The Ascent of Money
by Niall Ferguson
(Penguin, $30)
This welcome history of money feels “somewhat rushed, especially for a work by a scholar,” said Bill Emmott in the Financial Times. But financial history is Niall Ferguson’s specialty, and the Harvard professor has an “unusual ability” to inject life into his account of how nations rise through financial innovation and fall by stretching wealth too thin. To Ferguson, finance is “the mirror of mankind,” and it’s “not the fault of the mirror if it reflects our blemishes as clearly as our beauty.”

The Return of Depression-Era Economics and the
Crisis of 2008

by Paul Krugman
(Norton, $25)
The New York Times’ Nobel-winning economist has added three new chapters to a 1999 book that explained that decade’s economic crises in Latin America and Asia, said Geeta Sharma-Jensen in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The result of these revisions and additions is a big-picture explanation of today’s crisis that’s predictably “fascinating” and highly readable.

edited by Michael Lewis
(Norton, $28)
In this impressive anthology, the last 20 years look more like an era of serial crises than one of “irrational exuberance,” said Glenn Altschuler in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. None of the contemporaneous dispatches collected here has been updated by editor Michael Lewis, so Panic! “sheds little light” on the long-term aftermaths of Black Monday, the dot-com crash, or the other meltdowns it covers. Yet the book is consistently instructive, with the best contributions “X-raying” the just-burst housing bubble.

The Origin of Financial Crises
by George Cooper
(Vintage, $13)
Of the credit-crisis books written just before this fall’s dramatic upheavals, said The Economist, this paperback by a London fixed-market analyst rates as “by far the most cogent and reasoned.” George Cooper asks central banks to finally acknowledge that markets need reining in when they’re on the rise, just as they need stimulus when tanking. Interventions that address downturns only, he says, create credit bubbles.