Here’s a quick list of some of the most entertaining and enjoyable finance and business books I’ve come across. This list is selected to be as exciting as possible – so no Ben Graham, options pricing analyses, or weird quant things (sorry if any of these are your vibe). Definitely worth working through this list if you’re thinking of pursuing a career in finance, and would recommend anything on here if you’re already in finance and haven’t read it yet. Some of these might actually be good enough to keep someone engaged even without an interest in finance, but assume you wouldn’t be here if that was the case.
Feel free to drop a comment if there are any go-to books you think should be added to the list. Also let me know if you read one of these and either loved it or thought it was trash, always interested in seeing what you guys think.
Barbarians at the Gate
by Bryan Burrough & John Helyar
This book is a huge reason why I decided to get into finance in the first place. It’s the story of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco, detailing a thrilling spectacle in the early days of the buyout industry. Henry Kravis and George Roberts feature prominently (you may have heard of their eponymous firm KKR). A wild ride back when private equity was thought of as corporate raiders and general scumbags. One of the definitive finance works, this is really a must-read.
King of Capital
by David Carey & John Morris
My favorite PE book, hands down. It recounts the story of Blackstone and also gives great background on the rise of private equity as an industry. There are a number of great ‘case studies’, overviews of specific Blackstone deals that are both interesting and helpful to think through as a new investor. Don’t worry, I promise these are much more story than text book. Some ridiculous anecdotes about Steven Schwarzmann and other Blackstone seniors certainly help.
by Michael Lewis
A bit of a deviation from the other books here, Flash Boys takes a deep look at the emergence of high frequency trading and how modern financial markets have changed from historical norms. There has been some pushback on the veracity of Lewis’ HFT depictions. Nonetheless it’s a fascinating read and a great way to get some exposure to a corner of the industry that is quite different than traditional IB/PE.
by Michael Lewis
Another Michael Lewis book, Liar’s Poker chronicles Lewis’ own exploits as a junior bond salesman at Solomon Brothers. It’s a dramatic telling of 1980s Wall Street, complete with anecdotes of sharp-elbowed life on the trading floor. Liar’s Poker is also the source of the Equities in Dallas reference, where bottom bucket bankers get shipped off to and forgotten about. Most things on Wall Street have changed since the ‘80s, but that’s not one of them.
Bonfire of the Vanities
by Tom Wolfe
Bonfire of the Vanities is a novel following bond trader and self-proclaimed Master of the Universe Sherman McCoy. It’s the only true work of fiction on the list, and not necessarily considered a finance book per se. Intended to portray the essence of 1980s New York, Wolfe’s work is a gritty and exciting read.
When Genius Failed
by Roger Lowenstein
An exposé on the collapse of Long Term Capital Management, a ~$100B AUM ‘90s hedge fund that thought they were the smartest guys in the room. It’s a dramatic retelling of events that nearly sparked widespread contagion, and proved a harbinger of the financial crisis. Turns out winning the Nobel Prize (TWO laureates in LTCM inner circle) doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing any more than the rest of us. You definitely need to read this if you’re interested in any public markets role.
Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst
by Dan Reingold
Reingold chronicles his 14-year stint as an equity research analyst with Salomon Smith Barney. Starting out as a bright-eyed junior analyst, Reingold becomes increasingly jaded, particularly as he works through WorldCom’s collapse. This is a great resource to learn more about the interplay between an investment bank’s equity research department and industry coverage bankers delving into dynamics of conflicts of interest and regulatory necessities.
Den of Thieves
by James Stewart
Den of Thieves tells the story of the insider trading downfall of junk bond king Michael Milken and associates Ivan Boskey, Martin Siegel, and Dennis Levine. The book is truly a thriller, with a narrative based on grand jury transcripts, trading records, and interviews. One of the defining Wall Street scandals, too bad all we get these days is Bill Hwang…
by John Rolfe & Peter Troob
Another personal account of life on Wall Street, following Rolfe and Troob’s life at Donaldson, Lufkin, Jenrette (DLJ), starting as post-MBA associates (gross). Definitely a well-written, funny work that is another helpful resource providing insight into actual life in investment banking. Spoiler: it’s not as hype as they expected.
by Bill Keenan
Another first-hand account of life in investment banking (promise this is the last one), Keenan recounts life as a junior at Deutsche Bank. No surprise, it makes Deutsche seem just as bad as expected. Keenan published the book in 2020, so it’s the most recent on the list by far. As such, it provides a much better view of life on today’s Wall Street than many of the other books. Well written, very funny, and does a great job of highlighting what banking is all about these days (mostly depressing Seamless dinners).
Tell Us What You Think
Drop a note if you love or hate any of these books. Is the list missing your favorite?
I want this finance book list to serve as a fun way to get more familiar with the industry. University courses and text books do an incredible job of making things boring. Finance gets an unfortunate bad rep because of this, when in reality things can get a little wild.
I’ll just caveat that these are obviously all as dramatized as possible, so I don’t want anyone getting scared away from banking or thinking they’ll go in and become the next Wall Street BSD (but hire me if you do).