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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.
Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth (Princeton University Press, January 12, 2016)
In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, motor vehicles, air travel, and television transformed households and workplaces. But has that era of unprecedented growth come to an end? Weaving together a vivid narrative, historical anecdotes, and economic analysis, The Rise and Fall of American Growth challenges the view that economic growth will continue unabated, and demonstrates that the life-altering scale of innovations between 1870 and 1970 cannot be repeated. Robert Gordon contends that the nation's productivity growth will be further held back by the headwinds of rising inequality, stagnating education, an aging population, and the rising debt of college students and the federal government, and that we must find new solutions.
Ben S. Bernanke, The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and its Aftermath (W. W. Norton & Company, October 31, 2015) 9780393247213
Bernanke pulls back the curtain on the tireless and ultimately successful efforts to prevent a mass economic failure. Working with two U.S. presidents and two Treasury secretaries, Dr. Bernanke and his colleagues used every Fed capability, no matter how arcane, to keep the U.S. economy afloat. From his arrival in Washington in 2002 and his experiences before the crisis to the intense days and weeks of the crisis itself, and through the Great Recession that followed, Dr. Bernanke gives readers an unequaled perspective on the American economy. This narrative will reveal for the first time how the creativity and decisiveness of a few key leaders prevented an economic collapse of unimaginable scale.
Richard H. Thaler, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics (W.W. Norton, 2015) 978-0393080940
Coupling recent discoveries in human psychology with a practical understanding of incentives and market behavior, Thaler enlightens readers about how to make smarter decisions in an increasingly mystifying world. He reveals how behavioral economic analysis opens up new ways to look at everything from household finance to assigning faculty offices in a new building, to TV game shows, the NFL draft, and businesses like Uber. Thaler is a professor at the University of Chicago and President of the American Economic Association in 2015.
William D. Nordhaus, The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics in a Warming World (Yale University Press, 2013) 978-0300189773
Bringing together all the important issues surrounding the climate debate, Nordhaus describes the science, economics, and politics involved—and the steps necessary to reduce the perils of global warming. Using language accessible to any concerned citizen and taking care to present different points of view fairly, he discusses the problem from start to finish: from the beginning, where warming originates in our personal energy use, to the end, where societies employ regulations or taxes or subsidies to slow the emissions of gases responsible for climate change.
George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Schiller, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception (Princeton University Press, 2015) 978-0691168319
As long as there is profit to be made, sellers will systematically exploit our psychological weaknesses and our ignorance through manipulation and deception. Rather than being essentially benign and always creating the greater good, markets are inherently filled with tricks and traps and will "phish" us as "phools.” Akerlof and Schiller are Nobel Laureates in economics.
Anthony B. Atkinson, Inequality, What can be done? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015) 0674504763
Atkinson has long been at the forefront of research on inequality, and brings his theoretical and practical experience to bear on its diverse problems. He presents a comprehensive set of policies that could bring about a genuine shift in the distribution of income in developed countries. The problem, Atkinson shows, is not simply that the rich are getting richer. We are also failing to tackle poverty, and the economy is rapidly changing to leave the majority of people behind.
Poverty and Development
Thomas Pikkety and Arthur Goldhammer, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap Press, 2014) 978-0674430006
What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality.
William Easterly, The Tyranny of Experts (Basic Books, 2014) 978-0465031252
In The Tyranny of Experts, renowned economist William Easterly examines our failing efforts to fight global poverty, and argues that the “expert approved” top-down approach to development has not only made little lasting progress, but has proven a convenient rationale for decades of human rights violations perpetrated by colonialists, postcolonial dictators, and US and UK foreign policymakers seeking autocratic allies.
John Kay, Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Finance (Public Affairs, 2015) 978-1610396035
In a dazzling and revelatory tour of the financial world as it has emerged from the wreckage of the 2008 crisis, Kay does not flinch in his criticism: we do need some of the things that Citigroup and Goldman Sachs do, but we do not need Citigroup and Goldman to do them. And many of the things done by Citigroup and Goldman do not need to be done at all. The finance sector needs to be reminded of its primary purpose: to manage other people’s money for the benefit of businesses and households. It is an aberration when the some of the finest mathematical and scientific minds are tasked with devising algorithms for the sole purpose of exploiting the weakness of other algorithms for computerized trading in securities. To travel further down that road leads to ruin. John Kay is a fellow of St John’s College, Oxford University.
