Here are some recent books for a general audience that will be useful for students who may consider studying economics. Many of the essays and books a student will find in the databases on the facts & ideas page are written for other economists. In contrast, the popular books are intended for students and others who have not studied economics. Many economists recall that reading a few books like those listed here sparked their interest in studying economics.
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2012) 978-0307719218
"Why Nations Fail is a truly awesome book. Acemoglu and Robinson tackle one of the most important problems in the social sciences—a question that has bedeviled leading thinkers for centuries—and offer an answer that is brilliant in its simplicity and power. A wonderfully readable mix of history, political science, and economics, this book will change the way we think about economic development. Why Nations Fail is a must-read book." —Steven Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics
“Two of the world’s best and most erudite economists turn to the hardest issue of all: why are some nations poor and others rich? Written with a deep knowledge of economics and political history, this is perhaps the most powerful statement made to date that ‘institutions matter.’ A provocative, instructive, yet thoroughly enthralling book.” —Joel Mokyr, Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics and History, Northwestern University
Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm, Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in The Future of Finance, (Penguin Press, New York, 2010) 978-159420250
In 2006 New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini forecast the financial crisis of 2008, describing the likelihood of the housing bust and the implosion of credit markets. His latest book puts the crisis in historical context, discusses how governments limited the decline, and advocates important changes in policies to forestall future crises.
John Quiggin, Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us, (Princeton University Press, 2011) ISBN 9780691145822
The financial crisis killed off many tenets of conventional wisdom but they live on in the minds of many. This book explains why bad ideas must be put to final rest.
Raghuram J. Rajan, Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010) ISBN 0691146837
The former chief economist of the IMF analyzes the financial crisis and offers a range of policies to reshape the financial order.
Justin Fox, The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street, (New York: HarperBusiness, 2009) ISBN 0060598999
A business columnist for Time brings behavioral finance to bear in discussing the failure of financial markets.
Core Economic Ideas
Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (Public Affairs, 2011)
"This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about world poverty. It has been years since I read a book that taught me so much. ‘Poor Economics’ represents the best that economics has to offer." --Steven D. Levitt
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2005) ISBN 0060731338
Applies the analytical tools of microeconomics and real data to explore a variety of curiosities. Discusses what schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common, exploring the role of incentives and the phenomenon of cheating. Explains how the Ku Klux Klan is like a group of real-estate agents highlighting the power of information and what happens when that power is abused. Considers why, if crack dealing is so profitable, do most drug dealers still live with their moms, and reveals that conventional wisdom is often a web of fabrication, self-interest, and convenience. Explains how Roe v. Wade helped trigger, a generation later, the biggest crime drop in history and sorts out the facts of crime from the fictions. Examines, from a number of angles, whether and how parents matter for a number of child outcomes. Considers what kind of signal parents are sending when they name a child and whether a child's name really matters. Levitt teaches economics at the University of Chicago and recently received the John Bates Clark Metal. Dubner writes for the New York Times and The New Yorker.
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy LIfe Insurance, (William Morrow, New York, 2009)
This sequel applies economic ideas in a variety of settings from car crashes to chemotherapy.
Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decision (New York: Harper, 2010) paper 0061353248
Dan Ariely, The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home (New York: Harper, 2010) 0061995037
Ariely discusses entertaining and engaging examples of behavioral economics.
Peter T. Leesom, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009) 0691137471
“A pirate ship more closely resembled a Fortune 500 company than the society of savage schoolchildren depicted in William Golding's Lord of the Flies.”
Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (New York: Penguin, 2009) paper 014311526X
This well-written discussion offers many examples of how lessons from behavioral research can improve policies. It is suggests ways to take account of irrationality in understanding how we make choices.
Philip T. Hoffman, Gilles Postel-Vinay, and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, Surviving Large Losses: Financial Crises, the Middle Class, and the Development of Capital Markets, (Harvard University Press, 2009) ISBN 978-0-674-03636-9 paper
This brief history of financial crises reveals how responses to past meltdowns have strengthened financial institutions and promoted growth.
