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Robert Harris's Essential Business Reads

British journalist and author Robert Harris

Photograph by Norbert Millauer/AFP/Getty Images

British journalist and author Robert Harris

In his newest thriller, The Fear Index (Knopf), author Robert Harris dares to go where fiction writers seldom, if ever, do: the technical, digitally complex frontiers of high finance. “The financial markets tend to be just a backdrop for a novel,” says Harris, “for a heist or something that isn’t necessarily integral to it. On the whole, I don’t think the financial world has been well served by novels. Whatever you say about mine, at the very least the hedge fund is almost a character in the story.”

With The Fear Index, Harris—whose previous works include “Fatherland,” “Pompeii,” and “The Ghostwriter”—tells the story of a Geneva-based scientist and hedge fund billionaire who built his fortune with the use of secret algorithms, only to see his world crumble in a collision of artificial intelligence and vast wealth. Critics agree that Harris’s portrait of the inner workings of the financial world—from dialogue to the book’s deep knowledge of quantitative analysis—is uncannily well researched. We asked the author to put together a reading list of what he considers to be the best and most important books set in the world of finance.

Business at the Speed of Thought, by Bill Gates (Grand Central Publishing, 1999)

“This really started me on the whole process of writing this novel. In it, Gates talks about companies having to build a digital nervous system. That phrase really resonated with me and led me toward the novel that I eventually wrote.”

My Life As a Quant, by Emanuel Derman (Wiley, 2004)

“It’s quite a good book to take one into that world. It was challenging because I know very little about money and I know very little about mathematics, so I couldn’t have chosen a worse subject, in a way, than algorithmic trading [to write about]. I do feel that there is a whole world out there that hasn’t been written about or put into popular culture in any way, and that is the rise of the quant and computer trading. The huge revolution in that business, I think, is just fascinating.”

Fool’s Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan and How Wall St. Greed Corrupted Its Bold Dream and Created a Financial Catastrophe, by Gillian Tett (Free Press, 2010)

“It’s a very good book about derivatives.”

Crowds and Power, by Elias Canetti (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984)

“I read all sorts all sorts of things around economics. This is about how the mob moves, which is quickly.”

Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe (Bantam, 1988)

“As far as representations in fiction are concerned, I suppose it captured that era and that particular character.”

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

“If you go back, The Great Gatsby would be a portrait of the rich, and fortune made by business. That’s the granddaddy of them all.”

Mayo is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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