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Sebastian Mallaby's 6 favorite works with financial themes

Author and financial journalist Sebastian Mallaby recommends works by Adam Smith, Sheelah Kolhatkar, and more

Author and financial journalist Sebastian Mallaby is a senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest book, The Power Law, describes how Silicon Valley's venture-capital firms reshaped the global economy. 

The Money Game by Adam Smith (1968).

Smith was the pen name of financial journalist George Goodman, and this was his breakthrough — a laugh-out-loud depiction of the financial culture of 1960s New York, when sideburned gangsters ramped stocks and only the inexperienced were foolish enough to make money. "Show me a portfolio, I'll tell you the generation," one character says. Perhaps this reminds you of crypto? Buy it here.

When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein (2000).

Ironically, this book is a triumph of genius: a lucid explanation of the quantitative trading strategies that doomed the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. I once asked an LTCM veteran what Lowenstein had wrong — surely something. Nothing, came the reply. Buy it here.

Black Edge by Sheelah Kolhatkar (2017).

Attacks on financiers often descend into "Rich guys must be evil." Kolhatkar's brilliantly reported whodunit, focused on SAC Capital, is an exception. The subplot of an inside trader who wins the confidence of a source by becoming a sort of surrogate son is believable — and chilling. Buy it here. 

Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper (2015).

A sane account of Bitcoin's insane rise. Popper explains how Crypto 1.0 gathered momentum. Computer scientists loved Bitcoin's elegant code. Libertarians saw it as a way of circumventing government. Criminals saw it as a way of dealing drugs. Opportunists saw it as a path to riches. None had a great argument on why Bitcoin is preferable to the dollar, but the varied and contradictory convictions proved self-fulfilling. Buy it here.

The Company by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (2003).

People think of capitalism as a static thing: After all, markets and price signals have been around forever. But the other great capitalist institution, the company, has shape-shifted constantly over the past 150 years. I keep turning back to this delightful and witty guide to remind myself what happened. Buy it here.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015).

I am rarely transported by a novel, but this swept me away. The story of a group of friends making their careers in New York, it brims with witty observations on race, friendship, disability, and loss. But it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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