By Arnold Kling
Joe Nocera picks the best business narratives. I assume this means a book that describes an individual, a company, an event, or an era. I agree with him that Barbarians at the Gate (about the RJR-Nabisco takeover) and Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis writing about Wall Street mortgage-backed securities traders) are must-reads. They are well written, and they emphasize the role of ego on Wall Street in a way that reinforces my priors.
I would not include Roger Lowenstein’s book on When Genius Failed. In my view, he does not really get at where Long Term Capital Management, the star-studded hedge fund, went wrong.
The other books on his list I have not read. I am most intrigued by The Go-go Years and least likely to approve of The Smartest Guys in the Room (the latter, about Enron, I saw as a movie, and that had some really asinine perspectives, particularly in its conspiratorial take on market value accounting).
Books I would add:
‘Adam Smith’ (George Goodman), both The Money Game and Supermoney, about Wall Street in the late 60’s and early 70’s (in the latter book, the Penn Central railroad bankruptcy is not unlike recent financial events).
Michael S. Malone, Infinite Loop, about Apple Computer.
David Halberstam, The Fifties. Not strictly a business book, but his descriptions of the great mass-market phenomena of the period, from McDonalds’ to Holiday Inn to Levittown, are superb.
George Gilder, Microcosm. He caught very early the spirit of the personal computer revolution. This book influenced me a great deal, both in my career moves (a few years after reading it, I became an early Internet entrepreneur) and in my economic views (he leads you to think about the long-term evolution of the economy).