Whether you have no formal knowledge of economics, or you took a couple of economics courses in college, or you’re a current economics major, you might be looking for interesting and well-written books to help you gain a deeper understanding of this complex and influential discipline.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the best economics books out there, written from a wide variety of perspectives to help you broaden your knowledge of the subject.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
We’re starting off the list with a fun read—it’ll appeal to economists and non-economists alike, as it deftly blends economics with pop culture touchstones.
Published in 2005, Freakonomics is an exploration of microeconomics, investigating fascinating subjects like whether guns or swimming pools are more dangerous, and whether nature or nurture is more important to children’s development.
The book was a cultural phenomenon, reaching The New York Times Best Seller List and selling over 5 million copies. One of the authors is Steven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and director of the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory; he was named one of Time’s 100 People Who Shape Our World in 2006. The book’s other author is Stephen J. Dubner, a prominent journalist and radio personality who now hosts the ultra-popular Freakonomics Radio.
The Wealth of Nations
Pretty much on the opposite end of the end of the spectrum from Freakonomics is this ultra-influential foundational text. Adam Smith was a Scottish economist and moral philosopher best known as the “Father of Economics”—so you know he’s important!
Considered to be the first modern work of economics, The Wealth of Nations critiques mercantilism (then Europe’s dominant economic system); discusses free markets, productivity, and the division of labor; and, as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains in an introduction to a 2000 edition of the book, ranges “over issues as fresh and topical today as they were in the late eighteenth century—jobs, wages, politics, government, trade, education, business, and ethics.”
Economics for Humans
Nelson is a feminist economist, meaning she applies feminist theory to critically examine and raise questions about the field of economics.
In this book, she critiques the widespread view of the economy as an inherently cold and unfeeling machine. Instead, she points out, the economy is a living structure created by humans, so it need not exclude concerns like ethics and human relationships.
Reading Economics for Humans is an opportunity to envision a different view of economics—a perspective that could, in fact, help to make the world a better place.
Economics: The User’s Guide
Ha-Joon Chang is a South Korean economist who teaches development economics at Cambridge and who was ranked one of the top 20 World Thinkers by Prospect magazine in 2013.
In this fascinating work, Chang critiques conventional wisdom and elucidates the ways in which the global economy really functions. He draws on a variety of economic theories, including classical and Keynesian economics, and uses the best of each to explain global economic forces in great depth and with stunning clarity.
The Republic of Beliefs
Cambridge professor Diane Coyle awarded this illuminating book with her Enlightened Economist prize for 2018. As she describes it, The Republic of Beliefs “offers a distinctive and revealing perspective on public policy, and couldn’t be more timely.”
The book’s subtitle describes it as offering “a new approach to law and economics,” which sounds dry, but its application of game theory to law and economics is an important exploration of the question of why some laws are obeyed and others aren’t. This book is a little more challenging than others on this list, but it’s worth a read. Its author, Kaushik Basu, has a resume that speaks to extensive experience in his field: former Chief Economist of the World Bank, president of the International Economic Association, and former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, among other notable titles.
The Myth of the Rational Market: Wall Street’s Impossible Quest for Predictable Markets
Justin Fox is a prominent financial journalist, former editorial director of the Harvard Business Review Group, and business and economics columnist for Time magazine. In this title—named a New York Times Notable Book of 2009—Fox attempts to understand the rise of the efficient-market hypothesis, which states that the market is always correct because the choices of rational investors are the best way of assessing a stock’s value.
Yale professor Robert Shiller described the hypothesis as “one of the most remarkable errors in the history of economic thought.” In The Myth of the Rational Market, Fox explains the ideas of new scholars who counter the idea that markets are always correct and investors are inherently rational. This idea is worth understanding, as it’s been the impetus behind many billions of dollars’ worth of economic decisions.
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist
With this creative and innovative proposal, Kate Raworth explains her doughnut model of economics, which seeks to find a balance between meeting human needs and respecting the limits of the Earth’s resources—what she calls the “ecological ceiling.” Past this ecological ceiling are climate change, ocean acidification, chemical pollution, and other dire threats to human survival.
Raworth presents seven focal points to reimagine the economy in a more financially and environmentally sustainable light. Growth, writes Raworth, should no longer be our economic goal—instead, we need to find a way to live in a stable and sustainable manner. For a taste of “doughnut economics,” check out Raworth’s 2018 TED Talk, which provides a clear and succinct summary of the concept: “A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow.” Raworth is a prominent scholar and currently teaches at the Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.