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Ask HN: Book recommendations for understanding financial systems?
527 points by mx24 on March 14, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 204 comments
With all the craziness this week in the stock market I've become interested in learning about how money works in our society. Fiat currency, the federal reserve, the stock market, etc. Any good book recommendations?

I have almost 10 years in the finance industry, both buyside and sellside and my take is that, while there are some fundamental principles at play, the world of finance is too messy and complicated for any one book to describe it. An even stronger statement I am willing to make is that no one person correctly and fully understands the financial system.

So, once you accept that there is no "correct" answer to how the financial system and how markets work, what's left to do is to follow what's happening in the world and try to build your own mental model.

One source I'm a big fan of (and has a bit of a cult following in the financial world) is Matt Levine's "Money Stuff" blog: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/authors/ARbTQlRLRjE/matthe...

He's engaging, funny, talks about interesting topics and, most importantly, he's _rarely_ wrong. It's a rare thing seeing a journalist talk about your specialty subject and actually being correct.

Similar source is Felix Salmon: https://www.felixsalmon.com/

Similar league as Levine, but I find him slightly less engaging, for whatever reason.

I work in fintech and I've been reading Matt Levine for a few months now after seeing his name pop up here on HN several times.

I agree with everything you say.

> He's engaging, funny, talks about interesting topics and, most importantly, he's _rarely_ wrong. It's a rare thing seeing a journalist talk about your specialty subject and actually being correct.

More importantly, on this point, when he is wrong, he freely acknowledges it, embraces it, and then corrects himself in a way that demonstrates he's more interested in truly understanding the topic and updating his cognitive model than in "being right".

Thursday's column is a case in point, where he owns up to two mistakes:


He's also the source of one of my favorite quotes on the last tech bubble. From his 8/7/2019 column, on MoviePass, borrowing from Dickens:

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure three hundred million pounds, result unicorn.

Agreed that Money Stuff generally technically accurate. The only gripe I have about it is that it has a bias in the direction of "everything is so messed up / comical". This is an irreducible bias as it's the job of the journalist to make a topic seem engaging and interesting.

However, if you take the theme of Levine's articles too literally/thematically, you'll think that finance is filled with quirky rules that produces comically inefficient outcomes most of the time. You'll think that there are easy system changes that any layperson can see that would make the system run much better. You might even think that finance is clear swamp ready to be drained -- this plays into the confirmation bias of readers who come in already with the thesis that "the system is totally broken".

In fact, against this theme, 90% of the time the story is incredibly dry and uninteresting because the system works exactly as intended. 90%+ of the time, stock A + B bundled is worth exactly the sum of it's parts. 90%+ of the time, the regulations do protect investors, are cheap to check off, and causes no weird behavior. 90%+ of IPOs are textbook win-wins and not Adam Neumann playing Softbank or a sell-side banker eating grandma.

To be constructive though, what's the solution? Start with skimming over the most classical textbooks (Mankiw or the recommended non-heterodox textbooks from the relevant classes by your local colleges). This is the classical theory of both how things are supposed to work, and how 90% the value generation actually occurs in 90% of the cases.

I agree that he gravitates towards quirky ends of the market - it's a big part of what makes it enjoyable to watch. To his credit, however, whenever he discusses a mechanism breaking, he usually starts by explaining how the machanism usually works. To wit, he did a good job explaining how the aluminum market works when discussing the GS market manipulation accusations and he explained how index inclusion works (and what an index provider's job and incentives are) when discussing the Snapchat IPO.

But yeah, for someone coming in with 0 knowledge, some more fundamental, drier texts may be more efficient in imparting knowledge.

I'm a daily reader of Matt Levine for probably four years now and I have to admit I've come to precisely the opposite conclusion about how he writes. He points out quirky situations that may appear superficially stupid, but in reality are somewhat justified given the way the system exists. And he does a superb job in pointing out the humor of these situations while still breaking them down to show why things are not as simple as they seem.

I've always gotten the impression that under the jokes and sarcasm, Matt Levine loves finance, though I agree that he focuses on the interesting in a way that might skew a layman's perception of the likelihood of various things happening.

He really does love it in an intellectual sense, which is an infectious passion that is hard to find in an industry where many are optimizing just for financial success.

As someone who accidentally got into finance as a software engineer, he more than anyone has made me really fall in love with the domain.

You can say the same about any field. Nobody understands all of physics. Or biology. Or finance. That shouldn't prevent us from giving them clear places to start and giving them overviews.

This is wrong. Just spend some time in finance, then spend some time in a field which is closer to a hard science and you'll realize it. As an example, most theories in physics are pretty darn good - ie you can use them to predict the outcome of something. Most theories in finance and economics are pretty darn bad - ie you can't use them to do anything useful.


There is a joke that goes like this: Economist is the one that will tell you tomorrow why their prediction was wrong yesterday!

As an outsider to economics, I feel like there's much more science in physics/biology, and too many factors in economics for people to make accurate prediction at the moment.

Biology is the ultimate horribly complex poorly understood set of systems.

"Money Stuff" is excellent. I also recommend the FT. Their Alphaville section is very good. One of my favorite classic Levine articles is "Regulators Want to Slow Runs on Derivatives."

Some other resources I came across via those and friends:

• "Other People's Money" by Kay

• "Zombie Banks"

• "The Money Problem"

• This NY Fed study of shadow banking: https://www.ft.com/content/1a222bf4-f33d-11df-a4fa-00144feab...

• "All the Devils are Here"

Echoing the sentiment on "Money Stuff" - this is one of the only email newsletters that I subscribe to and regularly read.

Money Stuff is great, and explains things quite well, generally, but I think for a beginner in the field it presupposes too much. It dwells on the amusing arcana, the esoteric warts of the system often, that you only appreciate once you have a certain base level understanding of the industry.

Lastly, it’s fairly focused on the investment banking side of things (derivatives, capital markets, IPOs, the finance industry), not so much on the monetary system, macro, and institutions.

On banking and banking regulation, making a case for higher capital (=equity) requirements for banks, The Bankers' New Clothes: What's Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig is a good read [1].

I can’t think of a good book on money and the various theories about - if someone has a recommendation there, would be great.

[1] see here for a flavour of it https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1r2dn0

I agree with you. I believe the university textbooks are no good either as they are too far away from the real market. DO you believe that financial history books or even just history books with financial materials might actually be better?

I once read the "Reminiscence Of A Stock Operator" and my edition happens to include large paragraphs of description of the market at that time, and they are really fascinating and I felt that I learnt a lot.

There’s a certain amount of baseline knowledge in university books that is very helpful such as MPT, DDM, DCF, bond prices vs yields, theoretical relationship between rates and equities, no arbitrage pricing theory, etc.

It really depends on the book. The main issue regarding historical books is that they can very easily become dated.

I've also read Reminiscence of a Stock Operator and I found that, while interesting, very little of that informs how the market works nowadays. It did shine a light on why TA is still a thing nowadays - a flavour of TA used to work historically and you can still see echoes of that today.

>while there are some fundamental principles at play, the world of finance is too messy and complicated for any one book to describe it. An even stronger statement I am willing to make is that no one person correctly and fully understands the financial system

All models are wrong, but some are useful.

> All models are wrong, but some are useful.

A slogan usually trotted out in defence of bad modelling.

Some models are useful. Some are dangerous. Do you have the means to tell the difference?

> An even stronger statement I am willing to make is that no one person correctly and fully understands the financial system.


> So, once you accept that there is no "correct" answer to how the financial system and how markets work,

And this.

If someone tells you simple truths that you think make intuitively sense, just run away.

Money/Finance is a damn slippery concept and when you dig into it, you find that everything turns out super abstract and answer to almost everything is "It depends."

