Best Accounts of the 2008 Financial Crisis and Ensuing Recession

Dear Readers,

I realized today that my last financial crisis bibliography post is about 3 years old. Since then, as the explosive crisis settled down into a burbling recession, I’ve not kept systematic track of good accounts of the crisis at different levels of complexity (from NYT magazine style summaries to This American Life hour-long episodes to journal articles to long books). As a favor, I’d love to know what you all have been finding most helpful. What are your favorite accounts of the crisis to come out in the past couple years? What are the best summaries? What about accounts of the move from the crisis to the recession? Anything goes in terms of media: documentaries, blog posts, academic books and papers, etc.

Some of my favorites include Gary Gorton’s work on the shadow banking system and repo markets as an explanation of what actually happened, and Mike Konczal’s topological accounts of different theories of the recession and policy responses.




  1. Keith

     /  November 28, 2011

    Econned: How unenlightened self-interest undermined democracy and corrupted capitalism by Yves Smith is a must. It’s the only non-academic book on sale in bookstores today that really tackles how the crisis is a product of flawed economic ideology.

  2. afinetheorem

     /  November 28, 2011

    On the economic theory side, the most interesting explanations have been following an old paper of Harrison and Kreps. See Alp Simsek’s paper, just as an example:

    The heart of that line of research is to figure out why investors and finance folks are getting involved in asset bubbles, even when it is very tough to model this “rationally”. Microeconomists have little patience for explanations like “animal spirits made them do it” or explanations relying on behavioral flaws if one quickly would learn that such a flaw is unprofitable: I don’t think anyone thinks Wall Street is unsophisticated.

    A good explanation of the financial crisis involves three elements: 1) What causes asset bubbles to appear?, 2) Why was this particular bubble so bad (in particular, why didn’t standard monetary policy fix things as in 1987 or 2000)?, and 3) Why was the national and international policy response, before and after the crisis, what it was. I think sociologists like yourself have a great deal to say about the third, microeconomists about the first, and some combination of micro, macro and finance researchers about the second. The problems all strike me as very nontrivial, and I would be super skeptical of anyone claiming to understand all three; a Matt Taibbi style of explanation is totally useless.

  3. The stuff that came out of the “markets on trial” workshop from a few years ago is good stuff. Krippner’s book is good on measuring financialization (but I remain skeptical of the rest of the book). Friedman and Kraus’s Engineering the Financial Crisis shines some light on the role of the Basal Accordings in the crisis. As far as I know, no one else really pays attention to international considerations to they extend that they do.

  4. One non-academic account that I ended up enjoying very much was Michael Lewis’ The Big Short. It’s limited, but I find it very interesting in terms of the sociology of bond markets.

  5. Michael Bishop

     /  November 30, 2011
  6. Thanks all!

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