The best books about corruption

3 authors have picked their favorite books about corruption and why they recommend each book.

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Fiasco

By Frank Partnoy,

Book cover of Fiasco: The Inside Story of a Wall Street Trader

Partnoy, a distinguished law professor at Berkeley, is a brilliant chronicler of the people and products in modern financial markets. One could read any of his books and say they were among the best ones on the market and corporate chicanery. But I love his first book, in which he tells the tale of his brief time trading derivatives—back in the very early days of those now world-famous products—among the unsavory characters of a Wall Street trading floor. The story has been told by others since (Wolf of Wall Street, Big Short, etc.) but Partnoy may have done it first. And seeing that world through his young, brilliant, and impressionistic eyes is wonderful. His firm tried to block him from publishing the book, but he did it and has gone on to a magnificent academic career in which he continues to tell it like it is, understanding the…


Who am I?

I teach the law and enforcement of corporate crime as a law professor. At the outset of the course, I tell the students that corporate crime is a problem, not a body of law. You have to start by thinking about the problem. How do these things occur? What is the psychology, both individual and institutional? What are the economic incentives at each level and with each player? What role do lawyers play? When do regulatory arrangements cause rather than prevent this kind of thing?  If the locution were not too awkward, I might call the field “scandalology.” I love every one of these books because they do such a great job of telling the human stories through which we can ask the most interesting and important questions about how corporate crimes happen.


I wrote...

Capital Offenses: Business Crime and Punishment in America's Corporate Age

By Samuel Buell,

Book cover of Capital Offenses: Business Crime and Punishment in America's Corporate Age

What is my book about?

At the heart of the dilemma of corporate crime sits the limited liability corporation and the structure of financial markets, simultaneously the bedrocks of American prosperity and the reason that white-collar crime is difficult to prosecute. The corporation is a brilliant legal innovation that, in modern form, can seem impossible to regulate or even manage. By shielding managers and employees from responsibility, the corporation encourages the risk-taking that drives economic growth. But its special legal status and its ever-expanding scale place daunting barriers in the way of federal and local investigators.

Explaining in a breezy style the complex legal frameworks that govern both corporations and the people who carry out their missions, this book shows both the specialist and general reader how deciphering business crime is rarely black or white. 

Guilty Admissions

By Nicole Laporte,

Book cover of Guilty Admissions: The Bribes, Favors, and Phonies Behind the College Cheating Scandal

This well-researched non-fiction book by powerhouse investigative reporter Nicole LaPorte of Fast Company provides a fascinating look at some of the behind-the-scenes, real-world parenting dynamics that set the stage for Operation Varsity Blues. In addition to all the juicy details LaPorte reveals about Los Angeles’ elite private school ecosystem, we particularly love the way she traces the origins of college admissions mania all the way back to kindergarten. If you’ve ever wondered how community group-think can lead to lawlessness and a total abandonment of ethics and values, Guilty Admissions takes readers on a tantalizing journey into the competitive-parenting abyss, LA-style.


Who are we?

When each of our older boys were in the midst of the college admissions process, our husbands suffered life-threatening health crises. It was such a bizarre coincidence that we both experienced intense brushes with mortality during this time of high anxiety. The juxtaposition between health and college admissions gave us a unique perspective and led us to explore the impacts of college admissions anxiety on families, friendships, students, and school communities. We had entirely plotted Girls With Bright Futures and were nearly through the first draft when the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal broke in March 2019. We felt like the headlines had been ripped from our manuscript!


We wrote...

Girls with Bright Futures

By Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman,

Book cover of Girls with Bright Futures

What is our book about?

Girls with Bright Futures is the story of three high school mothers whose daughters are locked in competition for a single admissions spot at Stanford. With the application deadline approaching, one of the girls is nearly killed in a hit-and-run accident. As the school community descends into a spiral of panic and accusations, three women will have to decide what lines they’re willing to cross to secure their daughters’ futures...and keep buried the secrets that threaten to destroy far more than just college dreams.

The System

By Jeff Benedict, Armen Keteyian,

Book cover of The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football

I originally read this as research for my own novel and I’m so glad I did. Not all of it is about scandal, in fact my favorite parts highlighted how sports can be used to bring out the best in us. In fact, that’s what sports did for me. I loved that it also sheds light on the machinations we don’t see that are used to drive the sport. And, yes, I was horrified by some of the stories: horrified by the sexual assaults and furthermore by the rationalizations and the coverups. The feeling I had reading The System: we all want to dress ourselves in virtue, but all we really want is to win and for some, there is no price that’s too high.


