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Money books for holiday giving

By Barbara Whelehan ·
Friday, December 16, 2011
Posted: 3 pm ET

I'm looking forward to retirement because I'll be able to spend my time reading to my heart's content. My first love is fiction because of its power to transport readers to new realms. But nonfiction titles can expand horizons in a different way.

Free books are one of the few perks enjoyed by journalists, and recently some excellent nonfiction titles have landed on my desk. Though the books were sent by publishers or publicists looking for promotion, if I had received them as gifts from a loved one, I would have been grateful. You might consider them as potential holiday gifts for those on your list who want to understand the cause of recent financial events -- those provoking the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. Wall Street is a common theme among the titles, such as "Exile on Wall Street," authored by controversial bank analyst Mike Mayo. In fact, most of the titles here are written by industry insiders.

Released in the fall, "Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk" by Satyajit Das explores money and all its facets, using literary, historical and pop cultural references to illustrate themes of greed and avarice. Das' irreverent and sardonic wit permeates the book, making it an enjoyable read despite its dark tone. Das reveals the folly of pursuing money as an end in itself, likening it to following false gods and profits. With 30 years in the financial industry as a buy- and sell-side analyst and consultant, and author of several books including standard reference books on derivatives and risk management, Das is an authority on finance. You may have seen him in the 2010 documentary "Inside Job."

Less cynical but interesting in its own right, "Conversations with Wall Street" by Peter Ressler and Monika Mitchell also provides insider knowledge of what happened in 2008 by both victims and perpetrators of the financial crisis. As partners in a Wall Street headhunting firm that served investment bank clients Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, the authors saw the crisis unfold up close and personal. They seized the opportunity to talk to traders, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and senior level managers about what happened. Though they don't reveal names of their sources, they delve into their psyches in an attempt to reconnect meaning with Wall Street's role as the lubricant that oils the machinery of society.  Coming from a place of compassion, they search for the higher good that might avert a future crisis, a greater purpose than just the pursuit of profits.

Not all new Wall Street books focus on the crisis. The fourth edition of "What Works on Wall Street," by James O'Shaughnessy, is geared to investors looking for tried-and-true investment approaches that have worked well not over the past three, five or even 10 years, but rather those going back 85 years and longer. At 654 pages, this tome is one I will peruse well into 2012, but the writing is clear, the research is thorough and the arguments compelling even though they fly in the face of those established by the likes of Burton Malkiel and John Bogle. O'Shaughnessy is chairman and CEO of his eponymous investment management firm, and he previously worked at Bear Stearns as a portfolio manager and senior managing director.

And finally, my favorite is a short work of fiction befitting the festive holiday season. "Jacob T. Marley," by R. William Bennett, fills in some detail about a sketchy character introduced in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Marley, if you recall, appeared to Scrooge as a ghost in an attempt to turn around Scrooge's life. There's more to Marley's story, and Bennett shares the delightful tale of his life and relationship with Scrooge, and how Marley was given the chance to atone for his own avaricious misdeeds.

Money is not everything, we learn in these books, and our lives are enriched more by relationships. But it is a fascinating subject. Hope you enjoy a meaningful holiday season with people you love. Happy holidays and happy reading!


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