FT Business Book of the Year

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All the books listed for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award

The Wisdom of Finance by Mihir Desai

The Wisdom of Finance

Desai sets off on an entertaining quest to humanise high finance, using literature, history and philosophy. Drawing on sources from Dashiell Hammett to Mel Brooks, he shows how dry-sounding theories of fiduciary responsibility, merger theory and leverage shed light on life and relationships, and vice versa. — Read the complete FT review


Finance is shrouded in mystery for outsiders, while many insiders are uneasy with the disrepute of their profession. How can finance become more accessible and also recover its nobility?’

Finance is an essential part of modern life – we see it everywhere, from our retirement assets to our investments in housing and education. And yet for most of us it seems as mysterious and alien as the world of astrophysics or medicine - and a good deal less attractive. Shrouded in greed and complexity and populated by the likes of Jordan Belfort and Gordon Gekko aren’t markets in general, and finance in particular, a crass domain that we have to shelter ourselves from in order to live a good life?

Actually, no. In this book Harvard Business School Professor Mihir Desai takes up the cause of restoring humanity to finance. With deft wit, he draws upon a rich knowledge of literature, film, history, and philosophy to explain finance’s inner workings. Through this creative approach, he shows that outsiders can easily access the underlying ideas and insiders can reacquaint themselves with the core values of their profession.

This combination of finance and the humanities creates unusual and illuminating pairings: Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope are guides to risk management; Jeff Koons becomes an advocate of leverage; and Mel Brooks’ The Producers teaches us about fiduciary responsibility. In Desai’s vision, the principles of finance also provide answers to critical questions in our lives: bankruptcy teaches us how to react to failure, the lessons of mergers apply to marriages, and the Capital Asset Pricing Model demonstrates the true value of relationships.

Bringing a uniquely wise, erudite and accessible approach to the topic, Desai opens up the world of finance just as Alain de Botton did for philosophy and Atul Gawande for medicine.

The Wisdom of Finance offers an enlivening new perspective on one of the world’s most complex and misunderstood professions. Readers may find it to be one of their most worthwhile investments.