Serious economics for serious times

In this morning’s Guardian Zoe Williams has a feature explaining why she has given up the confection of fiction for the roughage of non-fiction books about the increasingly apocalyptic state of the economy. Her four top picks for current affairs books to read are:

by John Lanchester (explains the Crash brilliantly)

by Paul Krugman (why the government has to sustain demand)

by Mancur Olson (the interplay between the economy and society)

by Alastair Darling (the former Chancellor’s account of the torrid days of the Crash)

A great selection – the Olson is less well-known but well worth it. I’m a big fan of his work. I would add a few more suggestions

by Richard Overy (cultural history of the 1930s)

by Adam Fergusson (the opposite fear to Krugman’s anxiety about what happens if governments don’t opt for deficit financing – what happened when they did, and monetised it; read this to understand the Germans)

by Benjamin Roth (an intelligent midwestern attorney lives through the 1930s week by week)

by Ben Bernanke (how the Fed chairman thinks about the situation – from his academic days)

by Michael Lewis (alongside the Lanchester book, the most readable account of how we got here and why huge reform of finance remains a political necessity)

Interestingly, Richard Overy’s history of the 30s recounts the growing appetite for understanding that Williams expresses in her article. The New Left Book Club was founded and succeeded brilliantly, people read newspapers, joined societies, flocked to libraries and public meetings. We’re seeing the same phenomenon now with blogs and websites proliferating, book clubs turning to non-fiction, lectures packed out with large crowds, enrollments for courses in economics up, massive interest in the business and political news. Serious pursuits for serious times.

Any other book suggestions here are welcome.

[amazon_image id=”0141003251″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Morbid Age: Britain and the Crisis of Civilisation, 1919 – 1939[/amazon_image]

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7 thoughts on “Serious economics for serious times

  1. Great post, thanks.

    9 books – which would you recommend to start with?

    Personally, I’d like to add “The Undercover Economist” (Tim Harford; great book to bring people into this sort of dialogue and thinking), and “The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business” (Umair Haque; looking forwards to a better world, made up of “thick [sustainable, lasting] value”)

  2. L. Ahamed’s “Lords of finance” is more interesting than Ferguson : it considers germany’s hyperinflation and the terrible mistakes of the thirties. An excellent read to understand the euro crisis.

    Tyler Cowen’s “the great stagnation” is also required reading for the crisis.

    Nick Dunbar’s “the devil’s derivative” is the best book to understand what happened in finance and credit derivatives.

    • I agree that all of those are excellent. For an opposite view to Tyler Cowen, you need to read also Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s Race Against the Machine (technological unemployment).

  3. On Twitter @TrevorBLee has said an Austrian perspective is missing from my list, and @rhian_is says the Krugman is great but very one-sided. In a few days I’ll update this post with all suggestions from comments and Twitter.

  4. For history, why not Kindleberger’s Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises? Though I have an older edition and cannot comment on the recent one which inludes Lehman et al.

  5. Animal spirits from Akerlof and Shiller, and Justice from Amartya Sen (tough read though). Join the dots and maybe economics and societies could improve substantially.

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