Alan S. Blinder, After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead (Penguin Press, 2013) 978-1594205309
Many fine books on the financial crisis were first drafts of history—books written to fill the need for immediate understanding. Alan S. Blinder, esteemed Princeton professor, Wall Street Journal columnist, and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, held off, taking the time to understand the crisis and to think his way through to a truly comprehensive and coherent narrative of how the worst economic crisis in postwar American history happened, what the government did to fight it, and what we can do from here—mired as we still are in its wreckage.
Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm, Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in The Future of Finance (Penguin Press, New York, 2010) 978-159420250
Renowned economist Nouriel Roubini electrified the financial community by predicting the current crisis before others in his field saw it coming. This myth-shattering book reveals the methods he used to foretell the current crisis and shows how those methods can help us make sense of the present and prepare for the future. Using an unconventional blend of historical analysis with masterful knowledge of global economics, Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm, a journalist and professor of economic history, present a vital and timeless book that proves calamities to be not only predictable but also preventable and, with the right medicine, curable.
John Quiggin, Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (Princeton University Press, 2011) ISBN 9780691145822
Zombie Economics takes the reader through the origins, consequences, and implosion of a system of ideas whose time has come and gone. These beliefs—that deregulation had conquered the financial cycle, that markets were always the best judge of value, that policies designed to benefit the rich made everyone better off—brought us to the brink of disaster once before, and their persistent hold on many threatens to do so again. Because these ideas will never die unless there is an alternative, Zombie Economics also looks ahead at what could replace market liberalism, arguing that a simple return to traditional Keynesian economics and the politics of the welfare state will not be enough—either to kill dead ideas, or prevent future crises.
Raghuram J. Rajan, Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010) ISBN 0691146837
Raghuram Rajan was one of the few economists who warned of the global financial crisis before it hit. Now, as the world struggles to recover, it's tempting to blame what happened on just a few greedy bankers who took irrational risks and left the rest of us to foot the bill. In Fault Lines, Rajan argues that serious flaws in the economy are also to blame, and warns that a potentially more devastating crisis awaits us if they aren't fixed.
Core Economic Ideas
Dani Rodrik, Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science (WW Norton, 2015) ISBN 978-0393246414
A leading economist trains a lens on his own discipline to uncover when it fails and when it works.
Lanny Ebenstein, Chicagonomics: The Evolution of Chicago Free Market Economics (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) ISBN 978-0230621954
Chicagonomics explores the history and development of classical liberalism as taught and explored at the University of Chicago.
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2012) 978-0307719218
Two of the world’s best and most erudite economists examine why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?
Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (Public Affairs, 2011)
Why do the poor borrow to save? Why do they miss out on free life-saving immunizations, but pay for unnecessary drugs? In Poor Economics, two award-winning MIT professors, answer these questions based on years of field research from around the world.
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (New York: Harper Perennial, 2005) ISBN 0060731338
Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They set out to explore the inner workings of a crack gang, the truth about real estate agents, the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan, and much more.
Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decision (New York: Harper, 2010) 0061353248
Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways.
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
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
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.
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.
Charles Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (W. W. Norton, 2010) ISBN 0393337642
This perennial favorite of students and general readers is more than a good read, it’s a necessary investment—with a blessedly sure rate of return. Demystifying buzzwords, laying bare the truths behind oft-quoted numbers, and answering the questions you were always too embarrassed to ask, the breezy Naked Economics gives readers the tools they need to engage with pleasure and confidence in the deeply relevant, not so dismal science.
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
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.
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?
Marshall Jevons, Murder at the Margin (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998) ISBN 0691000980
Marshall Jevons, Fatal Equilibrium (New York: Fawcett, 1986) ISBN 0345331583
Marshall Jevons, A Deadly Indifference : A Henry Spearman Mystery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998) ISBN 0691059691
Marshall Jevons, Mystery of the Invisible Hand (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014) ISBN 0691163138
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.