A lot has changed in finance over the past 40 years. Suspenders became fleece vests, cocaine was exchanged for green juice, and floor trading has been subsumed by zeroes and ones. And a lot hasn't changed. Greed, for example—as Wall Street 's Gordon Gekko notoriously declared—is, was, and always will be, “good.” But finance isn't as morally simplistic as such aphorisms suggest. Greed may not be good, but making money is not inherently bad. It's in the grey zones between right and wrong that the most compelling stories are told—and some of the most ethically complex books I've ever read are often relegated to the “business” section of the bookstore. This can be blamed, in part, by how superficially dull they are, focusing on such topics as corporate bonds, leveraged buyouts, derivative contracts, mark to market accounting, and venture capital valuations. But the dryness of these issues is like the sheep's clothing to a wolf: moneymakers often build their fortunes atop schemes that would bore the rest of us to death. A great example of this is quantitative hedge funds, which are usually stocked with mathematicians, physicists, and the like. (My new novel, The Vegan , is set in this milieu). This world is not just academic and brainy, it can sometimes make money feel like an afterthought. That's because humans aren't even the ones trading. Instead, “quants” build complex algorithms that employ machine learning (a kind of AI), which can decide what to trade for them. The books below give us a window into not only the financial preoccupations of different eras, but the larger moral issues their unique cultures wrestled with. Each places a carnal desire (to make money!) into a bewildering and convoluted—that is, very human—context. Together they trace the history of high finance culture over the past 40 years, from the barbarous heyday of the eighties to the tech-obsessed venture capitalists of today. * Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis Considered the high finance memoir, Liar's Poker is more like a survey course of all of the hijinks, bravado, and sliminess of eighties finance—a world that […]
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