Last Minute Holiday Gifts for the Financially Curious

If you are looking for interesting holiday books this season, check out some of these ideas. I have interviewed all of the authors on my show, “Better Off”, so if you aren’t tempted by the descriptions, listen to the podcast, which will leave you wanting more!

A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History by Diana Henriques. Ask some Wall Street veterans where they were on October 19, 1987 and they will regale you with some crazy stories. Black Monday was the single worst day in Wall Street history, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging by more than 22 percent in one session–that’s the equivalent of the blue chip index diving by more than 5,000 points today.

Henriques notes the crash was actually seven years in the making and she also demonstrates how it was the predicate to the financial crisis of 2008. Sadly, investors, regulators, and bankers failed to heed the lessons of 1987, even as the same patterns resurfaced.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. You don’t need to be a math nerd like me to enjoy this book. Data scientist Cathy O’Neil explains how algorithms (mathematical models) dictate much of our day-to-day lives and can increase inequality and even threaten democracy.

Big data influences everything from how teachers are graded, to the way policing strategies are developed, to the use of credit scores and even the pricing health insurance. But what happens when these models are out of whack? According to O’Neil, opaque, unregulated and uncontestable algorithms can disproportionately impact the already unlucky and struggling among us.

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy by Tim Harford. If you have ridden an elevator, Googled something, or used an index fund, you have interacted with one of the most important inventions of the modern economy, according to Financial Times “Undercover Economist” Tim Harford.

Harford’s book paints a picture of change by telling fascinating and compelling stories of the tools, people, and ideas that had far-reaching consequences for the global economy. From the plough to air-conditioning, from Gillette’s disposable razor to IKEA’s Billy Bookcase, each invention has its own curious, surprising, and memorable journey.

While you’re at it, check out Harford’s previous book, Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, which celebrates the benefits of messiness in our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it.  

Maker and Takers: How Wall Street Destroyed Main Street by Rana ForooharFinancial Timescolumnist Rana Foroohar explores how the misguided financial practices and philosophies that nearly toppled the global financial system have infiltrated many U.S. businesses. She argues that the “financialization of America,” the trend by which finance and its way of thinking have come to reign supreme, is perpetuating Wall Street’s influence over Main Street, widening the gap between rich and poor, and threatening the future of the American Dream. Foroohar makes her point with stories of both “Takers,” those stifling job creation, while lining their own pockets, and “Makers,” businesses serving the real economy.

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google by Scott Galloway. Professor and serial entrepreneur Galloway explores how four massive companies have come to infiltrate our lives so completely that they’re almost impossible to avoid. He asks some important questions about their ascendancy: Why does the stock market forgive these tech darlings for sins that would destroy other firms? As they race to become the world’s first trillion-dollar companies, are there any competitors that can challenge them? Who are the next firms that might join the elite club?