On the history of financial crises, two classics are Charles R. Kindleberger, Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises (Basic Books, 1978), and Edward Chancellor, Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation (Penguin, 2000). Peter L. Bernstein, Against the Odds: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Wiley, 1996) comes highly recommended, but I haven't read it.
On the various idiocies propounded in the name of economic science, but which ignored elementary common sense, see Richard Bookstaber, A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation (Wiley, 2007), and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Random House, 2007).
Check out the good amazon bookstore maintained by Hellasious at Sudden Debt.
On the social and political questions raised by the financial crisis, the best books are Kevin Phillips, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and The Global Crisis of American Capitalism (Viking, 2008) and Michael Panzer, Financial Armageddon: Protecting Your Future From Economic Collapse. Panzer is incredibly pessimistic on the social and political fallout, but has been vindicated thus far. His recent announcement that Financial Armageddon will appear in Japanese and Korean translation makes me think that we will soon see new variations on this theme in the history of cinema.
Two magisterial biographies of two great economists are Thomas K. McCraw: Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction (Harvard, 2007) and Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes 1883-1946: Economist, Philosopher, Statesman (Penguin, 2005).
I breathlessly await James Grant, Mr. Market Miscalculates: The Bubble Years and Beyond, due at the end of November 2008.
Q&A with David Einhorn
6 hours ago