Who am I?

Like all of us, I was raised on promises, and now I’ve veered off to another perspective. I love football. I played in high school, college, and for a brief time, in the NFL (didn’t make the final roster!) Philosophy has been a life-long pursuit, but I didn’t find what I was looking for: the truth. Except for the existentialists, most of it is a mere history of how mankind thought. But philosophy has taught me how to examine the essence of important issues. That’s why I wrote a book about tribalism, because to me, tribalism is the strongest dynamic in humanity and morality is subordinate to tribalism.


I wrote...

Sins of the Tribe

By Mark A. Salter,

Book cover of Sins of the Tribe

What is my book about?

Sins of the Tribe explores the impact of intense tribalism and its resulting dehumanization in a setting that’s popular, wildly flawed, and hiding in plain sight: college football. Sins of the Tribe also examines these hard truths: morality is subordinate to tribalism and the need for domination through violent proxies is real. 

Champions Way

By Mike McIntire,

Book cover of Champions Way: Football, Florida, and the Lost Soul of College Sports

I’m conflicted, two of my three kids went to Florida State and this book holds nothing back about the crimes and sins that have taken place at FSU. I felt like I was witness to a crime scene; the crimes were academic, cultural, and truly criminal. I completely believe that our higher education system is critical to our country, yet what takes place at these schools is an outrage. This is a book written by a talented journalist who took me on an objective tour of the hypocrisy we are willing to allow for our tribe to dominate.


Who am I?

Like all of us, I was raised on promises, and now I’ve veered off to another perspective. I love football. I played in high school, college, and for a brief time, in the NFL (didn’t make the final roster!) Philosophy has been a life-long pursuit, but I didn’t find what I was looking for: the truth. Except for the existentialists, most of it is a mere history of how mankind thought. But philosophy has taught me how to examine the essence of important issues. That’s why I wrote a book about tribalism, because to me, tribalism is the strongest dynamic in humanity and morality is subordinate to tribalism.


I wrote...

Sins of the Tribe

By Mark A. Salter,

Book cover of Sins of the Tribe

What is my book about?

Sins of the Tribe explores the impact of intense tribalism and its resulting dehumanization in a setting that’s popular, wildly flawed, and hiding in plain sight: college football. Sins of the Tribe also examines these hard truths: morality is subordinate to tribalism and the need for domination through violent proxies is real. 

The Smartest Guys in the Room

By Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind,

Book cover of The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron

Because I was a prosecutor on the Enron case, people often ask me what to read about it (or even to explain it to them!). At the time, we used to say that Enron was calculus to every other case’s algebra when it came to corporate financial fraud. Elkind and McLean (McLean had a lot to do with questioning Enron’s narrative before the company’s decline) have done the definitive job of explaining a very hard case in accessible style and detail. The truth is that accounting fraud is a very technical form of corporate fraud, sometimes painfully so. But, as I tell my students, the people who work at companies on these kinds of things are no smarter, and often no older, than my students. They just speak a different language. Don’t let that obfuscate matters. Learn the lingo and follow the money. Smartest Guys allows the general reader to…


Who am I?

I teach the law and enforcement of corporate crime as a law professor. At the outset of the course, I tell the students that corporate crime is a problem, not a body of law. You have to start by thinking about the problem. How do these things occur? What is the psychology, both individual and institutional? What are the economic incentives at each level and with each player? What role do lawyers play? When do regulatory arrangements cause rather than prevent this kind of thing?  If the locution were not too awkward, I might call the field “scandalology.” I love every one of these books because they do such a great job of telling the human stories through which we can ask the most interesting and important questions about how corporate crimes happen.


I wrote...

Capital Offenses: Business Crime and Punishment in America's Corporate Age

By Samuel Buell,

Book cover of Capital Offenses: Business Crime and Punishment in America's Corporate Age

What is my book about?