But to the very original question, here are some quick/dirty pointers what to look for:

1. A Classic economics approach book. Money is unit of measure, store of value, and medium of exchange etc.

2. A discussion about how (modern) money actually is debt. In a very fundamental sense.

3. History of money/banking. How things got from barter (questionable, agreed) to metal money to gold standard to Bretton Woods to free floating fiat currencies. History of financial crises.

4. Some coprorate finance. Equity, debt, derivatives. Why/how banks are really weird corporations from the balance sheet point of view (massive leverage, that is). What is arbitrage, how you price options.

5. Practical finance, ie. interesting stories. E.g. Nick Leeson, Michael Lewis, Satyajit Das.

After all that you may start to have a hunch how little you actually understand so far, but then you start to have tools to build your own mental model.

What you really should not read is goldbugs and cryptofolks stories. They are just one massive Dunning-Kruger bunch and will waste your time.

For learning I strongly recommend against almost all books mentioned in this thread. They don't really teach how financial systems work in the society or the underlying principles. They give you just a viewpoint. Some of them are good read after you know the basics.

You need to pick up real college textbook (or online course) and read the parts that interest you and skim other parts. Example: Introduction to Finance: Markets, Investments, and Financial Management by Melicher and Norton

You can also pick up introductory undergraduate college textbook in economics and read the parts that interest you. Greg Mankiw's books are good but the price is off the charts, so maybe don't buy them. (Macroeconomics & Financial Systems could be cheap if bought used)

After that some light reading for general audience with interesting viewpoints and lessons:

- A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Malkiel

- Common Sense on Mutual Funds by John Bogle

- The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros (Sorosls theory of reflexivity in finance, nontechnical take on nonlinear dynamics in the markets)

I recommend against Mankiw, and to be honest, macroeconomics as a whole. But particularly undergrad macroeconomics.

Undergrad macro textbooks are more or less designed to teach you how to work a model, and how to prove theorems about a model. But when all is said and done, macro tends not to go the distance and demonstrate how the model relates to the real world. They also get important details wrong. Most of the west doesn’t work on a fractional reserve system anymore, and the main constraint for money creation is not the reserve ratio.

Honestly you’d be better off learning very basic accounting, then learning about bank balance sheets, then learning about basic financial plumbing like the repo market, money market funds, and the fed’s operations.

I like Bruce Tuckman’s book ‘fixed income securities’ for the latter. It’s very practical, without any of the theoretical nonsense you sometimes encounter in advanced texts.

I agree but painting the whole of macro with the same brush as undergrad is a mistake.

Yes, undergrad textbooks are tedious and the content varies between the misleading and wrong (and I definitely agree about learning accounting and how the plumbing works).

But it is also true that past the level of undergrad, it does get more useful. There is still a lot of dubious stuff going on, and you have zealots engaging in the holy war over which useless model is least useless. But there is also some pretty good research that helps you understand the economy.

> But there is also some pretty good research that helps you understand the economy.

I'd love to see some. I looked quite hard into two topics, gravity models of trade and the Philips curve, and I never found much I thought was convincing.

I think the culture of academic macro doesn't appreciate just how hard it is to thoroughly test a model. It's not as simple as writing down some dynamics, estimating via maximum likelihood, and drawing conclusions based on the parameters that pop out.

...yep, I mean the gravity model of trade is just a regression. It is very unlike pretty much everything else in macro because its validity is statistical rather than theoretical (and more models that are justified by theory often perform worse...although this is kind of complex).

The Philips curve changes over time. It is, however, quite easily testable so it either applies or doesn't. If you are looking for some hard rule that applies every time then you should take an interest in something else (indeed, this was my initial point...the issue is that economists believe that the economy are a set of equations to be solved...in reality, the nature of the economy is changing constantly).

I don't think that is the case. Economists are confronted with the difficulty of tests everywhere (the issue is that they often don't handle this well), it is why econometrics is distinct from statistics. As an example, interest rates and growth are positively correlated (i.e. higher rates appear to cause higher growth)...we know this isn't the "true" relationship (interest rates are a function of expected growth) but there has been a ton of work done to separate these effects (this isn't only in macro, controlling for confounders/ommitted variables is really what econometrics is about). Econometrics is really the best part of economics.

> interest rates are a function of expected growth

Again, you're saying that as if it's a matter of fact. When I looked into the relationship between growth and interest rates, I found baffling discussions of demand for money as it relates to a financial system completely unlike the one we use today.

I just find it impossible to separate the nonsense from the useful insight. At some point I just gave up.

It is a matter of fact because interest rates are determined by the Fed...who say: we look at expected growth. Don't make things more difficult than they need to be (you can also see this quantitatively).

Short rates are determined by the Fed. And they target inflation, not growth. The Fed has relatively little control of the yield curve at long maturities.

I think macroeconomics helps learn about what’s going on in general, but it’s important to keep in mind it’s dealing with very complicated systems and largely not directed to fully explain three systems involved. It’s too far to discount the whole discipline and too open for political spinning.

Galbraith’s book on 1929 is still considered a great account of what went wrong in 1929. It surely has lessons to be learned today.

The way the news cycle runs though we no longer need to hem and haw over whether policies that benefit business over individuals do better or more for the economy. Yesterday (March 13 2020) the Fed dumped 1.5 trillion in easy funding into the stock and financial market. The SP 500 saw historic increases for one day of trading. And people are still facing the trade off between going to work sick or failing to be able to pay rent. The 1.5T sent to the financial sector had no impact and is expected to not have any impact to help the individual households living paycheck to paycheck.

Edit-the hospitality industry has companies laying off employees because of diminished business. This is after the 1.5T from the fed. Probably at least one of those companies will benefit from the fed decision and buy back stocks to increase their valuations. Won’t do a lick of good for any of the former employees out of work and pay.

I think Mankiw covers pretty well how banking system works in real life. Open market operations etc.

I'm referring to the book: 'N. Gregory Mankiw, Laurence Ball - Macroeconomics and the Financial System-Worth Publishers (2010)

How is Tyler Cowen's textbook? I figured that'd be better.

Jesus fuck I’d stay away from anything that man writes. Honestly my advice is not to bother with academic macro at all. Or if you must, read it like a scientist. Demand evidence for every statement. Ask how one would actually measure whatever quantity is in question (e.g. a supply curve, when most of the time only price is observable).

There are a few financial journos that I have time for though. Matt Levine is good, though he has a particular domain of expertise and tends not to stray from it. Michael Pettis is good on all things China. But as others in the thread have also noted, the industry is so full of bullshit that it’s hard to separate the good from the bad.

I’d keep in mind that both Mankiw and Cowen are on the right, politically. Cowen in particular, Neo-Classical/libertarian, while Mankiw is often considered Neo-Keynesian, but still conservative. So, balance this with Paul Krugman, Larry Summers, Robert Reich, or so.

The south Asian/international editions of Mankiw are cheap enough if you can find them.

I studied economics in college, then I worked for a few years as a business journalist before I finally switched careers to IT systems engineering. The following is a list of my favorite books on financial securities, banking and investment theory. These books are generally comprehensible to anyone with an interest in the subject, regardless of their educational background.

Arrighi, Giovanni (1994) The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times

Brealey, Myers, Allen (2011) Principles of Corporate Finance, 10th ed.

Bruck, Connie (1988) Predators' Ball: Inside Story of Drexel Burnham and Rise of Junk Bond Raiders

Fisher, Philip (2003) Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings, 2nd ed.

Fridson, Martin and Fernando Alvarez (2002) Financial Statement Analysis, 3rd ed.

Graham, Benjamin, J. Zweig, D. Dodd (2006/08) Intelligent Investor, rev ed; Security Analysis, 6th ed.

