Gift Books for Econ Lovers
Understanding economists and joining their conversations
By ALLEN R. SANDERSON
of “life” at the University of Chicago, at .the end of academic
quarters, students will approach me with: “I love economics, what else
can I read?” Or, “What book would you recommend for my parents? With
the holidays as well as cold, dark days approaching, here are some
suggestions for airplane reading, curling up in front of a fire, or
Ignoring textbooks, which in the early years
meant either Paul Samuelson’s or Campbell McConnell’s simply entitled
tomes Economics and “7-Steps to Jump-Starting Your Career” business
books, which are dreadful as a genre, the “popular economics” field is
just about 50 years old. A chunk of the public cut its teeth on John
Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society (1957). Then along came Milton
Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962) and, with wife Rose, Free to
Choose (1980). But that was about it for economics flair or fare in the
While some economists have attempted to put
their toes into mass-market waters, the 21st century floodgates seemed
to open five years ago with the surprising bestseller Freakonomics by
economist (and University of Chicago colleague) Steven Levitt and
journalist Stephen Dubner. “Volume II,” or SuperFreakonomics, debuted
in 2010. But what others are “out there” and a worthwhile expenditure
of a few dollars and hours?
The Economic Crisis
To learn more about the 2007-2010 economic crises, three
recommendations: In Fed We Trust by David Wessel; Crisis Economics by
Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm; and Fault Lines by Raghuram Rajan.
And Justin Fox’s The Myth of the Rational Market injects psychological
factors (aka behavioral finance) into failures in our financial markets.Globalization
With regard to globalization, international trade and economic growth,
here are the best of a good bunch (and also support for the old adage
that if you laid all economists end to end they’d never reach a
conclusion): Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales, Saving Capitalism from
the Capitalists; Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms, Jagdish Bhagwati,
In Defense of Globalization; David Warsh, Knowledge and the Wealth of
Nations; Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty; William Easterly, The White
Man’s Burden; Joseph Stiglitz, Making Globalization Work; and Benjamin
Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.
The intersection of economics and psychology—“behavioral economics”—is
currently a hot field. Contributions worth reading: Predictably
Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely and Nudge by
Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. In that same vein, Michael Shermer’s
The Mind of the Market offers a taste of neuroeconomics, the latest
Economists Just Want to Have Fun
In the wake of Freakonomics’ (financial) successes, wannabes cleaned
out their file cabinets and produced some enjoyable and insightful (or
inciteful) volumes: Robert Franks’ The Economic Naturalist; Steven
Landburg’s The Armchair Economist and More Sex is Safer Sex; Diane
Coyle’s Sex, Drugs and Economics; The Undercover Economist and The
Logic of Life by Tim Harford; Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner
Economist; and Parentonomics by Joshua Gans.
this playful side, economists have also ventured into the realm of
fiction. No mistaking them for Agatha Christie; nevertheless, these
aren’t bad: the ‘Marshall Jevons’ volumes, Murder at the Margin, The
Fatal Equilibrium and A Deadly Indifference; three by Russell Roberts,
The Choice, The Invisible Heart, and The Price of Everything; and two
by Michael Walden and M.E. Whitman Walden, Micro Mayhem and Micro
Odds and Ends
miscellaneous, catch-all section would have to include: Naked Economics
by Charles Wheelan; John Siegfried’s Better Living through Economics;
Michael Watts’ The Literary Book of Economics; Robert Nelson’s
Economics as Religion; Burton Malkiel’s A Random Walk Down Wall Street;
Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff’s Thinking Strategically; The Hesitant
Hand by Steven Medema; and Partha Dasgupta’s Economics, A Very Short
Finally, in keeping with 21st Century modes
of communication, there are a number of blogs to bookmark. The ones
most perused regularly by professional economists: N. Gregory Mankiw, http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/; J. Bradford DeLong, http://delong.vox.com/; Paul Krugman, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/; Freakonomics, http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/; Gary Becker and Richard Posner, http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/; Tyler Cowen, http://www.marginalrevolution.com/; and, Mark Thoma, http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/.
Of course, one should never forget where economics began: Adam Smith’s
The Wealth of Nations. And remember: test on Thursday!
Published: December 09, 2010
Issue: 2010 Philanthropy Issue
A wonderful one
Thanks a lot! That's what all the students need!
Imil Nurutdinov, Dec-09-2010
Who's a Wannabe?
You inexplicably include Steve Landsburg (PhD '79) as a Steve Levitt "wannabe," while in fact "The Armchair Economist" was published in 1993, at which time Steve Levitt was still in graduate school.
Just bought "The Mind of the Market" for $6 in Like New condition off Amazon... thanks Mr. Sanderson & Mr. Mankiw!
But: "The Armchair Economist" is really the first popular and fun book describing the economist as a sort of Sherlock Holmes. If anything it was probably a little too far ahead of its time. I think Coyle's "The Soulful Science: what economists really do and why it matters" as a better choice (for budding economists anyway) than her "Sex" book. And Adam Smith's "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" is actually a better fit with the behavioral theme, and arguably even greater than the "Wealth of Nations". Eamonn Butler's Primer on Adam Smith is short and wonderful though not a fun book.
Paul Johnson, Dec-12-2010
On Levitt predecessors
And before Landsburg was the book that got me into economics: Abortion, Baseball and Weed by Doug North and Roger Miller. I read it for a book report in a high school economics course.
Jeff Smith, Dec-12-2010
What of Turgot and Hume?
Wealth of Nations is of course a great book. But to say it is where economics started seems inaccurate. What about David Hume's Essays Moral and Political presages nearly all Smith's arguments on trade and the usefulness of merchants. And what about Turgot
Smith and Coase should rank at the top list
Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and Ronald Coase's The Firm, the Market, and the Law are two most important books in economics. The next three are Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom, Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Freedom, and John Maynard Keynes's General Theory
Hayek's book should be The Road to Serfdom, not Freedom, a mistake of mine in the above post.
Another Sanderson Op-Ed Masterpiece
This article is more boring than one of your entry-level economics lectures. Even the ones sprinkled with your half-baked recycled jokes.
Read Richard Cantillon's essay to see how little progress economics has made in the past 300 years: http://mises.org/resources/5773/An-Essay-on-Economic-Theory
Roger McKinney, Dec-27-2010