The Well-Read Young Economist

When my eldest son was in the sixth form, I created a new game for my friends and acquaintances to play at dinner parties or in dull meetings: what books should a well-rounded young person read? Fiction, classics, non-fiction, fun, dull but worthy books – there were no restrictions. It proved a real hit. I was told that certain board meetings had been distracted by the pleasure of devising the ideal reading list.

The said young man is now in his second year studying politics, philosophy and economics at university, with a leaning towards economics. So I'm updating my question and setting it loose on the internet. He has devoured the obvious popular economics books – he's a particular fan of Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist. Setting those aside, what books would you recommend to a young would-be economist?

It's not all that easy to answer. Much of the core of modern economics is contained in journal articles, of course, and economists are not famed for their writing ability. But my criteria include readability and relevance to core economics. My first thoughts are:

The Worldly Philosophers, Robert Heilbroner – a deserved classic
Information Rules, Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian – quite old now but still the best 'how to' economics for business in the internet age
The Evolution of New Markets, Paul Geroski – Paul was one of the best applied economists I've known and this is a terrific business economics book
Irrational Exuberance, Bob Shiller
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes

Those are the ones that came to mind this morning – but there must be lots of other ideas out there!


6 thoughts on “The Well-Read Young Economist

  1. If a person isn't exposed to economics then Free Lunch: Easily Digestible Economics by David Smith is a must read. It is elementary, breaks down the principles into digestible bits.
    It would also act as a refresher course.

  2. David Smiths 'Free Lunch' is a brilliant book to spark an interest in economics. I would recommend The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. Tax dodging Top Shop executives as well as expense hungry politicians could learn a thing or two from Adam Smith's book on moral judgement and virtue.

  3. Some suggestions via Twitter:
    @monsieurlemmy JK Galbraith's “A Short History of Financial Euphoria” Good prose, informative and no algebra in sight
    @cbuchanancubed Thaler & Sunstein's Nudge
    @paulstpancras SciFi?

  4. John Dunn's The Cunning of Unreason, a very chastening reminder of just how hard it is to make sense of politics, either as theory or practice, and for that reason perfect for a PPE-ist.

  5. Dare I suggest Freakonomics? As a young outsider to the subject myself (23, I studied maths at university), this book was my introduction to economics and it nothing else it kicked off my passion for the topic.

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