11 Books You Have To Read If You Want To Work On Wall Street

michael lewis

America’s fascination with the financial industry has produced more books than you could ever hope to read.

That’s why we’ve put together a cheat sheet: the best Wall Street tomes ever written.

These books provide the big picture: the stories that mattered, the people behind them, and the deals and collapses that made the industry what it is.

An inexperienced young trader encounters the raw, outrageous reality of investment banking

Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis

The 1990 debut by the rockstar financial journalist depicts his experience at the Salomon Brothers bond desk. 'Liar's Poker' is one of the iconic depictions of the heady excess of 1980's Wall Street: it introduced the term 'big swinging dick' to describe hotshot traders (Slate).

Part of the inspiration for the book was Lewis' incredulity at the fact that an investment bank would hire him in the first place. 'I'd never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later,' he wrote in Portfolio.

Lewis says he wrote the book partially to dissuade smart young college graduates from becoming bankers. But the opposite happened. Like the movie 'Wall Street,' book intended as a cautionary tale came across to many as a celebration of finance. From Portfolio:

'I hoped that some bright kid at, say, Ohio State University who really wanted to be an oceanographer would read my book, spurn the offer from Morgan Stanley, and set out to sea.

Somehow that message failed to come across. Six months after Liar's Poker was published, I was knee-deep in letters from students at Ohio State who wanted to know if I had any other secrets to share about Wall Street. They'd read my book as a how-to manual.'

Lewis is now working on making a film version of the book (Reuters).

(Amazon link.)

Top Wall Street players collude behind closed doors, pursued by intrepid detectives

A renegade investment banker blows up his firm and tells the story in jail

Rogue Trader by Nick Leeson

The autobiographical 1997 book describes how Leeson singlehandedly caused the collapse of Barings Bank. It was later made into a movie starring Ewan McGregor.

(Amazon link.)

Swashbuckling financial entrepreneurs create a new industry and bank billions

More Money Than God by Sebastian Mallaby

The 2010 book is the best available history of the hedge fund sector.

The Wall Street Journal called it 'the fullest account we have so far of a too-little-understood business that changed the shape of finance and no doubt will continue to do so.'

(Amazon link.)

Wall Street and the White House struggle behind the scenes to prevent global economic collapse

Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin

The 2009 book is the editor of Dealbook's account of the 2008 crash.

This is where we got the most vivid anecdotes of the financial meltdown. Via HuffPo:

'For example, Sorkin reports that during the crisis then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who was formerly Goldman Sachs CEO, complained loudly 'It's ridiculous that I can't deal with Goldman at a time like this!' Or Morgan Stanley head John Mack screaming 'Nobody gives a shit about loyalty!''

The book was made into an HBO movie in 2011. Haven't seen it? Check out our 2-minute version of the film.

(Amazon link.)

Harvard professors and elite investment bankers riskily amass $100 billion in assets, threatening the entire financial system

When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein

The 2000 book tells the story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. The fund suffered from excessive self-confidence; it had two Nobel laureates advising its investments. After back to back 40% returns from 1994 to 1998, the vastly over-leveraged LTCM fell victim to Russia's 1998 default. The fund's failure forced an unprecedented intervention from the giants of Wall Street.

From an excerpt of the book published in the NYTimes:

'For the first time, the chiefs of Bankers Trust, Bear Stearns, Chase Manhattan, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and Salomon Smith Barney gathered under the oil portraits in the Fed's tenth-floor boardroom--not to bail out a Latin American nation but to consider a rescue of one of their own.'

(Amazon link.)

Boardroom theatrics lead to the biggest leveraged buyout of the 20th century

Barbarians At The Gate by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar

The 1990 book is the definitive account of the 1980's leveraged buyout boom. Many call it the 'best business book ever' (MarketWatch). It tells the story of the takeover of RJR Nabisco.

The book was fictionalized and made into an HBO movie in 1993. Watch the trailer here.

(Amazon link.)

Largest LBO source: WSJ

Four generations of financial titans lay the foundation for Wall Street as we know it

The House Of Morgan by Ron Chernow

The 1990 history tells the story of the JP Morgan dynasty.

From the NYTimes review:

Mr. Chernow takes us on an extraordinary journey spanning generations and continents. It is a saga of incredible cunning, as when J. P. Morgan Sr., the founder's son, learned to control American companies around the turn of the century by creating and dominating groups of their bondholders, or when, eight decades later, the three Morgan firms all learned to play the tough, slash-and-burn takeover game better than anyone else.

(Amazon link.)

The Bonfire Of The Vanities by Tom Wolfe

Although a work of fiction, the 1987 novel defined the era of 1980s Wall Street. It was later made into a movie starring Tom Hanks.

(Amazon link.)

An unhinged investment banker rampages through New York, murdering and worse

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis

As 'Bonfire' defined the '80s, this 1991 novel defines the Wall Street of the '90s: slick and successful on the surface, dangerous underneath.

If you're familiar with the infamous 2000 film adaptation starring Christian Bale, know this: the book is actually far, far more graphic and disturbing. That may be hard to believe, but that's just how intense this novel is.

(Amazon link.)

The entire economy heads for hidden catastrophe, while a handful of people lay complex bets to profit from the downfall

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

The 2010 book is the definitive account of the subprime mortgage bubble. The cinematic narrative established the heroes of the financial crisis, like Meredith Whitney (who saw it coming), and explains in rich detail how people like John Paulson made billions betting against mortgage backed securities.

(Amazon link.)

Now check out one of the best parts of The Big Short >>

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