reading lists

The Best Books for Making Sense of the Financial Crash, 10 Years Later

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Welcome to Reading Lists, comprehensive book guides from the Strategist designed to make you an expert (or at least a fascinating dinner-party companion) in hyperspecific or newsworthy topics. This week: a selection of books about the financial crash.

The financial crisis of 2008 was the most important single economic event since the 1930s — and it was also the subject of last week’s print issue of our magazine, which chronicles the ascent of the New New Left and Donald Trump, as well as the demise of the middle class, pop culture, and the American Dream. You can read Frank Rich’s take on how the markets collapsing led to our current political state (Steve Bannon’s, too), as well as ruminations on the end of trust and pop culture.

For those who want to keep reading beyond that, the books already mount up. To build out an essential reading list, we consulted a group of economists and authors who’ve spent the past decade analyzing the crash. Our eight sources are Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics and former head of the Council of Economic Advisers; Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator for the Financial Times; Kenneth Rogoff, professor of public policy and economics at Harvard University and co-author of This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly; Greg Ip, chief economics commentator for The Wall Street Journal; Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at New York University Stern School of Business; Adam Tooze, author of Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World; Niall Ferguson, senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover institution; and Charles Ferguson, writer-director of the documentary Inside Job.

The commentariat sent us a list of books, from their favorite memoirs to their favorite new theories of finance, economics, and human behavior that have emerged since 2008. The nine titles listed below each earned two or more votes, and were recommended among almost 100 recommendations.

Best first draft of history

A majority of the experts I spoke with said that for a dramatic, readable account of why the crisis happened and how it was dealt with, check out Too Big to Fail by New York Times business reporter and columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin. Through unprecedented access to key Wall Street protagonists, Sorkin tells a blow-by-blow story of the events of the crisis when Lehman Brothers crashed. “This is a vivid portrayal of how policy-makers faced the most difficult decisions at the time of the crisis,” says Rogoff. Niall Ferguson adds, “It’s not only highly readable — it’s full of the kind of candid testimony that I suspect would otherwise not have been preserved.”

Best primer on the financial crash

This chronological narrative packs a comprehensive overview to the key events, people, and themes into a fast 400 pages: How did we ever get into such a mess? What was done to mitigate the problems of the financial crisis and why? Alan Blinder arbitrates these critical — yet contentious — questions in this book, which “provides the best feeling for the particularly bad behaviors of the banks,” says Stiglitz. Tooze adds: “This book remains the classic account of the crisis in the U.S. and the policy response. Lucid, tough-minded, and written with real verve.”

Best portrait of Wall Street plutocrats

Angelo Mozilo, former CEO of Countrywide, and Roland Arnall, owner of Ameriquest, are but a few of the hundred-plus devils to feature in this book, written by Bloomberg columnist Joe Nocera and Vanity Fair contributing editor Bethany McLean. By spotlighting the personalities of key players, this book succeeds in synthesizing the complex interrelationships of Wall Street, Main Street, the Fed, and the Treasury Department, which came to a head in 2008.

Best memoir

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Books written by leading actors of the 2008 financial crisis are generally seen as unpersuasive, seeing that they unavoidably offer a self-serving point of view. Still, Tim Geithner, who served as Treasury secretary before, during, and after the crisis, manages to narrate his experiences from inside the D.C.-NYC loop with “brutal” candidness about the failing of everyone involved — including himself. “For my money, this is the best first-person account, thanks to Geithner’s clear-eyed and instinctive grasp of the forces at work and the personalities involved,” says Ip. “Geithner deals only superficially with the underlying economics, but no one knows his way through the maelstrom better.”

Best explainer on debt