At the heart of the dilemma of corporate crime sits the limited liability corporation and the structure of financial markets, simultaneously the bedrocks of American prosperity and the reason that white-collar crime is difficult to prosecute. The corporation is a brilliant legal innovation that, in modern form, can seem impossible to regulate or even manage. By shielding managers and employees from responsibility, the corporation encourages the risk-taking that drives economic growth. But its special legal status and its ever-expanding scale place daunting barriers in the way of federal and local investigators.

Explaining in a breezy style the complex legal frameworks that govern both corporations and the people who carry out their missions, this book shows both the specialist and general reader how deciphering business crime is rarely black or white. 

The City Game

By Matthew Goodman,

Book cover of The City Game: Triumph, Scandal, and a Legendary Basketball Team

A gripping, fascinating story by Matthew Goodman of the 1949-1950 City College of New York Men's basketball team, the only team in history to win both the NCAA and NIT tournaments in the same season (teams have long since been barred from competing in both). Led by the legendary coach Nat Holman, the 15-man squad of working-class kids comprised 11 Jews and four African Americans. Goodman weaves a tale of corrupt big-city politics, the extraordinary engine of upward mobility that CCNY was mid-century and the tragic downfall of the team, as several of its star players became implicated in a point-shaving scandal the following season, a stain that followed several of those involved for the rest of their lives. 

During their run to the 1950 NIT championship, CCNY played the University of Kentucky, then the two-time defending NCAA champs, barred from playing in the NCAA that year, and at a…


Who am I?

I am a professor of Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and I have written about the intersection of sports, media, and politics for many years. I am also the co-host of a podcast, Agony of Defeat, with Matt Andrews, that explores the connections between sports, politics, and history. Basketball is an especially rich topic for mining these intersections. And I’m also a lifelong sports fan.


I wrote...

Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

By Marc Hetherington, Jonathan Weiler,

Book cover of Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

What is my book about?

Two award-winning political scientists provide the psychological key to America’s deadlocked politics, showing that we are divided not by ideologies but something deeper: personality differences that appear in everything from politics to parenting to the workplace to TV preferences, and which would be innocuous if only we could decouple them from our noxious political debate. Drawing on groundbreaking original research, Prius or Pickup? is an incisive, illuminating study of the fracturing of the American mind.

Flat Earth News

By Nick Davies,

Book cover of Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media

A highly perceptive if rather depressing examination of how the British media works, how expensive investigative journalism has largely given way to opinion columns and trivia about so-called celebrities, how stories are often not stories, how papers dress up partisan opinion as fact. In short, an exposure of the falsehoods, distortion, and propaganda that have corrupted the media. Nick Davies was a journalist at the Guardian.


Who am I?

We all need to understand more about how the world ticks, who is in control, and why they act as they do. And we need to salute those of courage who refuse to go along with the flow in a craven or unthinking way. I was an MP for 18 years and a government minister at the Department for Transport with a portfolio that included rail, bus, active travel, and then at the Home Office as Crime Prevention minister. After leaving Parliament, I became managing director of The Big Lemon, an environmentally friendly bus and coach company in Brighton. I now act as an advisor to the Campaign for Better Transport, am a regular columnist and broadcaster, and undertake consultancy and lecturing work.


I wrote...

...And What Do You Do?: What the Royal Family Don't Want You to Know

By Norman Baker,

Book cover of ...And What Do You Do?: What the Royal Family Don't Want You to Know

What is my book about?

The royal family is the original Coronation Street – a long-running soap opera with the occasional real coronation thrown in. Its members have become celebrities, like upmarket versions of film stars and footballers. But they have also become a byword for arrogance, entitlement, hypocrisy, and indifference to the gigantic amount of public money wasted by them.

In this book, former government minister Norman Baker argues that the British public deserves better than this puerile diet. … And What Do You Do? is a hard-hitting analysis of the royal family, exposing its extravagant use of public money and the highly dubious behaviour of some among its ranks, whilst being critical of the knee-jerk sycophancy shown by the press and politicians. Baker also considers the wider role the royals play in society, including the link with House of Lords reform, and the constitutional position of the monarch, which is important given Prince Charles’s present and intended approach.

