best introduction to economics is to pick up an introductory textbook.
Mankiw, Cowen/Tabbarok, and Krugman/Wells are all fine choices; the
differences between them are minor. However, there are also many books
on economics directed at a popular audience. These are no substitute
for an intro textbook, but make for fine, enjoyable, and stimulating
*Recommended videos from Khan Accademy with topics covered in traditional college introductory courses
General Intro to Economics
Landsburg, The Armchair Economist, 1995.
This book basically teaches you the first quarter of Micro 101 at a
popular, easily-accesible level. He skimps out on market failures but
will teach you classic "applied price theory." This should be read
first, because it helps to get a good handle on what economists usually
do before branching out into the specifics of different subfields.
Dixit and Nalebuff, Thinking Strategically, 1993.
This book is a great follow-on to Landsburg and teaches you the
economics of game theory: how individuals act and react when in
competition with each other.
Schelling, Micromotives and Macrobehavior, 1978,
reprint 2006. This is a lovely book that analyzes the various
non-intuitive things that happen when we try to aggregate up from
individual behavior to societal aggregates.
Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, 1999.
This is an excellent introduction to the "history of economic thought"
(which is separate from "economic history," mind). It covers major
thinkers from Adam Smith through Keynes and Schumpeter.
Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2013.
It's often useful to read economics in the context of psychology. This
is a solid introduction to behavioral economics, the field of
microeconomics that explores the boundaries between economics and
Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, 2002,
revised 2012. It's often useful to read economics in the context of
sociology. This is a book that does just that, exploring how trends in
economics (jobs, technology, and urbanization) have affected American
society. He nicely touches on issues of inequality and class
Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, 2009.
This is the second book in the behavioral economics triad. It's useful
for its broad swath of interesting and sensible policy recommendations.
Ariely, Predictably Irrational, 2010. Third book in the behavioral economics triad.
Malkiel, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, 1973,
revised 2012. This is a classic book on finance and investing, and
comparable to Landsburg in that Malkiel lays out the "basic standard"
for investing advice from research in economics and finance. It's the
only finance book the layman will ever need, and the first one that an
person interested in finance should pick up.
Levitt and Dubner, Freakonomics, 2010. This book jump-started the pop-economics trend of the past few years. Readable and enjoyable.
It's often useful to start with some classic popular books. To that end, I like:
Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 1962,
revised 2002. The classic statement of "market economics." This book
was much more radical and necessary in the 1960s, when it was first
published; many of its recommendations were taken to heart in the 1980s
and 1990s. It remains excellent reading.
Friedman, Free to Choose, 1980,
revised 1990. This is a bit of a companion volume to C&F: longer,
more practical, less theoretical, and applied to many institutional
arraignments in the economy.
Galbraith, The New Industrial State, 1967.
If you read Friedman, you owe it to yourself to read Galbraith.
Galbraith and Friedman were standard-bearers for their respective
economic philosophies and clashed for nearly twenty years. Many of
Galbraith's observations on the concentration of industry and
importance of union bargaining are outdated, but his message remains
Galbraith, The Affluent Society, 1958,
revised 1998. This work is the intellectual foundation of 1990s-era
moderate liberalism, and is an important read for that reason alone.
This book tackles the hard questions of economic affluence, security,
and income inequality.
There are also modern books worth reading. I recommend:
Krugman, Pop Internationalism, 1997.
Krugman's writings in the 1990s are a worthy successor to Galbraith and
exemplify moderate-to-left economic thought. This selection of essays
is a powerful exposition on trade and protectionism.
Krugman, The Accidental Theorist, 1999.
This is another excellent collection of essays that attacks both the
supply-side pop-economics of the political Right and the protectionism
of the political Left. He does a good job of carrying the banner of
clear, precise economic thinking, applied to the problems of the day.
Leamer, Macroeconomic Patterns and Stories, 2008.
This is the single best macroeconomics textbook available at the
intermediate level. It's pitched at those who want a broad introduction
to macroeconomic data and data analysis. He does not clutter the book
with theories, instead preferring to analyze the data with a fairly
atheoretical approach. There's basically nothing wrong with this book
as long as you're willing to learn a little math. Pitched at the MBA
level, any undergraduate with a semester of statistics and year of
intro economics should find this book readable. Warning: this book is a
bit higher-priced than others on the list, and is more academic.
