Introduction to Economics- Best Books?
By Amy Willis
I don’t know about you, but I’m a total sucker for lists. Which explain in part my newfound fascination with Five Books. Full disclosure- I’ll read anything. (I was the kid who read all the cereal boxes during breakfast…) And I read all the Five Books lists that arrive in my Inbox. Here, of course, I’m mostly interested in their “best book” lists on economics- and they have a lot. No longer can I stop myself from commenting on these, so here goes.
Given that it’s the beginning of a new semester for many, their (Five) Best Introductory Books on Economics caught my eye. So I was inspired to come up with my own list here. Of their selections, I’ll keep one- David Friedman’s Hidden Order.* Like Hamermesh, I like the illustrative vignettes in Friedman’s book, and it’s one of those book with broad appeal that can get a lot of people interested in learning more about economics. (Like Freakonomics, but better.)
I admit that I have not read Hamermesh’s second selection, Money Changes Everything. So I’m not rejecting it from my list for any other reason. (And in fact, I just ordered it… #EconlibReads, anyone?)
So what are the books I would put on this list? Here they are. Let me know what you think!
- Robert Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers. Like many of you, I am saddened by the dearth of history of thought classes in economics departments today. I used this book in teaching for years, and I’d still use it today. It combines historical detail with interesting anecdotes, which always served as nice hooks for my students. And as Heilbroner says in his Introduction, the emphasis throughout is on “the underlying nature of economic inquiry.”
- For the same reason, I also choose Larry White’s The Clash of Economic Ideas. (P.S. There’s an EconTalk for that!) This book also offers a terrific history of economic thought, this time in the guise of “the great policy debates of the last hundred years.” White takes a pro- con- approach that I’ve always found effective with students, as well as ideologically disarming. The weakness of this relative to Heilbroner is of course the truncated timeline (the first chapter, “The Turn Away from Laissez-Faire,” starts with Keynes at the dawn of the First World War). White’s history, however, contains much more detail, and also rests on the presumption of liberty, which for me is naturally appealing.
- You know I can’t create such a list without a book by EconTalk host Russ Roberts, though my specific pick may surprise some; it’s his novel, The Price of Everything. This story pits idealistic student Ramon against economics professor Ruth Lieber in a battle over the ‘evil’ of a big-box retailer, as Ramon objects to their ‘price-gouging’ in the wake of an earthquake… You all know how this one will end… It’s a lively story with lots of hooks for students relevant to events in the world today. (Honorable mention in this category goes to the original ‘economics novel,’ Murder at the Margin, by Marshall Jevons, which will always hold a special place in my heart.)
- For the best crash course in the economic way of thinking, Henry Hazlitt’s, Economics in One Lesson can’t be beat. Taking Frederic Bastiat’s parable of the broken window, Hazlett unravels all the most insidious fallacies of economic reasoning in clear, lucid, and often downright entertaining prose.
- Finally, speaking of clearly explained, I include Common Sense Economics. In some areas, this book repeats much of what is covered in the books above, But there’s one critical difference, and it’s what makes this title really stand out for me, and that’s the emphasis on economic freedom and public choice theory throughout. For anyone who’s perused a typical Introductory Economics textbook, you know that public choice, and any discussion of government failure, is abysmally absent. This is a corrective.
So what do you think? I’d love to hear what you think I’ve missed or gotten wrong here… Who knows? Your suggestions just may spark a new #EconlibReads program!
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