Shiller Praises Finance, Soros Sees ‘Trap’: Top Business Books

The book jacket of ``Finance and the Good Society'' by Robert J. Shiller. Source: Princeton University Press via Bloomberg

Yale economist Robert Shiller praises finance and defends Goldman Sachs Group Inc., while George Soros urges Angela Merkel not to hurl Europe into “deflationary debt trap” in two of our favorite business books of late. Here’s a list of recommended titles.

“Adapt” by Tim Harford (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Little, Brown). We all struggle to accept our failures and cut our losses. Yet admitting our mistakes holds a key to solving intractable problems, says Harford, who writes the Undercover Economist column for the Financial Times. “Success,” he argues, “always starts with failure.”

“Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?” by William Poundstone (Little, Brown). A guide to brain-bending interview questions asked at Google and other innovative companies. “You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender,” one begins. What do you do in the 60 seconds before the blades begin whirring?

“Boomerang” by Michael Lewis (Allen Lane/Norton). The author of “Liar’s Poker” and “The Big Short” returns with a collection of writings on his journeys through “the New Third World,” from Iceland and Ireland to California.

“Confidence Men” by Ron Suskind (Harper). An inside look at how Barack Obama came under the spell of Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, “two men whose actions had contributed to the very financial disaster they were hired to solve.”

“Demystifying the Chinese Economy” by Justin Yifu Lin (Cambridge). A patriotic yet pragmatic look at how China notched up average annual growth of 9.9 percent for three decades.

“Exile on Wall Street” by Mike Mayo (Wiley). Mayo, an old-school bank analyst, chronicles his battle to change the status quo on Wall Street.

“Extreme Money” by Satyajit Das (FT Press). An idiosyncratic yet withering analysis of how 30 years of financial alchemy and excessive credit plunged us into the Great Recession.

“Fatal Risk” by Roddy Boyd (Wiley). An engaging reconstruction of how American International Group Inc. committed “corporate suicide.”

Finance and the Good Society” by Robert J. Shiller (Princeton). The influential Yale University economist argues that finance, for all its manifest failings of late, remains a force for good in society. It’s wrong to assume, he says, that Goldman executives -- whatever their misbehavior may have been - - have an incentive to “attack and subjugate” people.

Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States” by George Soros (PublicAffairs). This is a compilation of op-ed articles that the billionaire investor wrote as the euro crisis boiled up. As a retread, it displays Soros’s knack for assessing market linkages and psychology on the fly.

“Getting It Wrong” by William A. Barnett (MIT). Poor monetary data were a root cause of the financial crisis, argues Barnett, a University of Kansas economist and former Federal Reserve Board staffer.

“Grand Pursuit” by Sylvia Nasar (Fourth Estate/Simon & Schuster). An absorbing narrative history of economists -- from Beatrice Webb to John Maynard Keynes -- who pursued the idea that mankind could control its destiny.

“Greece’s ‘Odious’ Debt” by Jason Manolopoulos (Anthem Press). A hedge-fund manager explains how his Greek compatriots gambled away their future -- and how German and French bankers egged them on. Who’s bailing out whom?

“The High-Beta Rich” by Robert Frank (Crown Business). The Wall Street Journal wealth reporter returns to “Richistan” only to find billionaires flailing in debt and repo men seizing their Gulfstreams.

“Idea Man” by Paul Allen (Portfolio/Penguin). This memoir by Microsoft’s co-founder offers a fascinating look at what it took to build the software behemoth.

“Love and Capital” by Mary Gabriel (Little, Brown). An exemplary biography of Karl and Jenny Marx and their children.

“Models.Behaving.Badly” by Emanuel Derman (Free Press/ Wiley-Blackwell). The former head of quantitative finance at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. explores why models failed during the mortgage meltdown and why modelers must use them more wisely.

“Oil’s Endless Bid” by Dan Dicker (Wiley). Petroleum prices have gone crazy, and a large share of the blame belongs to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other banks, argues this Nymex trader.

Paper Promises” by Philip Coggan (Allen Lane/ PublicAffairs). Our Ponzi scheme “is running out of suckers,” the Economist’s Buttonwood columnist argues in this look at how West’s debt crisis may overturn the global economic order.

“The Quest” by Daniel Yergin (Allen Lane/Penguin Press). The energy economist who brought us “The Prize” sets out to debunk peak oil theory.

“Reckless Endangerment” by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner (Times Books). A thoughtful contribution to the debate on whether Fannie Mae really was “ground zero” in the subprime-mortgage explosion, as some critics argue.

“Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster). A memorable biography of the brilliant and maddening man who revolutionized the way we work and play.

“Street Freak” by Jared Dillian (Touchstone). A former trader at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. describes his battle to survive and thrive in a business that drove him over the edge.

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. (Allen Lane/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The Princeton psychologist and Nobel laureate synthesizes decades of research in this absorbing journey through our “mental machinery.” At look at how we make choices about picking stocks, predicting the value of Bordeaux wines, and much more.

(James Pressley is a book critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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