Five Business Paperbacks for the Dog Days


credit: Alex Guerrero

Summmertime is the right time for paperbacks—but many of the hottest financial-crisis volumes are staying in hardback for a while longer. For example, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s 600-page Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System – and Themselves won’t be out in paper until September. Is the would-be business-book reader condemned to tote around a hardback brick through the dog days?

No—there are still a good many quality paperback reads around, many of relatively recent vintage. Here is a list of some of the most interesting.

If it’s financial-meltdown analysis you want, one of the best volumes is financial writer William D. Cohan’s House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street (Vintage, $16.95). Cohan documents how Bear Stearns, once the Street’s preeminent bond shop, imploded and had to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase for a song. Although the firm had ridden the housing boom with arcane mortgage-backed securities, its executives were largely oblivious of their exposure to the toxic stuff, according to Cohan. “Bear earned billions setting the stage for the world to lose trillions,” in the words of Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Roben Farzad.

What could be more timely than a book about oil? For a highly readable narrative of Lone Star state gushers and the moguls they made, take a look at The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (Penguin, $16). Here are the tales of Roy Cullen, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson, and H.L. Hunt. Author Bryan Burrough offers particularly compelling accounts of Cullen, the fifth-grade dropout who became the richest man in the U.S., and Hunt, the onetime professional poker player who gained fame bankrolling right-wing political causes. All benefited from what the author calls “among the greatest periods of wealth creation in American history.”

Another fascinating business profile is The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising (Palgrave Macmillan, $18), by former ad man Kenneth Roman. The legendary figure behind Ogilvy & Mather drew many key life lessons from the odd jobs (sous-chef, door-to-door salesman) that he performed in his twenties. These contrasted sharply with his late-life baronial lifestyle. Ogilvy is best remembered for his ad coups for Hathaway shirts, Schweppes mixers, and many more.

Layoffs and the recession have many readers wondering if they should give up on the rat race. For philosophical musings on the world of work, along with a close-up look at occupations from tuna fishing to rocket science, there’s Alain De Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Vintage, $15.95) “When does a job feel meaningful?” he asks. “Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others.” The author finds both humor and grief in our labors.

Finally, for some historical perspective on the financial mess – and on current demands that we MUST BALANCE THE FEDERAL BUDGET! –consider the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by money manager Liaquat Ahamed (Penguin, $18). This is an account of how 1920s central bankers’ decisions played a part in ushering in the Great Depression. An inflexible attachment to the gold standard and to prevailing economic orthodoxy were key to the debacle, as was the inflationary financing of World War I. It’s an absorbing cautionary tale about how when the big crisis looms, out-of-the-box thinking is a must.

Are there other recently published business-book paperbacks that you think should be added to this list? Please let me know if you come up with other titles.

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