The best books about financial crises

16 authors have picked their favorite books about financial crises and why they recommend each book. Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

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Book cover of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

By Michael Lewis,

Why this book?

Michael Lewis is a literary magician. He can take the most obscure and unpalatable topic, find a story buried somewhere inside it, and turn that story into a book so good that you want to tell your friends about it. The Big Short is Lewis at his best. It tells the story of a motley crew of unconventional stock traders who saw the diabolical lie at the center of the subprime mortgage boom and bet against the market when the market was sizzling. They were Cassandras, destined never to be believed—until the market crashed in 2008, their detractors lost their…

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

Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World

By Adam Tooze,

Why this book?

The economic origins of our contemporary woes lie, of course in the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008. Tooze’s summary of the sub-prime crisis in the US housing market is worth the price of the book alone, and he upturned my understanding of the GFC as originating in the global savings glut. His argument also echoes themes discussed above – how international order is shaped around institutions that are internal to the state but that end up bursting across its boundaries – specifically, how the Fed became the de facto central bank for the world through institutions such as the…

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Book cover of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

By Naomi Klein,

Why this book?

I found Naomi Klein’s argument that situations of shock and violence are seized upon and exploited by politicians and corporations to enact rapid corporate makeovers and privatize public services to be exactly what happened in Detroit when an “emergency manager” appointed by the governor began privatizing public services to the detriment of the city population. I think everyone who reads Klein’s elegant and persuasive explanation of disaster capitalism will see it happening around them.

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Book cover of Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Debt: The First 5,000 Years

By David Graeber,

Why this book?

I was taught the classical story of money. In the beginning, we all used the barter system. After a while, we invented money as a middle ground to store value, so we could trade without actually having physical goods on hand to exchange. Then we figured out systems of finance like debt and credit to help our money do more. This is all a lie! 

Nowhere in the world did things ever happen this way; no society has ever practiced the stereotypical ‘barter system’ where the only way for me to buy your goat is to give you a pair…

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Book cover of Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World's Economy

Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World's Economy

By Adam Tooze,

Why this book?

How can we make sense of the Covid-19 pandemic? Adam Tooze gives us a clear answer: it is the first crisis of the new era of environmental crisis. My work now focuses on the increasingly destabilizing effects that the crisis will bring into the future and how future leaders can be better ready to carry on the struggle under worsening conditions. The responses of current leaders to the pandemic – some good, many poor – are a key resource to learn from. This book is a first bash at learning the lessons from the pandemic. Into the future, more than…

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Book cover of The Mystery of Overend & Gurney: A Financial Scandal in Victorian London

The Mystery of Overend & Gurney: A Financial Scandal in Victorian London

By Geoffrey Elliott,

Why this book?

A gripping portrait of a Dickensian financial scandal that led to the last English bank run before the run on Northern Rock in 2007. Founded in 1800 and controlled by Quakers, the firm that was to become Overend and Gurney grew to become London’s leading discount house, specialising in the safe business of discounting bills of exchange. In the 1850s, it became more aggressive and was eventually investing depositors’ funds in highly speculative ventures that promised spectacular profits that never materialised. When market conditions became adverse, Overend and Gurney found itself in dire straits. The Bank of England refused to…

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Book cover of Living in the End Times

Living in the End Times

By Slavoj Zizek,

Why this book?

I could really choose any book by Slavoj Žižek as the starting for a psychoanalytic critique of capitalism, but this one is very accessible for someone who has never read him. It also gets into the current dilemmas that are rocking capitalist society. In this book, Žižek shows how psychoanalysis (combined with Hegel’s philosophy) can provide a corrective to the traditional Marxist critique of capitalism. We see here how the attempt to construct an ethical capitalism inevitably fails and obscures a new barbarism. 

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Book cover of This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly

This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly

By Carmen M. Reinhart, Kenneth S. Rogoff,

Why this book?

Co-author Ken Rogoff taught my PhD course in Global Economics while he was a visiting professor at NYU (from Princeton). We used Foundations of International Macroeconomics as our textbook; Ken was writing the book with Maurice Obstfeld. When I turned in a handful of pages to him with editorial corrections, he hired me to edit the rest of the book and a research paper for him! It caused quite a stir among my peers when Ken thanked me by name when the article was published (JEL, June 1996). This book traces eight hundred years of financial crises to demonstrate that…

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Book cover of An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy

An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy

By Marc Levinson,

Why this book?

Levinson is a rare thing among economists: he is willing to admit what we don’t understand.

This book argues that global productivity declined in the 1970s compared to the 30 years after World War II, and no one knows why. It seems that, under capitalism, economic growth is normally just very slow, and the fast postwar growth was the aberration. But what really matters is how political leaders responded, making a series of bad decisions to try to appease people’s over-inflated expectations of growth. And this happened all over the world, from the U.S. to Germany to Japan to…

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Book cover of The South Sea Bubble

The South Sea Bubble

By John Carswell,

Why this book?

A classic account of an extraordinary 18th-century British financial and political scandal. The South Sea Bubble centred on the joint-stock South Sea Company, which was founded in 1711. The South Sea Bubble was an ambitious scheme to simultaneously pay off the British government's enormous debts while simultaneously getting rich in London's newly created stock market. The company was given a monopoly of trade with South America but had little prospect of success. The Bubble was an early Ponzi scheme that promised vast returns to early and well-connected investors.

Its collapse in 1720 ruined thousands of shareholders from all walks of…

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