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10 overlooked books that explain the American economy


  • Columbia professor Nicholas Lemann chronicles the evolution of the American corporation in his new book “Transaction Man.”
  • He shared with Business Insider a list of books he used in his research that he considers essential to understanding American capitalism today, but that many readers today overlook.
  • This article is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.
  • Visit BI Prime for more stories.

Americans have long taken for granted the influence of massive corporations and Wall Street on all aspects of society. The world we live in today, however, is the result of ideas and policies put in practice 40 years ago, which were in turn a reaction to the preceding era, and so on.

We are at another inflection point, where voters, politicians, and CEOs are reconsidering the role of business in society.

To get to an understanding of how we got to where we are, Columbia professor Nicholas Lemann researched the evolution of the modern American financial system, from the early 20th century to today, and his work resulted in the new book, “Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream.” [Disclosure: Lemann was the graduate school dean for this article’s author.]

For further insight into specific episodes in American financial and economic history, from the rise of the giant corporation to the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, Lemann provided us with a reading list he used for his research. Some of these books were bestsellers upon publication, but all have been overlooked in recent years.

We’ll include Lemann’s comments on each book in italics, before further description.


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