Where readers find comfort in unsettling economic times

  • By Elizabeth Razzi Special to The Washington Post
  • Thursday, March 26, 2009 9:31pm
  • Life

Once upon a time … perspective, insight and encouragement were easier to come by. It seems harder now in the midst of a soul-rattling economic downturn.

So why not turn to a good book for comfort and enlightenment? We asked an assortment of leaders in various fields to share the books they find particularly relevant to these unusual times.

Gail McGovern, president and chief executive, American Red Cross

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” by Lewis Carroll, fiction, 1865 and 1871.

When the world seems to have turned upside down, I often gain comfort from rereading Louis Carroll’s two classics. In times like these, it can be wise to consider moving in the opposite direction and away from the herd.

As strange as the world has become, even falling down the rabbit hole can produce unexpected delights, and sometimes you just have to go where gravity takes you.

Niall Ferguson, author of “The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World” and history professor at Harvard.

“The Way We Live Now,” by Anthony Trollope, fiction, 1875.

In times like these, it helps to be reminded that we’ve been somewhere like this before — and no, I don’t mean the Great Depression. The great financial crisis of 1873, which was followed by the first true Great Depression (around two decades of falling prices), may be a closer parallel to our own crisis than that of 1929-1932.

It also inspired better books than were written in the ’30s.

Trollope’s Melmotte is not quite analogous to Bernard Madoff, but the parallels are nevertheless there. Read Trollope’s vision of the English elite seduced by filthy lucre and then punished when the bubble bursts — and wince.

Rajeev Dhawan, director, Economic Forecasting Center, Georgia State University.

“Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation,” by Edward Chancellor, nonfiction, 1999.

Bubbles, manias and financial speculation have existed since Roman times. From this book I learned how to make sense of the euphoria that sweeps through the system and retain your sanity, and by default your financial soundness. It is still a must-read for anybody to maintain their equanimity.

Liliana Henao, news anchor, Telemundo Washington.

“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, fiction, 2002.

Pi is an Indian boy who searches for God, the meaning of life, and how to live it.

The book describes Pi’s journey to survive on a boat with several animals, including a Bengal tiger that eats every other animal. Pi realizes that, if he wants to live, he has to keep the tiger happy and fed. A timely metaphor of the times and “tigers” we face.

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