As his new novel Capital is published, John Lanchester has written a nice essay (‘Show Me The Money’) in this morning’s Financial Times about the curious lack of interest modern literature has in business – a striking contrast to many writers of the 19th century. In fact he names only one modern exception, Jay McInerney’s marvellous Brightness Falls.
There are a few others I can think of. Bonfire of the Vanities of course. David Lodge wrote a campus novel, Nice Work, that specifically addressed the chasm between the humanities and the world of business – a much greater chasm actually than between the humanities and the sciences. A while ago I wrote a post (The economist as hero) about a batch of novels about economists, notable rarities.
As Lanchester points out, genre fiction has shown more interest in the business world. He mentions Arthur Hailey, or recently Robert Harris’s terrific thriller, The Fear Index. And in a funny way, crime fiction is often quite business-focussed, albeit the illicit business of the illegal drugs trade or underworld bosses.
There’s a similar lacuna in film and TV, once you set aside criminal enterprise. Dallas had the oil business. There was The Brothers. My all-time favourite, though, was The Onedin Line, which was sharply focused on trade and commerce, and even better was set Up North. As for movies, Wall Street, of course, and its sequel. Bonfire of the Vanities, the movie. No doubt there are others, but they don’t leap to mind, which perhaps proves the point about their scarcity.