John J. Siegfried, editor, Better Living Through Economics (Harvard University Press, 2009) ISBN 978-0-674-03618-5
Twelve case studies by leading economists who were involved describe how better policies made significant improvements in the general welfare.
Claudia Golden and Lawrence F. Katz, The Race between Education and Technology (Harvard University Press, 2009) ISBN 978-0-674-02867-8 paper
Explores the relationship between investments in education and changing patterns of income inequality.
Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff, The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life (Norton, 2008) ISBN 978-0393062434
"We begin with ten tales of strategy from different aspects of life and offer preliminary thoughts on how best to play."
Partha Dasgupta, Economics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2007) ISBN 0192853457 paperback
Economics has the capacity to offer us deep insights into some of the most formidable problems of life, and offer solutions to them too. Combining a global approach with examples from everyday life, Partha Dasgupta describes the lives of two children who live very different lives in different parts of the world: in the Mid-West USA and in Ethiopia. He compares the obstacles facing them, and the processes that shape their lives, their families, and their futures. He shows how economics uncovers these processes, finds explanations for them, and how it forms policies and solutions. Along the way, Dasgupta provides an intelligent and accessible introduction to key economic factors and concepts such as individual choices, national policies, efficiency, equity, development, sustainability, dynamic equilibrium, property rights, markets, and public goods. Partha Dasgupta is Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics, University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John's College.
Diane Coyle, The Soulful Science: What Economists Really do and Why It Matters (Princeton University Press, 2008) ISBN 0691136238
Comment by William J. Baumol: “Easy and pleasant reading, this informed and informative book shows convincingly that economics is not the dismal science it is reputed to be. It should be required reading for all who have no training in the field but are nevertheless convinced that they are qualified to speak out on important economic issues. Students who are puzzled by their economics courses will also find the book invaluable.”
Global Growth and International Trade
Pietra Rivoli, The Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade (Wiley, 2006) ISBN 0470039205
A fair-minded discussion of the ins and outs of world trade through the market for T-shirts.
P.J. O'Rourke, On The Wealth of Nations (Atlantic Books, 2007) ISBN 1843543885
An insightful, inciteful, and hilarious discussion of national wealth.
Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms:, A Brief Economic History of the World (Princeton University Press, 2007) ISBN 0691121354
Professor Clark addresses the continuing question as to why some nations are rich and others are poor. He proposes that natural selection plays an important role.
David Warsh, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery (New York: Norton, 2006) ISBN 0393059960
David Warsh is a columnist in the Boston Globe who explores the evolution of one of the most important ideas in economics of the last few decades. Specifically, he describes in common language how economic theory came to account for the role of knowledge in economic development.
Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time (Penguin, 2005) ISBN 1594200459
Sachs calls for a large-scale initiative to end world poverty.
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (New York: Penguin Press, 2006) ISBN 1594200378
Easterly provides a readable critique of the failure of foreign aid, military power, the World Bank, the International Monetary Funds, and the UN to reduce poverty in the least developed countries of the world.
Joseph E. Stiglitz, Making Globalization Work (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006) ISBN 0393061221
An imaginative and, above all, practical vision for a successful and equitable world, Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz's Making Globalization Work draws equally from his academic expertise and his time spent on the ground in dozens of countries around the world.
Benjamin Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth (Vintage, 2006) ISBN 1400095719
Friedman, a former chair of Harvard's economics department, argues that economic growth is vital to social and political progress. Witness Hitler's Germany. Without growth, people look for answers in intolerance and fear. And that, Friedman warns, is where the U.S. is headed if the economic stagnation of the past three decades doesn't soon reverse. It's not enough for gross domestic product to rise, he says. Growth also has to be more evenly distributed. The rich shouldn't be the only ones getting richer.
Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization, (Oxford University Press, 2005) ISBN 978-0195300031
Professor Bhagwati offers a witty and insightful book on the gains from globalization and some of its limitations.
Government and Policies
Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (Penguin Press, 2011) ISBN 159420277X
America is an urban nation. More than two thirds of us live on the 3 percent of land that contains our cities. Yet cities get a bad rap: they're dirty, poor, unhealthy, crime ridden, expensive, environmentally unfriendly... Or are they?
