I haven't made any book recommendations here for a while, but here is one that I just finished in my recent travels. It is highly appropriate for the current saddening debacle in capital markets: The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997.
Here is the Random House blurb:
After the American Revolution, the British Empire appeared to be doomed. But over the next 150 years it grew to become the greatest and most diverse empire the world has ever seen—ranging from Canada to Australia to China, India, and Egypt—seven times larger than the Roman Empire at its apogee. Britannia ruled the waves and a quarter of the earth.
Yet it was also a fundamentally weak empire, as Piers Brendon shows in this vivid and sweeping chronicle. Run from a tiny island base, the British Empire operated on a shoestring with the help of local elites. It enshrined a belief in freedom that would fatally undermine its authority. Spread too thin, and facing wars, economic crises, and domestic discord, the empire would vanish almost as quickly as it appeared.
Within a generation, the mighty structure collapsed, sometimes amid bloodshed. This rapid demise left unfinished business in Rhodesia, the Falklands, and Hong Kong. It left an array of dependencies and a ghost of an empire overshadowed by a rising America. Above all, it left a contested legacy: at best, a sporting spirit, a legal code, and a near-universal language; at worst, failed states and internecine strife.
I won't bore by telling you that there are many important parallels to a certain modern empire, but there are, and that's one of the reasons why it's so worth reading.