Top 10 books about money
Here's our guide to the best money-related novels that will entertain as well as educate. Let us know in the comments below if you have any alternative suggestions.
1. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
This is usually referred to as one of the best books about class in America, but it's also about greed, politics and, well, money. Sherman McCoy's downfall – after the car he is in hits a black person in the Bronx – is a tour de force of the greed bred by capitalism; with lawyers, the media, and religion all exposed as being corrupt and complicit in a failing political system.
2. Money by Martin Amis
If you're not put off by Amis's trademark dense prose, there's plenty of money-related shenanigans in this satirical tale of the rise and fall of an advertising director. Protagonist John Self flies to America to fulfill the dream of directing his first feature film, but over the course of the novel is manipulated to such an extent that he loses it all. By the end, the meta-plotting and complicated plot twists might put some off, but this remains a classic novel about celebrity and, by extension, money.
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
It's fitting that Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann spent a reported $105 million on filming the Great Gatsby with Leonardo Di Caprio recently. After all, the novel itself follows decadent millionaire Jay Gatsby and the complicated relationships he has with his well-off peers on Long Island. Often cited as depicting the downside of the American Dream, The Great Gatsby shows how changing economic circumstances can throw up opportunities for some and obstacles for others.
4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
This archetypal coming of age story is also a classic "rags to riches to rags" tale, with young Pip suddenly becoming a wealthy gentleman thanks to a mystery benefactor, before losing it all and being reunited with his lost love by the end of the novel. Pip's ambition sees him join a number of different classes across Georgian society but, rather than money and wealth, it's arguably the theme of love and lost loves that makes this an enduring classic.
5. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride & Prejudice might as well be called the 'Haves and the Have-not-quite-so-muches'. Lizzie blabs on about how she'll only marry for "the very deepest love" but in a very happy convenience manages to fall deeply in love with the richest bloke of the entire North – the illustrious and permanently brooding Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. Her sister shacks up with his best mate and so between them the two prettiest Bennett sisters marry up spectacularly and manage to provide for their family for life. Genius.
6. Cosmopolis by Don Delillo
One of the more recent books in our list, Cosmopolis follows a day in the life of billionaire asset manager Eric Packer – who's just 28 years old – as he travels around Manhattan on his way to an appointment at the hairdresser. His encounters with various individuals and groups offer a surreal look at the opportunities afforded by extreme wealth, as well as the way money can corrupt. From anti-capitalist riots and sexual incidents to stressful currency trading and the threat of violence, Cosmopolis is an unconventional look at the elite in modern America.
7. Ugly Americans by Ben Mezrich
Does this count as a novel? It certainly reads like one. This roman à clef follows Princeton graduate John Malcolm as he becomes fully immersed in the world of trading. We watch as he moves to Japan and becomes mesmerised and seduced by the mountains of cash that can be made from trading Asian futures. He evolves to become a big player, doing deals worth up to $500 million, before eventually retiring, disillusioned with the world of trading.
8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
A primer for people interested in Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, Atlas Shrugged is as a (at times, arduous) look at a dystopian world where mega-companies battle for supremacy amid a societal shift towards a completely new style of government.
Objectivism concerns many lofty ideas about consciousness existing separately from reality, but also takes in the idea that the individual pursuit of happiness is the point of life. How this chimes with capitalism and/or socialism is at play in the book. So it's an intellectual read, to be sure, but more than rewarding – especially for the lengthy section where protagonist John Galt delivers a long speech outlining his (and Rand's) philosophy.
9. Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
This might be a strange inclusion at first glance – the book is a classic revenge thriller after all. But in Edmond Dantes's struggle to escape prison and his subsequent good fortune, we can read the universal struggle of people to better themselves. His swift transformation from incarcerated criminal to wealthy avenging angel is a stark reminder of the power that money can bring, while in Dantes's manipulation of the stock market, we can read 19th and 20th century investment and banking scandals.
10. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
1980s investment banker Patrick Bateman is not someone you'd want to meet in a dark Manhattan alleyway - he pays as much attention to slashing people to death as he does to fine dining, his music collection and the consumption of drugs. This paean to the vacuity of capitalism and the perils of rampant consumerism sees Bateman regularly dining and clubbing with his shallow colleagues and friends, all of whom are obsessed with material things.
On the side, Bateman's insatiable urges see him murder a number of people, whom he views as mere commodities (though the reader questions whether these events really do take place). If money and material gain turn you into Patrick Bateman, I'm having none of it, thank you very much!
- You can also read money tips from perhaps the greatest writer of them all - Shakespeare, in our article Shakespeare muses on money, and in our blog Are Shakespeare's money quotes still relevant today?.
The term is interchangeable with stock exchange, and is a market that deals in securities where market forces determine the price of securities traded. Stockmarket can refer to a specific exchange in a specific country (such as the London Stock Exchange) or the combined global stockmarkets as a single entity. The first stockmarket was established in Amsterdam in 1602 and the first British stock exchange was founded in 1698.
A type of derivative often lumped together with options, but slightly different. The original derivative was a future used by farmers to set the price of their produce in advance before they sowed the seeds so that after the harvest, crops would be sold at the pre-agreed price no matter what the movements of the market. So a future is a contract to buy or sell a fixed quantity of a particular commodity, currency or security (share, bond) for delivery at a fixed date in the future for a fixed price. At the end of a futures contract, the holder is obliged to pay or receive the difference between the price set in the contract and the market price on the expiry date, which can generate massive profits or vast losses.
A term applied to raw materials (gold, oil) and foodstuffs (wheat, pork bellies) traded on exchanges throughout the world. Since no one really wants to transport all those heavy materials, what is actually traded are commodities futures contracts or options. These are agreements to buy or sell at an agreed price on a specific date. Because commodity prices are volatile, investing in futures is certainly not for the casual investor.