Deaton, The Great Escape, 2013.
This is a popular book on two important long-run trends: growth in
average income per person and the trends in inequality of income across
individuals. Deaton describes both the "trend" and the "spread" of
income and health outcomes with clarity and precision. I use this as a
complement to intro-level macroeconomics courses.
Hartford, The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, 2014.
If Leamer's the popular-academic book on macro and Deaton's the popular
book on growth and inequality, then Hartford is the popular book on
recessions and short-run economic fluctuations. He has an easygoing,
informal style but explains recessions with some lucidity.
Big Economics: Growth and the Wealth of Nations
is a short list of books that tries to tackle the big questions of
economics: why are some countries rich and other countries poor? Is
there anything that poor countries can do to make themselves rich? I'm
not going to try to summarize each of these books in one paragraph, but
will give a one-word hint as to the answers each provides. None is
perfect; none has found the One True Key to economic prosperity.
However, taken together, they provide a balanced view of many factors
that affect economic growth.
Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, 1999. Despite its flaws, this is required background. (Geography/natural endowments)
Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, 1999. (Culture)
De Soto, The Mystery of Capital, 2003. (Economic institutions)
Mokyr, Gifts of Athena, 2004. (More technical, with a specific focus on ideas/innovation and the Industrial Revolution)
Clark, A Farewell to Alms, 2008. (More technical. Focuses on productivity, with an emphasis on the Industrial revolution)
Acemoglu and Robinson, Why Nations Fail, 2012. (Political institutions)
books look specifically at the question, "what can poor countries today
do to become rich?" Again, I'm not going to summarize all of them. Many
have a special focus on the (in)effectiveness of foreign aid. These
books, or part of them, could easily form the core of a syllabus for a
course in economic development, pitched at the undergrad level. All of
these are geared towards a popular audience.
- Sen, Development as Freedom, 2000.
- Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth, 2002.
- Easterly, The White Man's Burden, 2007.
- Sachs, The End of Poverty, 2006.
- Sachs, Common Wealth, 2009.
- Collier, The Bottom Billion, 2008. Contains an interesting overview of the Easterly-Sachs debate.
- Collier, Wars, Guns and Votes, 2010. Focus on political development in Africa.
- Yunus, Banker to the Poor, 2003. Perspectives on microcredit from the man who started it all.
- Yunus, Creating a World Without Poverty, 2009. Further thoughts on microcredit, and where we go from here in micro-finance.
- Cooter and Schafer, Solomon's Knot, 2013. Focuses on law and economics.
- Banerjee and Duflo, Poor Economics, 2012. Interesting report from the trenches of micro-development, with a good empirical bent.
- Karlan and Appel, More than Good Intentions, 2012. The pitfalls of aid.
Odds and Ends
- Warsh, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations, 2007. Notable for its piercing look into the inner workings of the economics profession.
- Colander, The Making of an Economist, 2008.
Required reading for anyone thinking about going to graduate school,
this book is a critical examination of graduate training in economics.
Worth the buy for the interviews alone.
- Snowdon and Vane, Modern Macroeconomics: Its Origins, Development, and Current State, 2005.
An exposition of the various schools of macroeconomic thought. Requires
a year or two of economics training to appreciate, but could easily be
a companion book to an intermediate course in macro.
- Moretti, The New Geography of Jobs, 2013. A good followup to Richard Florida, if you're into the econ-sociology nexus.
Biographies and Retrospectives
These are a "view from the trenches," written by economists and practitioners on their time in public service.
for a macroeconomics reading list
- Rubin, In an Uncertain World, 2004. The Clinton economic team.
- Taylor, Global Financial Warriors, 2007. The Bush economic team.
- Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence, 2007. Great for a perspective on advances in economic policymaking just before the financial crisis.
- Wessel, In Fed We Trust, 2009. The Bernanke Fed during the crisis.
- Meyer, A Term at the Fed, 2009. The Greenspan Fed during its Clinton-era heyday.
- Paulson, On the Brink, 2011. Inside the "panic days" of the financial crisis.