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updated 3/6/2012 12:28:54 PM ET 2012-03-06T17:28:54

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Forget about the things you’ll do for love. Money is what makes people truly desperate, at least in the world of these five novels. From the excess of the 1980s to the country’s recent economic meltdown, these five books prove that money can’t buy you class, but losing it can score you a world-class meltdown. After all, it’s the economy, stupid.

‘The Darlings’
By Cristina Alger
(Pamela Dorman Books)
Former Goldman Sachs analyst and bankruptcy attorney Alger brings her own experience to this just-released novel about Wall Street’s 2008 meltdown. Merrell Darling went to the right schools, spent summers in the Hamptons and married well, thanks to the success of her family’s hedge fund. That success is jeopardized when the family business finds itself on the brink of collapse. Taking place over a Thanksgiving weekend, this book offers a snapshot of the 2008 financial meltdown from the perspective of Manhattan’s elite.

‘The Financial Lives of the Poets’
By Jess Walter
Matt Prior has a big idea. He quits his day job to create a website called Poetfolio devoted to covering financial journalism via blank verse. It’s not exactly a winning idea and things go downhill for Matt’s career, marriage, and life in general. National Book Award finalist Jess Walter turns his talents toward the nation’s economic state in this humorous and heartfelt novel.

Risky reads: 5 books that have been banned

‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’
By Tom Wolfe
It’s hard to believe, but this 1987 book was Wolfe’s first novel and it’s a whale of a tale. Sherman McCoy is a rich Manhattan bond trader, a self-proclaimed Master of the Universe, who takes a wrong turn — literally — and ends up hitting a black youth with his Mercedes. A washed-up journalist and a Harlem religious leader jump on the hit-and-run, while the police are hot on Sherman’s heels. His freedom, along with his fortune, is quickly jeopardized. Loaded with spot-on characterizations of “social x-ray” trophy wives, hack writers, and sleazy politicians, "The Bonfire of the Vanities" is a tale of 80s excess that seems surprisingly relevant today.

‘Then We Came to the End’
By Joshua Ferris
(Back Bay Books)
Experienced layoffs in your office? Then you’ll find Ferris’s novel familiar. With an economic downturn at hand, a Chicago ad agency quickly spirals downward, with employees spreading rumors, playing pranks, banding together, sleeping together, and turning on each other, and taking longer coffee breaks. Written in first-person plural, this wickedly funny novel perfectly captures the anxiety of potential unemployment and the lunacy and heartbreak that ensues.

‘Bond Girl’
By Erin Duffy
(William Morrow)
At long last, chick lit for the financial world! Duffy’s Alex Garret lands a job in bond sales on Wall Street and is hazed for her gender from the get-go. No matter; our plucky heroine shows us how to succeed in business with really trying — dodging a client/stalker’s advances, practical jokes, and demeaning errands. She kicks ass, silences the haters, and is welcomed into the good old boys’ club. This is all totally money until the economy collapses and then Alex has to figure out how to rise above it all, Jimmy Choos or no. This read is both fun and spot-on, as Duffy, who worked in fixed-income sales on Wall Street for more than a decade, knows of what she writes.

Jennifer Worick is the author of more than 25 books (including Beyond the Family Tree: A 21st Century Guide to Exploring Your Roots and Creating Connections) and a publishing consultant; she can be found at The Business of Books.

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