What to read when Wall Street melts down

So you woke up this morning and found your 401(k) in a meltdown. Other than extricating your bicycle from the back of your garage, pumping its empty tires full of air, and carefully placing a humble brown-bag lunch in its basket, what can you do? You might start by reading a few books.

On the strictly practical side, you could take a look at the "25 best books about money" list compiled at www.getrichslowly.org. This list is just a bit dated (posted in the spring of 2007) but the information is still good, and you may find that titles like "How To Live Well Without Owning a Car" and "Miserly Moms" have an appeal today that they just didn't have 18 months ago.

On the other hand, if it's understanding you're seeking, you might like to pick up a couple of titles like "Wall Street: America's Dream Palace" by Steve Fraser and "The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash" by Charles R. Morris. Both books were reviewed by the New York Times earlier this year and with both it's basically a case of a good writer meeting important material – in other words, explaining to us how we got into this mess in the first place.

Or perhaps the commentary you've already been reading/hearing has got you curious about the whole culture of Wall Street and its relationship to that ugly word "greed." In that case, you can't do much better than the five books recommended by the Wall Street Journal last year. These include some classics like "Barbarians at the Gate" by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar, "Liar's Poker" by Michael Lewis, and "The Predator's Ball" by Connie Bruck – books that are as entertaining as they are informative.

In fact they're so entertaining you might find yourself opting to stay at home reading once in a while of an evening – an excellent way to launch that frugal new lifestyle.

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