As Edward Glaeser proves in this myth-shattering book, cities are actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in cultural and economic terms) places to live. New Yorkers, for instance, live longer than other Americans; heart disease and cancer rates are lower in Gotham than in the nation as a whole. More than half of America's income is earned in twenty-two metropolitan areas. And city dwellers use, on average, 40 percent less energy than suburbanites.
Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future, (W. W. Norton, 2012) ISBN 978-0393088694
Stiglitz draws on his deep understanding of economics to show that growing inequality is not inevitable: moneyed interests compound their wealth by stifling true, dynamic capitalism. They have made America the most unequal advanced industrial country while crippling growth, trampling on the rule of law, and undermining democracy. The result: a divided society that cannot tackle its most pressing problems. With characteristic insight, Stiglitz examines our current state, then teases out its implications for democracy, for monetary and budgetary policy, and for globalization. He closes with a plan for a more just and prosperous future.
Robert B. Reich, Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and democracy, and how to fix them, (Knopf, 2012)
In this eBook exclusive, Robert B. Reich urges Americans to get beyond mere outrage about the nation’s increasingly concentrated wealth and corrupt politics in order to mobilize and to take back our economy and democracy.
Markets and Groups
Amy R. Poteete, Marco A. Janssen, and Elinor Ostrom, Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice, Princeton University Press, 2010 ISBN 9780691146041
How do people create systems to address the common property problems that arise in different cultures and with different technologies?
Diane Coyle, The Economics of Enough, How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters, Princeton University Press 2011. ISBN 9780691145181
How do we sustain economic growth when faced with so many conflicting problems?
George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ: February 2009) ISBN 0691142335, 264 pages.
Two leading economists describe how psychological factors drive markets. Markets aren't mechanical instruments but rather reflect human emotions and respond to the perceptions of participants.
Dean Baker, Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy (Polipoint Press, Sausalito, CA: January 2009) ISBN 0981576990, 170 pages
Baker reviews the run up to the housing bubble and the associated economic instability with some early thoughts about reforms.
Tyler Cowen, Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist (Dutton, 2007) ISBN 0525950257
Cowen describes economic and psychological approaches to many situations found in daily living.
Michael Shermer, The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and other Tales from Evolutionary Economics (Times Books, 2007) ISBN 0805078320
Shermer explores human nature and its value in understanding economic behavior, an introduction to neuroeconomics.
Economic Ideas in Fiction
Michael W. Klein, Something for Nothing: A Novel (MIT Press, 2011) ISBN 978-0262015752
The fictional account of a new PhD in economics who begins his career with a temporary academic job. He struggles with the personal challenges of teaching, getting published, and searching for a more permanent job.
Michael L Walden and M E Whitman Walden, Micro Mischief: A Dia Fenner Economic Thriller (Lincoln, NE, iUniverse, 2006) ISBN 0595388795
When Dia persists in presenting her economic arguments questioning the viability of a kudzu-based alternative fuel, she first finds her job—then her life—in jeopardy. Her house is vandalized, she's attacked, and shadowy figures stalk her. Someone is trying to silence Dia. Will they succeed?
Here are some books of continuing interest to young economists.
David R. Henderson, The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund, 2007) ISBN 086597666X
A fourth edition has 160 articles by 152 contributors discussing issues from discrimination to international economics.
Tom Sowell, Basic Economics: A Common Senses Guide to the Economy (Perseus Books, 2007). ISBN 0465002609
This third edition provides a readable introduction to general economic principles.
The Development of Economic Ideas
Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, seventh edition (New York: Touchstone Books, 1999) ISBN 068486214X
Heilbroner describes economic ideas from Adam Smith to Karl Marx with a view to understanding how capitalism works.
Todd G. Buchholz, New Ideas from Dead Economists: Revised Edition (New York: Plume, 1999) ISBN 0452280524
Buchholz describes the important developments in economics with particular emphasis on the most recent 60 years.
