September 30, 2008
Department of Crisis Snark plus Doom Reading
Posted by Anna Gelpern

Here is the front page of the leading Canadian daily last weekend. The graphic is very impressive, and the headline, An Economic Crisis Descends into Farce, is more charitable than some other foreign headlines, notably in Asia. The same issue has Eric Helleiner’s Depression book recommendations.

Apropos reading lists, Adam Levitin recommends Maury Klein’s Rainbow’s End.

I tend to the dishy comparative. Here are my top three choices of the week. 

  • Paul Blustein’s The Chastening is the best telling of the last time U.S. Treasury personnel graced glossy covers. Chapter 3, which tells of the Thai central bank’s battle with the derivatives markets, is especially racy. Chapter 10 sheds light on crisis policy coordination, and Chapter 11 on LTCM puts the story well-told by Roger Lowenstein in global perspective. I have been assigning The Chastening to my International Finance class for the past few years; I think I will do it again this year despite the new cataclysm. The book’s advantage as a teaching tool is that it covers so many different aspects of the financial industry – banks, securities and currency markets, derivatives, hedge funds, etc. And it makes for great fixins to one tough textbook.
  • Gillian Tett’s Saving the Sun is about the demise of Long-Term Credit Bank, but it is really a window on Japan’s crisis of the 1990s. Like Blustein, Tett is a money journalist, which makes for lucid, savvy prose. She is also an anthropologist (biiig plus in my book). Lots of scary déjà vu moments for the current adventure – though Adam Posen’s warning against overwrought Japan comparisons should relieve you some.
  • Finally, it may be a sin to put a classic by one of the greatest economic historians ever in the same string as dishy journalism, but I hope Charles P. Kindleberger’s spirit takes it as a compliment. I find his writing in Manias, Panics, and Crashes:  A History of Financial Crises so utterly zany that I cannot resist. I will be sure to reprise this recommendation in a serious academic reading list as I atone next week.

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