Greenblatt, Joel (1999) You Can Be a Stock Market Genius

Greenwald, Kahn, Sonkin, Biema (2001) Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond

Henwood, Doug (1997) Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom

Levitt, Arthur (2003) Take on the Street: How to Fight for Your Financial Future

Lewis, Michael (2010/1989) Big Short; Liar's Poker

Lynch, Peter and John Rothchild (2000) One Up on Wall Street, 2nd ed.

Mishkin, Frederic (2004) Economics of Money, Banking and Financial Markets, 7th ed.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2005/10) Fooled by Randomness, 2nd ed.; Black Swan: Impact of the Highly Improbable, 2nd ed.

Vilar, Pierre (1976) A History of Gold and Money: 1450-1920

Tracy, John A. (2009) How to Read a Financial Report: Wringing Vital Signs out of the Numbers, 7th ed.

Good list.

This is an online course, not a book, but it changed my understanding of finance. I studied Economics (initially) at university, and never found anything close to as useful as this class:


Videos of one year's lectures are available on youtube, with links at here: https://www.ineteconomics.org/education/courses/the-economic...

I'm halfway through, and I'm really impressed not only by the prof's preparation but methods. Very clear.

Started this course based on your recommendation, and agree that it's very good. A lot of mysterious stuff (repo, LIBOR, fractional reserve banking) is making a lot more sense to me now.

Completely agree, most texts concentrate on teaching outdated fractional reserve based monetary systems. Fractional reserves are no longer the major constraint on an expanding/contracting money supply. This course builds up an understanding of the push/pull factors of modern finance and banking.

Great course. It deals with the actual financial plumbing and how it has evolved from simple beginnings to the current complexity.

Somewhat meta comment, when I read all the conflicting recommendations here (seriously, for almost all recommendations there’s an anti-recommendation somewhere in this thread), it makes me question the value to me in really trying to understand the financial system.

I mean, I’m not completely financially illiterate. I understand compound interest. I stick with sinking most of my money into passive investing, saving x months of expenses in checking for surprises, and not accumulating any debt.

Every now and then I think about getting back into value investing (it was fun in high school) which is a little more active, but the effort required to understand this system seems enormous/impossible. There are simplified expositions of how to read a balance sheet, but then I run into weird edge cases of financial trickery that I’d never be aware of. So I figure I can’t compete with pros and passive investing seems like a reasonable enough approximation in the long run.

When I compare it to all of the other stuff I could learn or skills I could acquire in the same time, so far “learning about the financial system” is so messy and uncertain to me that I never really pursue it.

Has anybody run into this issue? What did you decide?

Yeah, I would make a distinction between learning about the financial system for investment purposes- which as a non-professional in that space I think is pointless- vs learning about to understand what's happening in the world.

Whatever domain you're in, whatever interests you have- having something of a model of the financial machinery that basically underlies all human activity, both in the small and in the large, I would argue is super valuable.

The space is ENORMOUS and incredibly complex and so one has to have a plan and some kind of motivation for carving a path through it, to be sure.

Hard to engage with more specifics without more context, happy to continue the conversation.

> Whatever domain you're in, whatever interests you have- having something of a model of the financial machinery that basically underlies all human activity, both in the small and in the large, I would argue is super valuable.

What’s strange is I’m generally in favor of “staying informed”. But I typically skip most financial news. For example, looking at last week’s issue of The Economist, there are several articles in the finance section. I summarized these below, but my reaction to most is “yup, sounds like the logic I saw in my first-year econ class”.

Maybe my issue is that I rarely feel like I learn anything from these articles; they mostly read as applications of basic theory that might work. In this case, my read on finance is there’s a set of basic principles that explain most of the decisions made and then just beyond that lies an enormous set of more complex but also controversial material.

In contrast, I think of other areas as having a lot of “basic information” that I don’t know, with the controversial bits much further out. So if I’m trying to accumulate useful and relatively uncontroversial info, finance is not the best place.

(Those summaries:

1. interest rate cuts may not suffice to avert recession, governments may add in spending, tax cuts, and credit to banks to increase liquidity

2. fear has led to price increases for safe haven assets like gold, bonds, and stable currencies and drops for economic activity trackers like oil and copper; share price changes have varied depending on debt levels and how different companies are expected to react to societal slowdowns

3. might be a good idea to pivot between stocks and bonds as market rises or falls; downturns can be opportunities if your horizon is long enough

4. if the economy slows, how should banks deal with reduced payment abilities, especially when they may be legally required to not have too many bad-looking liabilities?

5. something about corporate bond trading [this one was most confusing]

6. some special bonds offer yields to investors with the catch that if some defined disaster strikes the investors will not get money back; these bonds have not yet been useful to covid because of stringent conditions on duration and impact of the disaster before payout, and complications of prevention (countries who respond well may get paid less)

7. covid has particularly hurt commodities markets, and by extension economies that rely on commodities (like Saudi Arabia))

Hear you- it sounds like you have a sufficiently rich mental model that the reports "make sense"- some semantics/meaning are conveyed. They might even "sound obvious"- why is X even news? Etc.

That's a tough place to be- on the usual models of learning curves for a practitioner that's right at the edge of transitioning out of beginner. A lot of people who are "book smart" are here.

In order to learn more, to actually get out of beginner stage, brains need to practice. They need to DO. You would need to find a problem to work on that causes you to produce not just consume.

Does that make sense? Hope that's helpful and not offensive, all comments intended to be positive/growth mindset/supportive.

That makes sense. It’s challenging to think of a “problem to work on”. If it was programming or math, I’d find a project to try out whatever technique I’d picked up. There doesn’t seem to be a ready analogue for that here.

> So I figure I can’t compete with pros and passive investing seems like a reasonable enough approximation in the long run.

It sounds like you’re conflating making good investment decisions with understanding the financial system. For me, understanding the financial system means understanding how banks, insurance companies, and pension funds work, how they interact with government (e.g. the central bank), and also knowing a bit about financial plumbing.

That’s not necessary or sufficient for making good investments!

You'll find that even in the hard sciences, which are more objective many times over than the social sciences. Any complex field is going to generate controversy. That doesn't mean it isn't worth learning about.

That said, you should know why you're studying finance if you're going to spend the time on it. For me intellectual curiosity is a good enough motivator. It also helps me evaluate claims made by, for example, public officials. But I think it is reasonable to question whether it will significantly improve your personal financial situation.

First, arm yourself with the tools to figure out whether what you're reading is bullshit or not (unfortunately a huge issue in the finance space). Read about The Organon by Aristotle, particularly his work around logical fallacies.

Then, for a brief overview of the history of money, currency, and markets read the first part of William Bernstein's The Four Pillars of Investing (provides some good historical context).

To understand financial market movements in the short term (like what is happening now), read about crowd psychology, behavioral biases (Kahneman), and black swans (Taleb).

To understand financial markets over the long term, read anything written by Buffet (his annual reports) or Munger, or their intellectual precursor, Graham and Dodd.

To understand the theories and thinking underpinning money and central banking, read about Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Keynes, and Hayek.

Start with a bias toward history and older works, and move towards newer works to understand how the current zeitgeist got here and be able to think more critically about the ideas that are currently en vogue.

Also, I agree with the comment that recommends avoiding books by journalists. These are typically compelling narratives in search of supporting facts and theories (the wrong way to approach thinking). You should start your learning from the opposite position. Learn the theories and facts first, then think critically about any good-sounding narratives you see repeated in the wild.

From someone working in the hedge fund world, “Big Debt Crises” by Ray Dalio is the most useful book I have read on the topic.

The language is quite accessible and it describes how various kinds of business cycles have played out through history. The highlight for me is an elaborate, punch-by-punch retelling of how the 3 major financial crises played out (1930s Germany, Great Depression and 2008). Rather than looking backward with the benefit of hindsight as most textbooks do, this gives you a real impression of how the events played out in real-time. There are even newspaper headline clippings in the margins from every week or so, just to show how the popular narrative was evolving as it happened.

Yeah I always find reading financial history materials, if they are authentic, really helps understanding a lot about the current situation. Guess our generation might have the privilege to go through a financial crisis and a depression. Hopefully not.

This is the best online course I've ever taken:


The professor explain the financial system very well using fairly recent and historic events.

Get some conflicting ideas. Two great, short books are The Mystery of Banking by Rothbard (available for free here: https://mises.org/library/mystery-banking) and Economics in One Lesson by Hazlitt (free here: https://fee.org/resources/economics-in-one-lesson/). They both conflict quite substantially with the mainstream and might open up a whole new line of inquiry for you.

If you're going to read Hazlitt, do us the favor of reading John Quiggin's recent followup "Economics in Two Lessons":


"Since 1946, Henry Hazlitt’s bestselling Economics in One Lesson has popularized the belief that economics can be boiled down to one simple lesson: market prices represent the true cost of everything. But one-lesson economics tells only half the story. It can explain why markets often work so well, but it can’t explain why they often fail so badly—or what we should do when they stumble. As Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped, “When someone preaches ‘Economics in one lesson,’ I advise: Go back for the second lesson.” In Economics in Two Lessons, John Quiggin teaches both lessons, offering a masterful introduction to the key ideas behind the successes—and failures—of free markets."

To add to this, Understanding Money Mechanics (https://mises.org/library/understanding-money-mechanics-0) is a fantastic “comprehensive overview of the theory, history, and practice of money and banking, with a focus on the United States.”

I highly recommend it, especially because it was written recently so it provides understanding behind contemporary banking procedures, practices, and econometrics.

And keep in mind that both of these are Austrian/libertarian takes on things - with important insights, no doubt, but then balance it with some more conventional and maybe even some left accounts.

For a slightly different take, Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. I would read some of the more direct recommendations here and then read Taleb to remind you that not everything is predictable or easily explainable.

The entire Incerto book series by Taleb (which includes Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan) are awesome and they are talking about big catastrophic events like the current one. This pandemic is a classic Black Swan event: it's a surprise, it has a major impact and lots of experts will try to say that it was easily foreseeable in hindsight.

This isn't black swan. Taleb is really condescending when he try to make his point.

He really tweet fight over other statisticians about the concept of black swan when it's in the statistic. I can understand if he wants more emphasis on it but he makes it as if statistic does not take this into account.

Black swan is something that is never seen. Seeing how there were many similar viruses coming out of China and one in the middle east already means this is not a unseen or will blind side.

It's not a black swan, a pandemic was long on the horizon (think SATS, MERS, Ebola, ...).

Just to add: I found taleb pretty opionated and had trouble distinguishing his own opinions from facts/theories.. I'd not recommend his books.

> It's not a black swan, a pandemic was long on the horizon (think SATS, MERS, Ebola, ...).

I agree with this statement

> Just to add: I found taleb pretty opionated and had trouble distinguishing his own opinions from facts/theories.. I'd not recommend his books.

Everyone has an opinion… but very few will step through the mathematical models (and where/how they break down) behind how they are gauging/backtesting the risk of ones assumptions (and go about figuring out how to adopt it to your own circumstances), like taleb does.

Agreed on both counts.

Experts had been warning about this. See for example Bryan Walsh’s article in TIME in 2017, very explicitly titled The World Is Not Ready for the Next Pandemic [1]. That’s not really a black swan. It was just a question of when. Note also that some countries (eg Singapore, Taiwan) are reasonably well prepared.

Next, Taleb is smart, but overrated (most of all by himself). His books can be summarised in a few paragraphs. IIRC, someone said to Murray Gell-Mann once that “nobody is as smart as you think you are” - that applies to Taleb.

[1] https://time.com/magazine/us/4766607/may-15th-2017-vol-189-n...

"a surprise for the turkey is not a surprise from the butcher."

Whether it's a black swan event depends on the perspective you're taking.

Disagree on Taleb. He has been a major influence in how I see the world. Here are a few things he brings up often

- Value of grandmother's wisdom

- lindy effect - Most new tech will replace the tech that came before it and rarely centuries-old tech.

- Being skeptical of what we read in newspapers

- Recognize that domain experts could be idiots in other domains

I think it is. Not because there were other potential Pandemics but because of the timing of the Virus. Its comes at a time when social media is in widespread use which means misinformation spreads rapidly which also leads to panic. Generally, social media amplifies everything good and bad. A combination of these factors makes it a Black Swan event.

Instead of the expected pandemic when people were not going to use social media because...?

I strongly recommend reading the (relatively few) one-star reviews of his books on Amazon. Very entertaining stuff, with more substance than his books...

Surprised no one has mentioned "Trading and Exchanges: Market Microstructure for Practitioners".

Lots of people recommending Ernie Chan - and he is very big in the space but he uses 100 words when 10 will do its a hard time slogging through it.

De Prado is incredibly technical , if there was a De Prado cliff notes Id say read that.

And don't forget if you are coding this stuff up, lots of people have but those books into re-usable code on github.

Harris’ Trading and Exchanges is about types of traders and market microstructure - it has very little to do with what OP asked for (“… how money works in our society. Fiat currency, the federal reserve, the stock market, etc.“)

i embarrassingly didn’t read the body, and I am also ignorant of those things i’ll be reading this thread again , thank you.

Part one of this book really helped with my understanding of monetary policy, very clear examples of how the price of money is expressed through Exchange Rates, Interest Rates, and Aggregate Price Levels and the interplay between these measures: https://www.amazon.com/Concise-Guide-Macroeconomics-Managers...

Here is a PDF of a diagram I made to help organize my understanding of this content: https://www.lucidchart.com/publicSegments/view/e1d12ae5-a8a0...

Ascent of Money - Niall Ferguson will start you from the very beginning, and does cover all the subjects you mentioned.

Random walk down wall street is good, but the angle is more “so you want to get into investing?” It won’t go into too much detail of underlying systems like fiat currency.

Huge, huge topic. You will have to pick a path through the enormous jungle.

The starting point I would recommend is bottom up, through accounting and financial statements. Core knowledge, of both practical and intellectual value. Tons of books here, I particularly like

Thomas Ittelson - Financial Statements

Accessible, straightforward, friendly.

After that, any of the collections of

Warren Buffett's Letters to Shareholders

are both entertaining and intellectually valuable, and provide great insight. Read forward, eg, from his first letters in the 1960s, to now.

One of the realizations in the journey is that there are, and have been, a lot of different kinds of money- credit money and exchange money and asset money and so forth. A relatively abstract/intellectual but immensely useful survey is

The Nature of Money - Geoffrey Ingham

The concept of an asset is critical to the functioning of the financial system. New kinds of assets are created all the time. One of the best written books I have read recently goes into venture capital and debt asset creation:

The Code Of Capital - Katharina Pistor

The role of different kinds of money in history, especially US history, is absolutely fascinating. I am in the middle of

American Bonds - Sarah Quinn

and can recommend.

I do not especially recommend the Dalio books or Graeber's Debt or Ferguson's books. They are fine but I did not find them helping me build understanding. Not quite junk food, but definitely not protein.

I unfortunately have not found any of the books I have seen about the Federal Reserve to be worthy of recommending. My wife works there and so I have perhaps a unique perspective. But nothing conveys the challenge and the mechanics of what they do. Still looking. The papers the various Fed banks publish, as well as the papers published by the Bank of England, are uniformly outstanding.

Finally, some of the bitcoin people have written about money. Tho I am a believer in bitcoin I absolutely recommend against most of them, especially Saifedean Ammous's book. Do not read.

Good luck!

If Graeber's Debt didn't help you build understanding, then I'd respectfully suggest that you weren't trying to build a deep enough understanding.

Debt (the book) is not about our contemporary system (much) - it's an incredible work about the most basic elements of "financial systems" and how debt has shaped our cultures, economies and political systems over thousands of years.

Put differently, perhaps, it's a book about things the lie beneath what is covered in all the books you've mentioned.

Agree completely that it is an important work and enlightening- in terms of perspective. The socio/anthropological history of Debt is a very useful lens for the modern world.

That said, in terms of understanding- with all respect, I find it insufficient (MHO). Perspective, as Alan Kay says, is worth a lot of IQ points, but on its own is insufficient. The modern financial world is full of machines (both software and people processes). Much of what happens is a result of mechanical inertia. The universe of sensible changes from a policy perspective is limited by the ergonomics and sympathies of the existing machines.

It has been a long time since I last read Debt but I remember feeling frustrated by an absence of coverage of the machines. My perception of his advocacy in recent years has been that he has been less effective than he might have been had he stronger command of the machines, and not just the policy.

One of my recs- Sarah Quinn- while like Graeber is also deep in the world of the sociology of money, is stronger technically. Her PhD thesis is an extremely helpful dive into the mortgage securitization world- the largest debt market in the world other than Treasuries- and my rec (American Bonds) so far is a popularization of that work.

I completely forgot, another excellent book on important machines that shape the modern financial world is

Payment Systems in the US - Carol Coye Benson

Debt makes some particularly interesting observations about currency before fractional reserve banking, which I imagine most other books treat as a starting point. The hypothesized relationships between minting precious metals, war, slavery, and mining were thought-provoking.

Ascent of Money - Niall Ferguson

The Long and Short of It - John Kay

A great place to look is the second hand study books for professional qualifications like the CFA, Chartered Banker and so on

Ascent of Money is indispensable as a foundation for the whys and hows of banking from it's origins and first principles. It's a history book.

Anything technical (mathematical finance) is really not going to provide a foundation without the historical why of the instruments creation and use. One you have that, the most efficient way to understand it after would be with Quantlib (https://www.quantlib.org/docs.shtml)

There is a lot of middle brow commentary (krugman, piketty, reinhard/rogoff, dalio, taleb, etc) that will be entertaining and philosophical, but only that. The guts of economics (Keynes, Galbraith, Mises/Hayek) are very dense, and provide a very narrow, depth first plunge into something you won't be able to apply well without a more complete education.

Functional grasp of (re)insurance, securitization, liquidity, and the bond/debt markets is the best royal road, I"d say.

I disagree that Taleb is "middle-brow", check out his new technical incerto book, from what I've heard its rather rigorous.

If you are looking for a shorter read, I would recommend "The money creation paradox" paper published by ING: https://think.ing.com/uploads/reports/Money_paradox2.pdf

I find fascinating that, despite the simplicity of the question, not every economist agrees on how this happens.

The vast majority of money is created by commercial banks. They are, largely, free to do so to whatever degree they deem fit, and the central bank adjusts reserves to match. Almost all money is debt, created by extending loans in this fashion. The textbooks are for the most part wrong. The money multiplier / fractional reserve banking / etc. information is completely wrong.

Don't believe me? Believe the Bank of England: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/quarterly-...

Ray Dalio - How the Economy Works https://youtu.be/PHe0bXAIuk0

If you’re interested in fiat currency and the fed, I highly recommend the book Lords of Finance. The author does a really good job of showing just what central banks do and how their responses to economic events shape outcomes. The book entirely focuses on the Great Depression and the central banks of the USA/Europe but it’s really well written and really helped me appreciate what the fed does.

> Lords of Finance

Oh, yes, great book! And good read.

Two things stuck in my mind:

A) How slow things were back then. The British finance minister (“Chancellor and Under-Treasurer of Her Majesty's Exchequer”) would get on a steam ship, incognito, for a month or so to visit his counterpart in the US, then skipper back, and months later respond to the crisis.

B) How few people saw things coming. People thought the skirmishes that ended up precipitating WW I would soon be over, Irvin Fisher confidently declaimed just before the 1929 stock market crash that “stock prices have reached what appears to be a permanently high plateau”, people didn’t pay much attention to this obscure Adolf Hitler guy.

Every time, by the time the true dimensions became obvious, it was too late to do something (flee, sell, ...).

With respect to the current “15 cases going down to zero, we are doing great, we have it under control” flu, draw your own conclusions.

Edit: typos

Those stuck with me but so did the points the author made about gold. There was a depression. Central banks sticking to the gold standard is part of what made it the Great Depression.

Yes, absolutely. A return to the gold standard would be disastrous for our modern economies, in particular in times of exogenous shocks like now. The solution to bad central banks is not gold, but good central banks.

While I haven't read the book, the corresponding multi-part documentary "The Ascent of Money" is a really good introduction to what money is and how it evolved over the past centuries. It's also free on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAbVltqySrA

This video by Ray Dalio, "How the Economic Machine Works in 30 Minutes" is an excellent primer on understanding the financial system as a whole: https://youtu.be/PHe0bXAIuk0

I really enjoyed the graphic novel "Economix: How our economy works (and doesn't work)" by Goodwin & Burr.

I found it informative, clear, concise, and funny at times, all uncommon for educational economic text in my experience.

I started "Big Debt Crises" by Ray Dalio a while ago and so far it's proving to be a very good introduction on what you're looking for.

1.- First, understand that if we are playing head or tails, me having $10 and you having $1,000,000 , who will end up getting the other's money?

2.- Most independents money managers I know, love this book;

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds - by Charles Mackay http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24518

You can't go wrong with 'The Big Short'. I saw the film a few times before I ever bought the book, and it's still enlightening.

Michael Lewis has a habit of... let’s say focusing on convenient facts to emphasize a narrative that doesn’t usually match reality. His books are entertaining (I think I’ve read them all), but they are actually a pretty bad way to learn about how the markets work.

The big short is a great book, but not sure it’s a good primer on how the financial system works for someone learning.

I would say that The Big Short is more impactful if you already have some general understanding of the markets.

Random Walk and Black Swan are two good reads. Even if you end up not agreeing with the two's takes, they'll make you sufficiently skeptical of how well a book claims to explain the industry, which is a good position to approach it from.

My bias will show, but the industry routinely blows itself on sometimes small or sometimes very large scales, sometimes or often through devices of its own creation. It's important to know that the system is entirely capable of doing this to itself, and therefore the system, and those in it, may not be able to explain itself well.

Edit: another thing worth reading is Too Big to Fail, The Big Short, and Greatest Trade Ever. All are engaging books, and really walk through how 2008 started and ended through different perspectives of the system. TBtF will cover the Fed and Tier 1. BS/GTE cover the sell side. And then when you pair GTE with what happened to it's focus, John Paulson, after 2008, in that he didn't really have a repeat 'win,' it's a good anecdote for what I said above.

This is a good start, "Money as debt". Saw it in university and since then you will never take financial markets seriously. And all the "stimulus" we see is just pushing the can forward. You will start to see through a lot of lies.


Actually - any college level book. There are tons, they're cheap on ebay, look for pearson or mcgraw hill. If you're creative, you can probably find a epub/pdf.

But even the DK Eye Witness have a good idea - how business works, how money works.

Financial system, economics, monetary policy become very simple with pictures, and even easier on an spreadsheet. Even more so is how many people don't know how much the government does in collecting statistics to analyze and examine the health of the economy - The BLS https://www.bls.gov/ is a great resource and once you have a basic understanding (or know healthy or "safe" numbers) you can explore other country economic numbers and see if they make sense (or not!) e.g. https://psa.gov.ph/ for Philippine Statistics.

Contemporary Financial Management is great -

Accounting Princicpals are also great (can you read a PL sheet? Do you know GAAP? How about Compliance regulations?)

Just "money" is one piece of the puzzle - money is a tool and that tool has been transformed into different pieces that fit what we do finance in life -

A basic book would be rich dad, poor dad - it's quite cliche but it's a good introduction to "wealth" and assets vs liability == net worth.


tl;dr I ranted, I can go on - the DK Eyewitness books are a good starting point and then you can dig deep - but mostly it really runs quite simple for most things and then gatekeeped by interesting vocabulary.

How Money Works: The Facts Visually Explained (How Things Work) Hardcover – March 14, 2017 by DK (Author) . How Business Works: A Graphic Guide to Business Success Hardcover – 2015 by Dk (Author)

The Economics Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained Paperback – February 6, 2018

The Business Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained Paperback – November 20, 2018

How Business Works: The Facts Visually Explained (How Things Work) Hardcover – April 14, 2015

DK Eyewitness Books: Money: Discover the Fascinating Story of Money from Silver Ingots to Smart Cards Paperback – June 14, 2016

I will offer that 'Where does money come from' By Josh Ryan-Collins, Tony Greenham, Richard Werner, Andrew Jackson. Its a fantastic short book on how money actually works in this system.

The follow up to this is Richard Werners study on central banking.

A lost century in economics: Three theories of banking and the conclusive evidence


This is one of the first empirical tests of theories of central banking and how money flows.

Anything by Richard Werner I think is lucid. He has lots of youtube videos that goes into the details in the book and this study.

How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio


I don't agree entirely but good signal-to-noise ratio on this content

That's not bad intro, but it's very rudimentary. It has necessary errors of omission. It really don't teach teach how economy works

Btw. his site https://www.economicprinciples.org/ has good reading if you scroll down below the video.

"Ray Dalio says 'cash is trash' and advises investors hold a global, diversified portfolio" - Jan 21 2020

Had you have listened to him, you would have just been taken out back, shot, and put in one of wuhans finest crematoriums… better off reading "Statistical Consequences of Fat Tails"[0]

[0] https://arxiv.org/abs/2001.10488

His advise is still sound if you are an investor and not speculator.

The part of your investment that is in stock should be determined your investment horizon. If you don't need to sell your stock in next 15 years, don't hold cash.

Yeah, would have played out very well for those top ticking n225 in 1989, esp with every global CB's trying to follow in the footsteps of the BOJ, while everyone is crowding into "diversification" and searching for yield…

I consider investors to be the same as speculators, just speculators who think their beliefs will remain valid over long time frames… cause that's the gamble.

investor who does

- dollar cost averaging,

- diversification, small cost investing,

- has sufficiently long time-horizon

has never lost money on 15 year timescale, at least past WWII.

Even assuming that's true, one can't say the sort of risk and investor took on 15 year look-backs since WWII has been evenly distributed to get some sort of acceptable return, nor can one say that this will continue hold true for the next 15 years. You may believe it hold true though, and many do… but very few will do their homework on the risks to their "diversification" and their own changing liquidity constraints that will occur over the "sufficiently long time-horizon"

> assuming that's true,

Don't assume. You can calculate it in spreadsheet.

> You may believe it hold true though,

In the long run we are all dead. We don't need to believe they hold true. Certainty is not part of this world. Because you never know is just rhetorical argument. Quantifying risk and going on that is good enough.

>Quantifying risk and going on that is good enough.

Because most people who are blindly buying indexes around the world thinking they are diversified and DCA are certainly doing that…

So if you don't believe in investing then what are your plans for retirement? Just to save enough money into a bank account?

I didn't say I didn't believe in investing, just that I don't consider it any different from speculating, just the time frame typically involved.

Elliott Wave Principle by Robert Prechter and A. J Frost


This is the technical analysis method used by many market traders and it both predicted this week's market plunge as well as described its form, and is currently forecasting a further plunge next week.

For economics I would look for any youtube talk by Prof. Steven Keen - he accounts for debt that most mainstream economists ignore.

Elliot Wave analysis is harmful, do not engage with it. I have friends that have lost a lot of money trying to follow it. It has 0 scientific background, it’s not more than astrology applied to finance. Please don’t spread these things, be responsible.

Do flocks of birds or schools of fish fly or swim in random directions? Or do they swarm together in discernible patterns? At core we share similar brain structures with them.

There's a gargantuan step to be made between saying "there are _some_ similarities between human and fish brains" to "the stock market behaves non-randomly like a school of fish". And an even bigger one to saying "The non-random patterns in the stock market can be divined with TA".

I'll wait for next week to see if that's true before adding it to my list.

Forecast is actually for a 3rd of 3rd wave down which is likely to be larger than anything seen so far maybe 15% + over one or two days, and then the midpoint of that should be the halfway point from the Feb 19th top to the eventual first big low point.

Sunday evening and stock market futures are limit down 5%

Monday S&P 500 down 11% - doesn't look done yet

Stock futures again limit down -5% in Wednesday morning pre-opening trading March 18th 2020

Circuit breaker hit midday down 7% on S&P 500 Wed March 18th 2020

The best thing I can say about the "waves" woo is that it forces you to wait for pullbacks in trends with the best risk reward ratio. So when it works it seems magical but retracements to fibonacci levels have been disproven time and again, with 50% being the only reliable rule of thumb, statistically speaking.

I get the principle, and it's appealing in theory, but it's far from statistically proven. If you want some other 20th century technical analysis that holds a little more water you can try Wyckoff. The supply and demand basics give a nice overview of how moves are formed and are pretty timeless.

Although there's very little predicting when the Fed will drop several trillion into the market, or when Trump has another tweetrage, so most bets are off for predicting day to day at the moment. Following trends and understanding why the consensus has formed, however, is not a terrible plan.

Perhaps more relevant to OP would be reading Wikipedia pages on money supply, currency pegging and gold backing and the interplay between interest rates and local Vs global economies. I'd guess most of what you need to know is clearly explained on Wikipedia. Given how few economists actually manage to forecast anything I'd be wary of putting much store in any one book.

"The End of Alchemy" by Mervyn King is a great book that explains fiscal/monetary policy and the modern banking system from the ground up. King was the head of the Bank of England during the last recession. This was the book that made me "get it".

"When Genius Failed" by Roger Lowenstein is the story of the fall of Long Term Capital Management which was basically the biggest hedge fund failure ever. Teaches you a lot about modern high finance and systemic risk.

If you are looking for somebody who understands markets today - listen to Mike Green. He doesn't write, but sometimes speaks (Hidden Forces, RealVision)

Reading Stress Test by Timothy Geithner taught me quite a bit, although it’s not a primer on the financial system but play by play of the financial crisis.

The Economist Guide to Financial Markets by Marc Levinson

I have been here before where I actually wanted to find out what is going on with finance. I was amazed that its more about ideology than it was about finance itself. It was more about psychology and the intents of human nature than it was just about transactions and definitions.

In as much as books are good, i would urge you to follow certain men as well.

Prof. Richard Werner and all his books. Prof. Steve Keen and all his books.

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It's so true, I'd say over half of 'finance/trading' books are almost entirely about psychology and their own personal take, it's really discouraging.

I've been having an interesting time working through Security Analysis by Graham and Dodd. It's ancient, but it really gets to the heart of what bonds and stocks actually are, and gives you an insight into how everything worked before it all got accelerated to the Nth degree. The historical perspective of the 1928 crash being recent memory is really interesting too.

I Worked as a quant for a few years, but in a certain point moved to data science and lost interest in stock market.

Read many technical and non technical books, and I recommend this one - Berton J Malchiel - A random walk down Wall-Street.

Simple but not simplistic, it has some great useful lifelong tips for investment. I follow it's advice for >10 years - from 2008 crisis, until these crazy days.

If you have the time for a deep deep dive, I would recommend David Harvey's The Limits to Capital New Edition (2006). There's always the recorded version of his course on Reading Marx's Capital[1] which is similar.


“How to Read the Financial Pages” is an excellent book.

It covers most of Equities and Bonds and is often hilarious.

It covers how governments finance themselves by issuing bonds, t-bills etc

A fairly straightforward read for any HNer, should be a couple of days easy.


Money: The unauthorized biography by Felix Martin discusses money as social technology and its history https://www.amazon.com/Money-Unauthorized-Biography-Coinage-...

This is a fantastic book. Written for quant wannabes but really good for everyone. https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0071468293?psc=1&ref=ppx_pop_...

Oil 101 by Morgan Downey is one of the worst-edited books I've ever read, yet the amount of knowledge contained in that book is astonishing. The petroleum markets are vital to the financial system, as we saw on Monday when oil over-supply catalyzed a downward move in global equity markets.

If you’re interested in valuation, Damodaran’s course is available for free online. Just google Damodaran.

Specifically about the stock market, Flash Boys by Michael Lewis is a fun read and taught me a lot about what the stock market is. It's not the densest book. It's more of a narrative than a teaching tool, but for what it is I found it very informative.

Stuff from Warren Buffet is usually good. You could browse the shareholder letters a bit https://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/letters.html

Check out the Wiley CFA Book suite, they are broad and explain concepts ranging from debt to economics ; https://www.wiley.com/learn/cfashowcase/

For understanding how money works, I’d recommend Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber.

Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World


Dr Ernest Chan

Ray Dalio

Marcos Lopez de Prado

These authors are how I started. I'd be happy to list specific books if that is helpful, but I don't want to give you a false sense that if you read books I mention you will have the same understanding that I do.

Best books to understand why the financial system behaves the way it does are Nassim Taleb's books. Take the principles there, and apply them to finance and it explains 100% of why prices move the way they do.

Since I'm mainly interested in risk and volatility, this list might be a bit biased but here we go:

A random walk down Wallstreet

Options and volatility pricing, by Natenberg

Why stock markets crash, by Didier sornette

Manias, panics and Crashes by Aliber and Kindleberger

Debt: the first 5000 years

I studied it, got the cfa designation, worked in the field.

Yet to see a better, more accurate or more succinct treatment than "A Random Walk Down Wall St" by Malkiel. Can't recommend it enough. Readable. Required knowledge.

Nick Nick Szabo's long essay: Shelling Out: The Origins of Money


Stigum's Money Markets will tell you about the financial system specifically.

Something like The Economist's Guide to Financial Markets will give you a good general overview.

Some of the recommendations on here are truly awful.

"Borrow: The American Way of Debt" by Louis Hyman

It's basically a historical study of debt in the United States over the past 100 years or so. Very interesting and educational.

Meltdown by Thomas E. Woods

The Great Deformation by David Stockman

The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank by Robert Wenzel

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

I recommend a different approach. Start with a little bit of money in the stock market with a portfolio that you are allowed to change every Sunday. Then slowly understand what caused the value of your portfolio to go down or up and how you can hedge against your risks.(Once you lose or gain money you will get the motivation to read fat books dont worry) In the end its all a risk calculation and the faster you get into doing it the better. I am not rich or with a finance background but this is the approach I am following now.

What is there to know?

Make massively risky bets on things that rarely break, but when they do they break so epically that the government will bail you out.

At Finimize, we offer a selection of products designed to help with exactly this: https://www.finimize.com/

Disclaimer: I work there!

Aside from that, I'd also recommend the previously mentioned Ray Dalio economic machine video, Benjamin Graham's Intelligent Investor (for understanding value investing) and Black Swan (for an alternative insight into tail risks such as the one we're going through)

I wrote my Master's thesis on cryptocurrencies, and had to do some background research on how the monetary system works. I found that Bernard Lietaer's "Money and Sustainability - The Missing Link" was easily approachable and had a lot of good stuff in it. Another of my staples was David Graeber's "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" which has a lot of good and interesting content, but is very very heavy to read.

Also, this article by Bank of England is a very good introduction on how money is created in practice nowadays


Any book on International Finance, to start. And then maybe a Banking 101 to understand how banking works. Then Macro Economics, to know how economics of markets and countries work.

There's no quick fix to learning this stuff.

However you might still want to; so take this biased Internet-clip with a grain of salt and enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mII9NZ8MMVM

There is no quick fix, indeed.

International finance is secondary to what the OP is requesting though. I think a history of banking, and the events that led to the current regulatory framework, would be suitable. Can’t think of a good book though (except the Bankers’ New Clothes I recommended below).

The architect of the Euro, Bernard Lietaer, wrote a book called The Future of Money that I’m reading now.

Where are the customers yachts? - but basically if you get the title you don't have to read it :)

I recommend: ‘The Origins of Economic Disorder’ by Fred Block, and ‘The Vega Factor’ by Kent Moors.

I’ll also add ‘Financial Market Rates and Flows’ by James C. Van Horne’.


Not a book, I know but there are a lot of articles and resources in the sidebar, including a list of academic papers on the inner workings of money/monetary systems. Search for "MMT Foundations" within that subreddit to find those.

Traders, Guns and Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives by Satyajit Das

Got to put in a plug for a book my mother read shortly before she died last year. The author is insanely smart, the book is really good, the message is incredibly important:



"Modern economies reward activities that extract value rather than create it. This must change to insure a capitalism that works for us all.

In this scathing indictment of our current global financial system, The Value of Everything rigorously scrutinizes the way in which economic value has been determined and reveals how the difference between value creation and value extraction has become increasingly blurry. Mariana Mazzucato argues that this blurriness allowed certain actors in the economy to portray themselves as value creators, while in reality they were just moving existing value around or, even worse, destroying it.

The book uses case studies–from Silicon Valley to the financial sector to big pharma–to show how the foggy notions of value create confusion between rents and profits, a difference that distorts the measurements of growth and GDP. "

Marx's Capital, despite being old, is pretty prescient for the modern day.

Unfortunately only in German language:

Bernard A. Lietaer: Das Geld der Zukunft

Bernard A. Lietaer: Mysterium Geld

I'm not knowledgeable enough to properly recommend a book on the subject so take this with a grain of salt, but I thought the historical (and opinionated) overview of the evolution of English money in Christine Desan's "Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism" was interesting https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21492062-making-money

I like this quote about how financial institutions evolved:

"It happened improvisationally, indeed probably unintentionally. Participants solved one problem and created others; they reacted as often as they acted affirmatively; they moved by experience and intuition, without an overarching theory; and the whole affair took decades, involved many different actors, and coheres largely in retrospect."

I think the best way to understand it all is to understand the history of how it came to be. I would start with something like:

Money: Whence it Came, Where it Went by John Kenneth Galbraith

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson

"Monetary History of the United States" by Milton Friedman.

It's tough sledding, but worth it. And by giving the history, one comes to understand how we got to where we are.

"Capitalism" by Reisman gives a solid theoretical foundation on topics like rent control, inflation, etc. I especially found illuminating its coverage of the 1970's oil crisis and how the root cause of it was price controls.

I'd avoid economics books written by journalists and politicians, as all I've run across are dominated by ignorance, bias, and agendas. Ones by economists often have agendas, too, but they aren't nearly as ignorant. Just imagine a technical book about electronics written by a journalist, and you'll know what I mean.

