Desai’s book is worthy of all the considerable praise it has received, including various best of the year lists, and being long-listed for the coveted Financial Times and McKinsey Best Business Book of the year. He devotes considerable space to insurance, delivered in a style representative of the entire book: thoughtful, subtle and representing more than one point of view on the subjects he covers. “Most of my students,” he writes, “flock to finance—but often for the wrong reasons…I am delighted and surprised when a student walks into my office interested in venturing down the path less taken—finance within corporations in the real economy, or, even better, insurance.”
Desai indeed humanizes finance throughout, and readers within that discipline, and outside of it will benefit from reading the book, which is relatively brief (223 pages), but packed with interesting material. A major point is that finance is not just about numbers, goals and deals, but about the human creativity, thoughts, emotions and motivations behind what we see in the headlines; or numbers in stock tables. He believes that the demonization so many people feel for the financial sector is unwarranted and unhelpful. Both sides need to understand each other better, and people in finance should be seen as doing worthy and necessary work. He reflects on his own experience teaching these subjects, and his professional life as a whole.
The mechanism here is explaining financial concepts through the lens of art and literature. Desai remains an engaging personality; eloquent and user-friendly, yet not dumbing down his material. He is a terrific storyteller, and strives to not just give easy explanations of business-related stories, but to make them nuanced and worthy of balanced thought from the reader. Here is a brief sample of some of the topics, and a few of the people and works of art he draws on for explanations: