One of the most frequent questions I get asked is: What books should I read if I want to work on Wall Street?
Mention Ayn Rand or Sun Tzu and you’re likely to elicit the NSFW version of the eye roll. And forget about Machiavelli. A Michelin restaurant guide would do more for your banking career than The Art of War (although you should still read it).
So, I canvased my library and checked in with a few old colleagues and friends to come up with a solid list, barring one glaring omission: this omniscient, behind-the-curtain look at the corruption, conflicts, and deviance that is pervasive across Wall Street — a book that Barron’s called “a classic of the genre.”
But, humility prevails.
Description: This is probably my favorite Wall Street book; it’s an exceptionally well-researched and captivating account of the insider-trading scandal that ripped Wall Street apart and brought down Michael Milken. If you enjoy this, it’s also worth reading The Predators’ Ball: The Inside Story of Drexel Burnham and the Rise of the Junk Bond Raiders.
Description: Here’s a sage perspective on the importance of humility and stoicism. When you feel like you’re at the center of the world, and working on deals that make the Wall Street Journal, it’s good to keep life in perspective. Or as Aurelius said, “words that everyone once used are now obsolete, and so are the men whose names were once on everyone’s lips.”
3. Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System — and Themselves
Description: This is the defining, fly-on-the-wall account of the financial crisis that reshaped Wall Street as an industry and as a culture. It’s rich with details, reconstructed from hundreds of interviews, but still highly entertaining. Read the book, but skip the movie. Lloyd Blankfein is played by Charlie Runkle from Californication in the HBO adaption.
Description: Jay Gould was one of the great overlooked and most interesting of the robber barons, and one of the richest men of his time. Despite his reputation (newspapers joked about sealing his casket to prevent him from returning to raid Wall Street one last time), Gould was also one of the first great philanthropists.
Description: This fictionalized biography of Jesse Livermore, one of the greatest speculators ever, is probably the most recommended investment book ever written.
Description: Liar’s Poker is one of the most famous Wall Street books of all-time. It’s a funny and insightful account of life on the Salomon Brothers bond desk in the 1980’s — an unprecedented era of greed and excess. You’d be hard-pressed to find a trader who hasn’t read this book. I read it in high school, and immediately wanted to go to Wall Street (and incidentally, started out on the same Victoria Plaza trading floor seven years later.)
Description: An unbelievable story of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco, or as the New York Times says, “one of the finest, most compelling accounts of what happened to corporate America and Wall Street in the 1980s.” This is one of those books you don’t want to put down. The HBO movie is a bit lowbrow, but still very watchable.
Description: Imagine making $2 million a year. You’re on top of the world. But you’re also an addict. Imagine being so high, hungover, and irresponsibly late for work that you decide to throw yourself into a puddle, punch yourself in the face, rip your clothes, and then go upstairs and tell your boss that you got mugged. Well, that’s what Turney did … between stints in rehab.
Description: How good are our decisions and how do we make them? Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman offers practical insights into how choices are made, as well as techniques we can use to guard against the mental glitches that often distort our judgment. David Brooks calls this book “the Lewis and Clark of the mind.”
Description: It’s satire, but a huge percentage of young bankers still idolize Patrick Bateman. You’ve probably seen the movie, but the book is still worth reading. Just don’t show up for your first day of work making Dorsia references.
Description: I studied this book before my first Salomon interview and immediately had an upper hand on the analysts and associates who were interviewing me. Even if you prefer equities or M&A to fixed income, this kind of knowledge demonstrates a dedication held by only a handful of prospective bankers.
Description: This is an absorbing account of the forces that led to the financial crisis from the perspective of the people who got rich betting against the US housing market. The movie was surprisingly good, but you should still read the book.
Description: Your bosses probably have an affinity for the Wall Street lore of the 1980s, and this is one of the novels that sums up the decade, but yet still doesn’t feel out of touch today in an era of social and economic inequality.
Description: What happens to the so-called best and brightest when they are thrust into a morally opaque, alternate reality, with a completely different set of rules and values? It could be the Congo, Vietnam, or downtown Manhattan.
Description: Getting a job on Wall Street is famously difficult, unless you have rich parents. Banks typically hire less than 4% of applicants. So get your CFA if you want to at least make it to the interview stage.
- Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
- Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World
- Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds
- When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management
- Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk
John LeFevre is the creator of @GSElevator, the founder of a fashion line, a podcast host, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Straight To Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, And Billion-Dollar Deals, currently in development as a major motion picture.
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