Economics for Decision-Making
Diane Coyle, Sex, Drugs and Economics: An Unconventional Introduction to Economics (New York, Texere Publishing Ltd, 2002) ISBN 1587991470
With humor and irony, the author shows how economics can help to make decisions about the most basic of issues—whether to invest tax money in new roads or schools or how to combat world hunger and illegal drugs
Steven E. Landsburg, More Sex Is Safer Sex, the conventional wisdom of economics (Free Press, 2007) ISBN 1416532218
Economist Landsburg sets out to explain extraordinary findings and logical arguments about the economics of everyday life. In the same vein as the recently popular Freakonomics, this book aims to assault common sense using the tools of evidence and logic to describe reality.
Burton G. Malkiel, Random Walk Down Wall Street, tenth edition (New York: Norton, 2012) ISBN 978-0393340747
This is a popular discussion of the stock market.
William Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics, (MIT Press, Cambridge, 2002) ISBN 0262550423
Easterly first discusses the importance of growth. He then analyzes the development solutions that have failed. Finally, he suggests alternative approaches to the problem. Written in an accessible, at times irreverent, style, Easterly’s book combines modern growth theory with anecdotes from his fieldwork for the World Bank.
Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, (Anchor Books, New York, 2000) ISBN 0195655265
Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 1998, summarizes his studies of poverty, famine, literacy, and mortality in the third world. He brings an ethical point of view to his analysis.
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 40th Anniversary Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002) ISBN 0226264211
From the book jacket:
Selected by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the "hundred most influential books since the war"
How can we benefit from the promise of government while avoiding the threat it poses to individual freedom? In this classic book, Milton Friedman provides the definitive statement of his immensely influential economic philosophy--one in which competitive capitalism serves as both a device for achieving economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom. The result is an accessible text that has sold well over half a million copies in English, has been translated into eighteen languages, and shows every sign of becoming more and more influential as time goes on.
Gary S. Becker, The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978) ISBN 0226041123
Becker discusses social interactions; crime and punishment; marriage, fertility, and the family; and "irrational" behavior.
Economics in Fiction
Russ Roberts, The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009) 0691143358
Set out and about the Stanford University campus, this novel introduces economic ideas with charm and wisdom.
Marshall Jevons, Murder at the Margin (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998) ISBN 0691000980
This murder mystery is one of three by Marshall Jevons to use economics to uncover the perpetrator.
Marshall Jevons, Fatal Equilibrium (New York: Fawcett, 1986) ISBN 0345331583
Marshall Jevons, A Deadly Indifference : A Henry Spearman Mystery (Henry Spearman Mysteries) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998) ISBN 0691059691
Tinker Marks, Theoretically Dead (Norwich, VT, New Victoria Publishers, 2001) ISBN 1892281163
Claire Sinclaire, professor of economics at Hammond College, wanted nothing to do with her partner, Emma Harrington`s philosophy conference. Scholars from all over the country were coming together to discuss the life and work of brilliant philosopher, Erik Weber. Claire could not remain uninvolved however, when she tripped over his body on the sidewalk. It turns out that despite their fascination with his ideas, plenty of Weber`s colleagues had reason to hate him, but which one had opportunity to kill? An amusing and intelligent mystery by new author Tinker Marks.
Michael Watts, The Literary Book of Economics (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003) ISBN 1932236023
Watts presented 78 selections from English literature and discusses the economic lessons they teach. Examples are Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken," John Steinbeck, "East of Eden," Joseph Heller, "Catch-22," and Mark Twain, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
Jonathan B. Wight, Saving Adam Smith: A Tale of Wealth, Transformation, and Value (Prentice Hall, New York, 2002) ISBN 0130659045
Wight’s novel summons Adam Smith back to life, in heart-pounding adventure ripped straight from today’s headlines. As the suspense builds, Burns rediscovers Adam Smith’s most profound insight about markets: Selfishness is simply not enough.
These books are available from libraries, book stores, and online book sellers. The titles are listed for information and are not endorsed by the American Economic Association.
Current Periodicals, Radio, and Webcasts
A weekly news magazine popular with economists because of its international coverage and depth of analysis is the Economist.
The Economists’ Voice is an online publication for a general audience (available through library subscription), a "non-partisan forum for economists to present innovative policy ideas or engaging commentary on the issues of the day."
Students interested in economic issues might study at one of the hundreds of colleges offering an economics major.