Listen To The Story

Kai Ryssdal: If we were forced to come up with just one way to make sense of the financial mess of the past two years, it might be addiction -- an addiction to profit and risk and a dangerous trade well played. Addiction takes many different forms, of course. As we continue with our summer book series, here's a cautionary tale of success and reckless indulgence that isn't about Wall Street, courtesy of our Friday regular Heidi Moore.

Heidi Moore: My top book for this summer is "Portrait of the Addict as a Young Man" by William Clegg. Clegg grew up in a small town and he didn't attend an Ivy League school. But he was ambitious, and he became a literary agent in the glamorous publishing world of Manhattan. He wanted his success badly, and he came to see his own likely rise as an affirmation, that the rules don't really matter. So, he started smoking crack. And his descent was predictably awful. Where he once hosted bright, gregarious parties, he later spends his days in dark apartments, combing dirty carpets for lost lumps of crack.

Clegg's story is clearly personal to him. Even so, it's easy to see that the theme of addiction applies to so much in our society. From our reliance on debt to the greed of some on Wall Street -- all of it came from our own addiction, not to crack but to money.

Traders talk about this. They call it "cocaine brain," a sense of invincibility that they get when they win so often that it becomes impossible to understand the consequences of losing. It's a diseased and addictive kind of thinking, and it drove many of the decisions that led up to the financial crisis. In a way, Clegg was lucky. His addiction was obvious, and it brought him enough misery that he was forced to clean up. There are others, however, whose addictions are more subtle. They'll do anything for money or for social prominence, and Clegg's book somehow makes you think that kicking that kind of addiction might be harder.

Ryssdal: Heidi Moore writes for The Big Money. We'd like you to write to us with your summer book reviews and recommendations. We'll put 'em on our website. It's Click on the link that says "Contact."

Follow Heidi N. Moore at @moorehn