Stock Market Stories: Trading on Centrestage

Dr. Clemen Chiang
Dr. Clemen Chiang

What sorts of books make an investor’s night table? Apart from the various guides, how-to’s and other reads of a financial nature, there’s bound to be one or two that are “just for fun”.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, really — business and finance as literary topics made their debut as early as the time of Geoffrey Chaucer. The stock market, trading and investment have been providing inspiration for works of fiction and non-fiction since two centuries ago. (Remember the famous 19th century French novel that opened one of our earlier posts?)

Writing in the LA Times, the author of one such book says the appeal of these novels stems from most people’s natural and abiding interest in things like greed or crime. Mix that in with something that at least resembles firsthand experience of the inner workings of a certain company, or the markets where it listed and you’ve got a real page-turner.

Here’s a reading list with a selection of stock market-themed reads or books where trades and investments were central to the plot:

1. L’Argent (“Money”) (1891) by Emile Zola focuses on the Paris Stock Market of that period. Continuing of the story of the dishonourably wealthy Aristide Saccard, Zola aimed to portray the negative effects of ineffective financial regulations, speculation and dishonest corporate promotions.

2. Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (2014) by Michael Lewis. This New York Times Bestseller suggests how the US equities market might be rigged by high-frequency traders at the behest of certain investors.

3. Rogue Code (2014) by Mark Russinovich is another novel on high-frequency traders starring Jeff Aiken, a cyber security expert. In Rogue Code, high-frequency traders somehow enable hackers to potentially cause a global financial crisis, and it’s up to Aiken to uncover the truth behind them.

4. The Adventure of Black Peter (1904) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This Sherlock Holmes classic tells of how a banker on the run is thrown overboard in a stormy sea for the sake of securities which were later sold on the London stock market. The banker’s murderer was later murdered in cold blood, and the banker’s son is the prime suspect.

5. Reminiscences of A Stock Operator (2008) by Edwin Lefevre. This book is an adaptation of a series of articles written by the author in the 1920s for the Saturday Evening Post. It tells the story of Livermore, who rose from humble beginnings to become Wall Street’s most powerful speculator.

6. Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco (2004) by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. This award-winning read tells the story of the battle for control over RJR Nabisco during the 1980s, and how it turned into the largest corporate takeover in US history.

7. Liar’s Poker (1989) by Michael Lewis was, together with Barbarians at the Gate, one of the most influential Wall Street-themed novels of the 1980s. In it, the author relates how he came to work for the Salomon Brothers, and gives readers a comprehensive look at the inner workings of Wall Street.

8. Nihon Kokusai (Japanese Government Bonds) (2001) by Main Kohda is about how bond traders caused a financial crisis on purpose by refusing to participate in a bond auction worth JPY1.4 trillion. The motive behind the boycott was to pressure the government into making crucial reforms.

9. The Gods of Greenwich (2008) by Norb Vonnegut focuses on hedge funds, and how one Jimmy Cusack’s entire world collapsed along with his. Just when things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Cusack starts working for a Greenwich fund said to be immune to the troubles plaguing the capital market.

10. Bull Street (2011) by David Lender tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a young, innocent Wall Street regular and a world-weary billionaire. Together, they work to break up a group of insider traders while trying to keep out of prison, and keep from getting killed.

11. Fiasco: The Inside Story of a Wall Street Trader (1999) by Frank Partnoy. This novel relates how a young, inexperienced Morgan Stanley salesman became adept at buying and selling complex billion-dollar securities in an insanely competitive environment.

12. JR (1975) by William Gaddis is the award-winning story of 11-year-old JR Vansant, who used a payphone and money orders to turn his penny stock holdings into considerable wealth.

13. The Informer (1965) by Akimitsu Takagi is about an ex-Tokyo stock exchange staffer who was dismissed due to illegal trading activities. When a stock market crash smothers all hope of his return to the trading floor, he reluctantly agrees to work for what turns out to be an industrial espionage agency.

14. A Conspiracy of Paper (2000) by David Liss is set against the backdrop of the South Sea Company crisis, the world’s first stock market crash. In it, professional boxer turned “thief-taker”, Benjamin Weaver investigates his father’s murder.

15. The Predator’s Ball: The Inside Story of Drexel Burnham and the Rise of the Junk Bond Raiders (1988) by Connie Bruck. This novel gives a detailed account of how Michael Milken achieved success with his Drexel Burnham Lambert firm and how leveraged buyouts were prevalent in the 1980s.

16. Den of Thieves (1992) by James B Stewart. Michael Milken features once more in this book, along with Ivan Boesky, Martin Siegel and other Wall Street bigwigs as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author tells of insider trading during the 1980s.

17. A Killing On Wall Street: An Investment Mystery (2000) by Derrick Niederman is an investment guide as well as a murder mystery. In it, securities analyst and day-trader, Cliff Cavanaugh, has to find out who killed portfolio manager, Kyle Hooperman.

For some drama in real life, try checking out condensed versions of the success stories in Spiking’s Sophisticated Investor Profiles. Or download the Spiking app and follow the buying and selling activities of more than 8,000 sophisticated investors, for a glimpse into the action-packed world of stock market trading in Singapore.