David Charters’s top 10 books about bankers

From Tom Wolfe to JK Galbraith, the banker-turned-novelist gives the inside deal on the best investments you can make in financial reading

Traders in Barclays Tower, Canary Wharf

Traders in Barclays Tower, Canary Wharf.

David Charters is a former diplomat and investment banker, who left the City after 12 years of working on many large international flotations and privatisations. He has published six novels and is best known for his best-selling Dave Hart series of satires, set in the fictional world of “Grossbank”. Where Egos Dare is the fourth instalment, published on 14 September.

“What’s different about the City is the numbers. They all have a lot more zeros on the end. This means that when things go well – and sometimes when they don’t – the people who work there can demand bonuses which also have a lot of zeros on the end. And the people who determine the bonuses (the bosses) are happy to go along with it because it means that they, in turn, will have to be paid more. Granted, the work is stressful, difficult and demanding, and the hours can be very long, and of course it’s highly competitive. But so are a lot of other jobs. The difference is in those zeros. There’s also almost no job security, however big the firm.

“So with huge rewards on the one hand and sudden death on the other, it’s hardly surprising when the City brutally exposes the fault lines in human nature. Greed, fear, ruthlessness and impatience are a lethal cocktail. And of course people behaving badly make for great fiction and wonderful villains. They may not be attractive, but they are rarely dull. And, as we have all learnt to our cost, the City matters. When things go wrong in the Square Mile we all get to pick up the tab. So here are my top 10 picks to educate and entertain you about what really goes on there.”

1. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

For my money, the “Big Daddy” of financial fiction, a truly gripping tale of the slow, systematic tearing apart of the opulent facade that a New York investment banker calls his life.

2. Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

A superbly written, City perennial that shows you the inside workings of a high octane investment bank at the peak of its power, complete with rampant egos.

3. Free to Trade by Michael Ridpath

Financial fiction definitely does not need to be dull, and Ridpath is a master storyteller. Coincidentally, along the way it is surprising how much you pick up about how the City works (and sometimes doesn’t).

4. Black Cabs by John McLaren

When investment bankers travel in cabs, they assume the driver hears nothing, sees nothing, spots nothing – to their cost, in this tale of the little guys getting one over on the men in suits.

5. Freud in the City by David Freud

Bankers are human, or at least some of them can be. David Freud’s account of his City career is delightfully self-deprecating but at the same time illuminating.

6. The Great Crash, 1929, by JK Galbraith

The naked emperors waltzing down Wall Street and along Threadneedle Street might have been given shorter shrift if more of our politicians and regulators had read this book. The similarities to recent events will surprise and probably horrify you. Will we ever learn?

7. The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

A very readable account of the evolutionary history of money and financial systems, made accessible and interesting without being patronising. And yes, it really is a jungle out there.

8. Simple But Not Easy: An Autobiographical and Biased Book About Investing by Richard Oldfield

Oldfield is something of an anomaly in the City: an investment guru with a great track record, who is also a thoroughly decent bloke with his feet firmly on the ground and a lot of common sense – or at least that is how he comes across in this excellent Plain Man’s Guide to investing.

9. The Long and the Short Of It: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren’t in the Industry by John Kay

Does what it says on the cover, rather brilliantly, and wins my award for the book I’d most like to have written myself.

10. Free Lunch: Easily Digestible Economics by David Smith

If you only ever read one book about economics – for which I could easily forgive you – make it this one. Smith for Chancellor!


Full article and photo: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/nov/25/top-10-books-about-banking