Recently, I came across the Goldman Sachs reading list. Yes, that would be the list of books that Goldman Sachs, banking firm of our nightmares, recommends that you read. Now, “you” is probably a strong word here; most of these are technical texts (though several Michael Lewis titles appear under the disclaimer “The following popular works are, of course, exaggerated depictions of the darker side of the industry. However, they do provide some of the flavor of life on ‘The Street.'”), and this is probably meant for incoming employees. But I can’t see a list of books without wanting to make my own list of books, and so I will see this Goldman Sachs reading list and counter with my own. This shall be all-fiction (because they obviously need the diversity) and rather pointed, but is aimed at making all you bankers better people. Enjoy.
American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
You guys probably know this already, but this is how the rest of us see you: Wall Street denizen by day, insane serial killer by night. If it’s all in your head, it’s not really any better. If only Patrick Bateman had just quit his job and given himself a break. Food for thought.
Union Atlantic, Adam Haslett
This is in many ways the first great novel about the financial crisis—although perhaps not intentionally, as Haslett says he finished it the same week Lehmann Brothers went down. It follows an unpleasant and self-absorbed young banker in a land dispute with a fierce history teacher—during the hours he’s not engaged in rotten financial practices. The novel does give some insight into how the real-world crisis happened—one individual move after one individual move until something enormous has happened. Which doesn’t actually mean that anybody is (or should be) off the hook.
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
Not trying to get all preachy or anything, but Buddhism just might be the opposite of banking. This novel will give anyone insight into how satisfying giving up materialism can be (and how empty money can make you). If you don’t actually give up materialism, fine—it’s America, after all—but it’s something worth thinking about.
Cosmopolis, Don DeLillo
A day in the life (and in the car) of a young, egotistical, multi-billionaire asset manager. He goes out in his mega-fancy limo looking for a haircut and finds death, violence, sex, failure, and sure, ultimately a haircut and also his own possible unhinging.
The Sweetest Fig, Chris Van Allsburg
No excuses about being too busy to read the books on my list—this one’s a picture book. It tells the story of a mean dentist who tries to become the richest man on earth. I won’t give away the ending.
The Colour, Rose Tremain
A historical novel set during the mid-19th-century gold rush in New Zealand, in which a man becomes so obsessed with gold he abandons his wife and mother to join the scrabbling, panning masses. Ultimately, his wife follows him, and finds him, and also finds that the gold has changed everything, and also finds something of her own. All this to say: gold madness is no fun, you guys.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
Not precisely about money, but certainly about greed of a certain kind—and a reminder that no matter how much you try to hide your evil deeds away and put off payment for your sins, they’ll catch up to you one day.
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Okay, so this one doesn’t have anything to do with greed, or banking, or Wall Street. It’s just that it’s my feeling that certain investment bankers might do well to remember that there are a lot of different ways to experience America, and no one is inherently better than any other. Nothing shakes up your preconceptions than spending 600-odd pages with a voice wildly different from yours.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Well, obviously. The Great American Novel that tells us in no uncertain terms: money will not make you happy. It solves nothing. In fact, it will destroy you.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein