Just a few years removed from the worst economic crisis to hit the United States since the Great Depression, we’re suddenly in the midst of a newfound cultural fascination with the fat cats on Wall Street, and their excesses of bacchanalian proportions. We’re still arguing about The Wolf of Wall Street a month after its release, and the recent news that the Goldman Sachs elevator-gossip Twitter account, @GSElevator, has sold a book to Simon & Schuster is further proof that while we might despise the traders making untold millions, we’re still really interested in hearing their tales of excess. The forthcoming book and Scorsese’s film are the latest chapters in a long history of famous (and notorious) accounts of Wall Street. Here are some of the best examples.
Whether you like Mary Harron’s film or the Bret Easton Ellis book it was based on better is a matter of taste. Either way, Patrick Bateman, who deals in murders and executions as well as mergers and acquisitions, is your poster child for amoral, big-spending Wall Street jerks. Perhaps we should just feel lucky that your everyday hedge fund manager doesn’t have the same murderous impulses as Bateman.
Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis
One day you’re just a kid in the 1980s, fresh out of Princeton and the London School of Economics; the next, you’re rising through the ranks of an investment firm to making millions as a bonds salesman. That’s the true story Lewis gives us, and it’s one that is difficult to put put down.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Gatsby might be a criminal, but Nick and many of the other Manhattanites who make the trek out to West Egg to party hard would presumably go on to become the same finance guys who helped cause the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that brought the Roaring 20s to a screeching halt.
Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko is the archetypal Wall Street antihero. With his slicked-back hair and “Greed is good” mantra, his is the face America came to associate with 1980s the corporate raider, cheating the system to make piles of money.
The alternate title to this film from the Clinton era could have been Bros Making Money, in no small part because it featured cast that included Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel. But Boiler Room, with its depiction of a “pump and dump” stock brokerage in the decade preceding the 2008 crash, is interesting because it is also based partially on the life of the Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort.
Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart
Want to understand how Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, Martin Siegel, and Dennis Levine created the most infamous insider-trading ring in the history of Wall Street? This Pulitzer Prize winner will tell you all you need to know all about it.
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Yes, there’s a movie that’s much quicker to get through than the book, but don’t rob yourself of the opportunity to read not only one of the best books of the 1980s, but also the best novel Wolfe has written. The Bonfire of the Vanities is a snapshot of Wall Street excess, and New York City in all its crazy Koch-era glory.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Julius Beaufort might not be a scummy day trader, but the Gilded Age banker does seem more and more like a predecessor to Bernie Madoff when we reread this classic today. And speaking of decadence, those parties the Beauforts threw sure did get pretty nasty for their time.