succession of "long centuries," each of which produced a new world power that secured control over an expanding world-economic space. Examining the changing fortunes of Florentine, Venetian, Genoese, Dutch, English and finally American capitalism, Arrighi concludes with an examination of the forces that have shaped and are now poised to undermine America's world dominance. A masterpiece of historical sociology, The Long Twentieth Century rivals in scope and ambition contemporary classics by Perry Anderson, Charles Tilly…


Book cover of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

Joseph Vogl Why did I love this book?

Shoshana Zuboff’s book not only traces the fusion of financial industry with information technology and, thereby, the emergence of powerful platform companies with monopolistic tendencies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon.

Rather, it focuses on processes in which the business of digital expropriation merges with the erosion of democratic structures and the development of authoritarian capitalism.

By Shoshana Zuboff,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Age of Surveillance Capitalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE TOP 10 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'Everyone needs to read this book as an act of digital self-defense.' -- Naomi Klein, Author of No Logo, the Shock Doctrine, This Changes Everything and No is Not Enough

The challenges to humanity posed by the digital future, the first detailed examination of the unprecedented form of power called "surveillance capitalism," and the quest by powerful corporations to predict and control us.

The heady optimism of the Internet's early days is gone. Technologies that were meant to liberate us have deepened inequality and stoked divisions. Tech companies gather our information online and sell…


Book cover of Cosmopolis

Joseph Vogl Why did I love this book?

With this grotesque odyssey of a hedge fund manager in New York, Don DeLillo’s novel takes us right into the arena of the modern financial market, touches on the question of whether that market lends itself to literary treatment, and offers a series of narrative and rhetorical figures to represent the riddle of the finance economy, its protagonists and their operations.

By Don DeLillo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Eric Packer is a twenty-eight-year-old multi-billionaire asset manager. We join him on what will become a particularly eventful April day in turn-of-the-twenty-first-century Manhattan. He's on a personal odyssey, to get a haircut. Sitting in his stretch limousine as it moves across town, he finds the city at a virtual standstill because the President is visiting, a rapper's funeral is proceeding, and a violent protest is being staged in Times Square by anti-globalist groups. Most worryingly, Eric's bodyguards are concerned that he may be a target . . .

An electrifying study in affectlessness, infused with deep cynicism and measured detachment;…


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We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope – about figuring out where you belong, finding your way there, and living a life that matters.

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in financial crises, information technology, and New York State?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about financial crises, information technology, and New York State.

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