Highly recommend Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan.

Youtube how economic machine works by ray dalio.

I liked Trading and Exchanges by Larry Harris

Seconding this. It's a fantastic book, a little outdated but easy to fill in the gaps.

I think the best route is to read this, skip all of the books marketed to retail traders. Read the things the professionals read like the CFA study materials.

Mark Meldrum also has a comprehensive coverage of the CFA body of knowledge on YouTube.

That book is about securities trading and market microstructure; it has very little to do with what OP asked for.

House of Morgan - biography of JO Morgan and kin

Snowball - biography of Warren Buffet

The Good Earth - novel about Chinese farmer

Fortune’s Children - the rise and fall of the Vanderbilts

These might be good books, but I doubt they’ll answer OP’s questions.

Web of Debt by Ellen Hodgson Brown.

Corporate Finance - Stephen Ross

I think the first question that you will face is if you agree with the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) and the random walk. Basically they say that prices reflect all available information and that you cannot "beat" the market (there's a subtle difference between EMH and random walk). The return on an investment is a direct reflection of the risk. Good reading to get an understanding for this are "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" and papers by Eugene Fama (EMH will be covered by any intro to finance book as well). For a good overview of EMH, I like this paper: http://www.cs.ucl.ac.uk/fileadmin/UCL-CS/images/Research_Stu...

The investment takeaway is that you should invest in passive index funds with low management cost (typically ETFs).

There's different contrasting points of view most notably behavioral finance. The EMH argument is basically the market is an aggregation of all available information. Due to the power of averaging it is going to be correct (if one person overestimates, another will underestimate and it will all cancel out). The behavioral counterargument is that there are certain human biases that lead to all parties being wrong in the same direction (such as risk aversion). Another POV that is aligned with the behavioral view is that the theory of evolution provides a good framework for thinking about markets. I like the book "Adaptive Markets" which also gives a good overview of EMH and behavioral finance so I'll recommend that as a reference. I think together with "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" you're set for "general framework of thought" material.

Personally, I am a value investor so I can only recommend books from that school of thought. The basic idea is that you look at the fundamentals of a company and the stock market can misprice them. The holy grail is finding a company where the sum of (current) assets is worth more than the current market valuation via the stock price because in essence that means if the company would be liquidated and everything would be sold off, you'd still walk away with a profit. In essence, you're trying to buy 1$ for < 1$. This is Buffett's philosophy and he has done really well with it. I'd recommend "Value Investing" by Greenwald, Kahn, Sonkin and van Biema as a good intro book that summarizes everything and has some easy to follow examples (because you can't usually just take the assets face value but have to discount them etc.). The classics are "The Intelligent Investor" and "Security Analysis" (more academic but for me this is the gold standard). If you need a quick "how to read balance sheets/income statement/cash flow statements" I'd recommend "Warren Buffett Accounting Book"

I think the best essay that describes what markets are good for is "The use of Knowledge in Society" by Hayek. At least it makes sense for me that they serve the function of aggregating local and specialized information. If you're interested, it's also a decent idea to research the different theories of the business cycle. Keynesian, Real Business Cycle, Austrian etc.


- A Random Walk Down Wall Street

- Adaptive Markets

- Value Investing (+ Warren Buffett Accounting Book)

Edit: I'm assuming you want a "quick overview". Otherwise, get some mainstream Finance and Behavioral Finance textbooks :D

1. People’s QE (modern monetary policy, some great explain-to-me-like-I’m 5 sections) 2. Doing Capitalism by Bill Janeway (innovation economy) 3. Crashed by Adam Tooze (some financial history)

I listened to the audiobook version of 3 books by Adam Tooze in the past year and found them to be excellent for understanding how finance works, through 3 separate case studies/examples if you will ..

1. The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order describes how most of the current global financial structures were formed, through the lens of WW1 policy

2. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy .. moves you forward to WW2/post-depression economy

3. Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (recommended elsewhere in this thread) .. brings things up to current times

Why there's no suggestions for Karl Marx? He predicted these crises and that they're unavoidable in capitalism and all only get worse with the time.

because we live in the real world and deal with real humans. Karl Marx never worked a single day in his life and created an ideology for people who believe in unicorns. His work is a criticism of Adam Smith's theories, not a self-sustainable solution.

He was the first person to prove that capitalism is not a self-sustainable solution either. Everything he said about capitalism was true and remains true. E.g. the current crisis could be predicted and it will be a super-crisis, because there're no new markets in the world. No more countries left to plunder. There's no way of solving the current crisis without starting a 3rd world war.

The capitalism that we have rn is actually a form of socialism :) I don't want to be that pessimistic about 3rd world war, a horrible solution to a big problem. I think humanity has a chance to have abundance, we need to be united and don't trust governments and banks and medical institutions, I can see that a lot of people are going through a healing phase of their mental state, they giving up all of the brainwashings and taking a red pill. Question is - will everybody use his chance on time? We will see. Peace.

> His work is a criticism of Adam Smith's theories

Marx's work is a continuation of Adam Smith that the subject of inquiry was political economy (not "economics"), that value derived from labor and so on.

Modern establishment economics is a criticism of Adam Smith in that value comes from labor, that the study of the economy is political, etc.

Internship in a Wall Street Firm is better;

The short answer is this.

Wall Street exists to profit by skimming money off society, like a predator waiting for gazelle to approach a watering hole.

The Chinese government produced an excellent short film on this that was shown on airlines about 5 years ago. At the end was a warning to the USA not to devalue the dollar (to wipe out Chinese holdings.) :)

Silicon Valley VC's also do that, by skimming 2/20 (or more) from institutional investors with no downside risk to the VC.

The long answer - it will take you decades to study and learn. Do some reading and watch NBR.

Why would you ever read a book on financial systems by someone who isn’t absurdly rich

Why would you ever read a book on aeronautical engineering from someone who isn’t a million miler?

Inappropriate metaphor

I know one of the people who literally wrote a chunk of the matching engine on one of the larger exchanges. He’s not absurdly rich but a book from him on high performance order book management at scale would absolutely worth a read.

The metaphor is appropriate because quite frequently people who use things to the greatest effect know very little about the implementation or how it actually works.

That's a reasonable argument then, and now I appreciate the metaphor.

If one is interested in the technical details of implementation for technical reasons, I would agree that a brilliant and interesting engineer wouldn't necessarily be in line to profit from their value creation although would be available to discuss mechanics of implementation.

Some of the books being mentioned here are by people who got absurdly rich.

Which ones?

Just on a quick scan we've got Graham, Buffett, Soros, Taleb... those are before I need to go and look up personal net worth for some of the other names. I'd bet on Burton Malkiel having done alright for himself, too.

Graham, Buffett, Soros – sure, ok, although I doubt they're giving away the keys to the kingdom in their books. Buffet himself is notorious for saying that great ideas are proprietary and not to be shared. In the investment world, in stark contrast to the tech community, ideas are as valuable as execution. Even in VC proprietary dealflow is considered to be valuable.

There is actually some controversy as to how much money Taleb made from trading and portfolio management as opposed to writing.

Right, so your argument is what? That no valuable idea is ever written down? Or that no written down idea is valuable? Why would either of these be true?

I see a common fantasy among developers; they want to apply their sophisticated intellect and technical knowledge towards exploiting financial markets. So, my argument is that if this is what one is up to, one is not going to find many valuable ideas spelled out and spoon fed in a book.

But that's a non sequitur. There's no connection between the intent of the reader and the value of the content. Whether the reader is in the right mental state to learn from it is another matter entirely...

Ok. I acknowledge your points and am glad we had this discussion.

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