Match Fixing and Sport

By Mike Huggins (editor), Rob Hess (editor),

Book cover of Match Fixing and Sport: Historical Perspectives

The uncertainty of the result is a bedrock of sport. Yet, although it should not be pre-determined, it does happen. Gambling interests, the very people who developed rules for many early sports, can persuade competitors (by threats or bribes) not to perform to the best of their abilities. The book shows that cheating to lose has a long history dating back to Antiquity, when fines on cheating competitors paid for statues to commemorate the gods. I have never believed in the purity of sport and its participants. Sport may well breed character, a mantra of the sports lobby, but, I suggest, not necessarily good character. The book appeals to me as it shows how historians can dig out evidence on activities which, to be successful, must be covert.


Who am I?

I love sport. I played my last game of cricket when I was 69 and, as I approach my eightieth year, I continue to play golf, confusing my partners by switching from right to left hand when chipping and putting. I like watching sport but prefer to spectate via television rather than being there. I confess I do not fully understand American sports: I cannot fathom why a hit over the fence in baseball can score 1, 2, 3, or 4 rather than the undisputed 6 of cricket; and, while I admire the strategies of American football, I wonder why a ‘touchdown’ does not actually involve touching down.


I wrote...

Games People Played: A Global History of Sports

By Wray Vamplew,

Book cover of Games People Played: A Global History of Sports

What is my book about?

My book is a record of what I believe have been significant factors and events in the development of sport, a cultural institution that matters to millions of people. I deal not with sporting results but how sport has been practised, experienced, and made meaningful by a variety of groups and individuals in different historical periods. Sport can be big business or family recreation; be discriminatory but also integrative; produce triumphs and tragedies as well as heroes and villains; and encourage the best and worst of nationalism.

I challenge the facile generalisations made about sport and look at recent revisions in our sports history knowledge, show how sporting myths have been created, and explain how sports history has been abused for political purposes.

Infomocracy

By Malka Older,

Book cover of Infomocracy: Book One of the Centenal Cycle

Infomocracy has one of the most original science fiction concepts that I’ve read in in a very long time. It’s set in a grounded near future with a radically different, but still democratic, global governance system. The story and characters are engaging, but what really stood out for me is how well Older has thought through this new form of geopolitics. It’s a fascinating read, and if you’re like me, you’ll be thinking about whether this is a good and workable solution long after you’ve finished the book.


Who am I?

Back in college, I switched from being an astrophysics major to computational neuroscience. The reasons are complicated, but suffice it to say that I found the human brain to be as big of a mystery as black holes. I’ve worked as an engineer for two decades on applications ranging from medical devices, to digital music recognition, to high speed chip design. Writing science fiction is the second act of my life, and I love drawing on my science background to inform my stories. I especially love taking cutting-edge technology and thinking about how it could impact future society, from the global to the individual.


I wrote...

Machinehood

By S.B. Divya,

Book cover of Machinehood

What is my book about?

It’s 2095, and humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in a ubiquitous gig economy. Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed by the Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group. Their operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week. 

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood, and what do they really want? A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?

Hooked

By G. Bruce Knecht,

Book cover of Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish

If you’ve ever considered eating “sustainably” fished seafood, this book will open your eyes to the fact that there is no such thing as truly sustainable fishing. Through stories of modern-day, high-seas piracy, you’ll get a better understanding of how rogue fishing vessels will go anywhere, legal or otherwise, to make a profit. And that one of many reasons why fish species are in great decline everywhere. But this is a demand-driven problem, which means we all have a role to play in solving it.


Who am I?

Travels to the Arctic and Antarctic and time spent alongside researching counting Magellanic penguins in Argentina have inspired not only The Tourist Trail but a life spent advocating for animals. The oceans may appear vast and impenetrable but they are fragile, and we need to act now to protect the many species who call these waters home. The books here not only expose the crisis we face but highlight those people and organizations who have dedicated their lives to protecting our planet and its many residents. It’s not too late to make a difference and I hope these books inspire you to lend your voice and energy to the fight.


I wrote...

The Tourist Trail

By John Yunker,

Book cover of The Tourist Trail

What is my book about?

The Tourist Trail is an environmental thriller about endangered species in the world's most remote waters and the people who put their lives on the line to protect them. Against the backdrop of the Southern Ocean, the novel weaves together the stories of Angela, a penguin researcher based in southern Argentina, Robert, an FBI agent in pursuit of an anti-whaling activist known as Aeneas; and Ethan Downes, a computer tech whose love for a passionate animal rights activist draws him into a dangerous mission among the icebergs of Antarctica.

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