Books on money and banking: a classification

Let’s say you want to read a book about money and banking. What options do you have?

As it turns out, quite a few. Here’s my classification of the literature into six broad themes. The discussion is limited to books that deal with banking and the monetary system. I don’t cover the popular genre of personal finance books that tell the reader how to invest or how to minimize taxes. The books mentioned in this post are illustrations of categories. They should not be interpreted as endorsements.

 

1. Histories

Histories examine what happened during a certain period. These books almost always focus on times of financial crisis. Crises make for dramatic reading. Banks fail, prices are volatile (e.g. hyperinflation or crashing stock prices) while top bankers, regulators and politicians take far-reaching decisions on very short notice.

With the benefit of hindsight, the author describes what went wrong.

The general history equivalent of this genre are books about wars.

Some examples of financial histories:

Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed

The Downfall of Money: Germany’s Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class by Frederick Taylor

After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead by Alan Blinder

The System Worked: How the World Stopped Another Great Depression by Daniel Drezner

Slapped by the Invisible Hand: The Panic of 2007 by Gary Gorton

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein

 

2. Personal experiences

A second category of books on banking are recollections from insiders. Just like the histories above, these books tend to focus on crises. Nobody wants to read about a boring banker or bureaucrat who sits in an office all day while nothing interesting happens.

In their memoirs, regulators tell how they fought or saved the system. Bankers offer a glimpse into the organizational culture of their companies. Obviously, these books are biased in favor of the author.

Examples of financial books based on the personal experiences of the author:

The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and its Aftermath by Ben Bernanke

On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System by Hank Paulson

Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises by Timothy Geithner

Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself by Sheila Bair

Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America by Danielle DiMartino Booth

A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers by Lawrence McDonald and Patrick Robinson

Lucifer’s Banker: The Untold Story of How I Destroyed Swiss Bank Secrecy by Bradley Birkenfeld

Rogue Trader: The Original Story of the Banker Who Broke the System by Nick Leeson

 

3. Activist books

The authors of activist books want to change the financial system. After identifying problems with current practices, they propose new regulation for banks.

Examples of activist books include:

The Banker’s New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig

The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy by Mervyn King

The Curse of Cash by Kenneth Rogoff

Prosperity for All: How to Prevent Financial Crises by Roger Farmer

The Money Problem: Rethinking Financial Regulation by Morgan Ricks

 

4. Textbooks

Textbooks are aimed at university students. They introduce the reader to the basics of banking. Advanced textbooks for professional bankers focus on specific domains. (American) textbooks tend to be thick and expensive.

Examples of banking/monetary textbooks:

The Economics of Money, Banking and Financial Markets by Frederic Mishkin

Money, Banking and Financial Markets by Stephen Cecchetti and Kermit Schoenholtz

Money, Banking and the Financial System by R. Glenn Hubbard and Anthony Patrick O’Brien

Financial Institutions Management: A Risk Management Approach by Anthony Saunders and Marcia Millon Cornett

 

5. Books on financial technology

At the time of writing, nine out of the ten Amazon best sellers in ‘Money & Monetary Policy’ are about blockchain/bitcoin.1 2 That’s a pity, because bitcoin won’t replace banks. Non-blockchain evolutions in financial technology don’t get the attention they deserve.

Examples of blockchain books:

Cryptoassets: The Innovative Investor’s Guide to Bitcoin and Beyond by Chris Burniske

Mastering Bitcoin: Programming the Open Blockchain by Andreas Antonopoulos

The Internet of Money by Andreas Antonopoulos

Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper3

Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott

 

6. Works on the philosophical and social aspects of money

The final category groups books that look beyond the technical aspects of money and banking. Authors of such works explore the interaction of power, people, society and monetary systems. They ask questions about the deeper philosophical and moral nature of money.

Examples of ‘deep’ books on money and banking:

Money (The Art of Living) by Eric Lonergan

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber

The Social Life of Money by Nigel Dodd

Money Talks: Explaining How Money Really Works by Nina Bandelj, Frederick Wherry, Viviana Zelizer

The Nature of Money by Geoffrey Ingham

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So in what category should you situate my own book, Bankers are people, too? I would put it under the textbooks. However, I wrote the book for non-economists. It’s accessible for anyone who’s interested in how banks work. That includes students, journalists, investors, bankers, regulators and people working in fintech.

A reader praised Bankers are people, too for its clear didactical style. Read Bankers are people, too before you try the books listed above. I promise that it will save you a lot of time and confusion.

  1. I filtered out multiple versions of the same title, e.g. because the same book is listed as hardcover and audiobook.
  2. The one book in the top ten that’s not about cryptocurrencies is The Creature from Jekyll Island by G. Edward Griffin. It’s a conspiracy theory about the Federal Reserve.
  3. Maybe it’s more appropriate to put this book in category 1 (histories).

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