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, but that many readers today overlook.
They track the evolution of finance and the role of business in society from the 1920s to today, covering topics like the ebb and flow of regulation and deregulation, the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, and the causes and ramifications of the 2007-08 financial crisis.
This article is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.
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We’re at the start of a new decade and election year in the United States, and one of the defining conversations of both is the future of capitalism.
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 or so 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 Journalism School professor Nicholas Lemann researched the evolution of the modern American financial system, from around 1920 to today, and his work resulted in “Transaction Man,” which we selected as one of 2019’s best business books.
For further insight into defining episodes in American financial and economic history, 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.
SEE ALSO: The best books of 2019 on how we can rethink today’s capitalism and improve the economy
‘Main Street and Wall Street’ by William Zebina Ripley (1927)
“Ripley, a professor at Harvard Business School in its early days, helped set the stage for New Deal regulation of finance with this funny, foul-tempered exposé of financial practices in the ‘Great Gatsby’ era.”
Ripley was a member of President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration and later a prominent academic whose writings on finance and, unfortunately, racial anthropology pseudoscience, were quite influential. As for the former, Ripley pushed hard against Wall Street’s speculation and lack of transparency in the 1920s through early 1930s, and the New York Times declared, “When Ripley Speaks, Wall Street Heeds.”
This particular book offers insight into what corporate titans and financiers were able to get away with before sweeping new regulations.
Find it here »
‘The Modern Corporation and Private Property’ by Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means (1932)
“A long attack on the industrial corporation for being unaccountable to any other element of society, because of the disempowerment of its shareholders. Once considered a classic, it has been out of print for decades.”
Berle …read more
Source:: Business Insider