The Golden Fleecers by Walter Wagner (out of print). A witty alternative history of Southern California, home to “the world’s greatest concentration of confidence men” since the late 1800s. The big takeaway from this 1966 title: Trumped-up real estate booms and mortgage fraud aren’t new inventions.
Inside Job: The Looting of America’s Savings and Loans by Stephen Pizzo, Mary Fricker, and Paul Muolo (out of print). A few terms of art from S&L impresarios’ shoptalk give a sense of the financial derring-do that thrived during the Reagan era: "daisy chains," "dead cows for dead horses," "cash for trash," "kissing the paper."
A Colossal Failure of Common Sense by Lawrence G. McDonald and Patrick Robinson (Crown, $16). Favorite scene from this account of Lehman Brothers’ collapse: McDonald and a fellow Lehman exec visit an upmarket Orange County, Calif., bistro and chat up a group of subprime-mortgage salesmen: slick hair, expensive cologne, enough loose cash to drop a $100 tip. The secret of their success? Their employer never required them to document borrowers’ incomes. “No docs. That’s why we work here.”
Broke USA by Gary Rivlin (HarperBusiness, $27). Eye-opening journey into the world of "fringe banks." Wanna loan? Wanna pay 400 percent interest and get trapped in a crushing cycle of debt? Done. (Back-scratching warning: Both Rivlin and McDonald, above, have praised my own book. But I stick with my story: Theirs are among the best books written about banking mischief.)
Belly Up by Phillip L. Zweig (Ballantine, $27). How out of control did things get at one Oklahoma oil-patch bank before its 1982 implosion? One line of Zweig’s dissection tells the story: "When Patterson announced, 'Let’s rodeo,' that usually meant heavy gambling, fast women, and nonstop revelry." Who was Patterson? He was the VP in charge of approving oil loans.
The Poor Pay More by David Caplovitz (out of print). A classic, from 1963. All you need to know about how the have-nots come to have even less.
—Investigative reporter Michael W. Hudson is the author of The Monster, a new history of the rise and fall of the subprime-mortgage beast