The Five Best Introductory Books in Austrian Economics
By Steven Horwitz
The genre of introductions to Austrian economics has always been a troublesome one. Leaping right into the core books of the school has frequently been a problem for non-specialists. Thankfully, the last decade or so has seen several attempts to fill this gap, and all five of the books I’ll discuss below are worth your time for different reasons. My list proceeds from the most “introductory” to the least and tries to provide a sense of their differences and their appropriateness for different audiences.
Howard Baetjer, Free our Markets, 2013. Written for the most general of readers, this book uses Austrian insights, ably presented for newbies in the first few chapters, as a framework for analyzing a variety of economic policies, including a whole section in the 2008 financial crisis. Baetjer’s goal is clearly ideological, as the title suggests, but the book does serve as a very effective introduction to a handful of foundational Austrian ideas, and is a very easy read for the non-specialist.
Gene Callahan, Economics for Real People, 2004 (second edition). Callahan’s book is much more explicitly Austrian than Baetjer’s and covers the school in a topical fashion. Like Baetjer’s, in applies those ideas to a variety of policy questions in very effective ways. The book is very readable and offers more theoretical depth than Baetjer’s. For many years, this was really the only option for this sort of introduction, and the only weakness it has now is that the newer ones can cover things like the financial crisis and other more recent applied topics.
Robert P. Murphy, Choice: Cooperation, Enterprise, and Human Action, 2015. This is the book that, in my view, hits the sweet spot between accessibility and depth of coverage. Organized as a kind of reader’s guide to Mises’ Human Action, it tackles the same topics in the same order, but translates Mises into more accessible and contemporary language. It also has the advance of minimizing the policy issues and really focusing on Austrian economics as an analytical framework. I have used it to great success in an upper level course on Austrian economics, but there is no problem handing it to someone with an interest but no formal training in economics.
Peter Boettke, Living Economics, 2012. This book is the best introduction to what contemporary Austrian economists are interested in and how they think about the communication of economic ideas. The book is really about Boettke’s passion for economics and how that plays out in the thinkers he finds interesting and the issues he thinks economics should be addressing. The essays reproduced in this volume cover all of that and more, and do a particularly good job at showing why Austrians should also be interested in Public Choice economics and the work of the Ostroms and the Bloomington School. This is not necessarily a book you’d want to give to someone with no economics training, but is ideal for an undergraduate or an adult who has done some reading on their own and who wants to drink deeply from Boettke’s passion for economics and the Austrian school. (P.S. There’s an EconTalk for that!)
Randall Holcombe, Advanced Introduction to the Austrian School of Economics, 2014. Holcombe’s book is a short but very effective introduction to the major ideas of the school. It’s organized in five chapters, four of which cover areas of economics, including one on Austrian macroeconomics. The fifth is a nice overview of the contemporary Austrian school. It’s clearly written for those with some background in economics (hence, the “advanced” in the title). It is different from Boettke’s book in that the focus is more narrowly on the Austrian school and it lacks the teaching and history of thought chapters. If you are someone who already knows a little bit of Austrian economics or economics more generally, and you want just an introduction to the Austrian school proper, this might be the best short option for you.
(P.S. In a later post, Professor Horwitz also shares his suggestions for the best Essential books in Austrian Economics.)
Steven Horwitz is Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise in the Department of Economics at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. He is also an Affiliated Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center in Arlington, VA, and a Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute of Canada.