Classics for economists

I’ve been brooding about the depressing popularity of Jane Austen, so have decided to offer my own list of classics for economists and others who’re not part of the sentimental frocks-and-romance brigade. Here’s my Top 10 list (actually it’s 14+), in no special order. As ever, other suggestions welcome.

 (or virtually any other of his novels), Joseph Conrad: the heart of colonialism

[amazon_image id=”0140620281″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Nostromo (Penguin Popular Classics)[/amazon_image]

, Emile Zola: the fuel of the Industrial Revolution – coal and human life

[amazon_image id=”1840226188″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Germinal (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature)[/amazon_image]

 or , Mrs Gaskell: the social effects of industrialisation with a special eye on women. Mary Barton is set in my home city, Manchester.

[amazon_image id=”014043464X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life[/amazon_image]

, Mikhail Bulgakov: the murderous insanity of Soviet dictatorship – Professor Woland, Game Theorist? I’ve only just read this, having seen the truly, madly, deeply brilliant Theatre de Complicite staging earlier this year.

[amazon_image id=”014118373X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Master and Margarita (Penguin Modern Classics)[/amazon_image]

, Stendhal: pre-unification Italy and European politics

, Giuseppe de Lampedusa: The Risorgimento, and modernity.

[amazon_image id=”0099512157″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Leopard: Revised and with new material (Vintage Classics)[/amazon_image]

, George Gissing: in fact anything by Gissing – as he summed it up, “Not enough money,” in Britain’s newly industrialising cities

, George Eliot (or again, pretty much anything by her): astute political and psychological analysis of 19th century social change. Bonnets and frocks without the saccharine.

, Daniel Defoe: the economic status of women, by one of the unsung feminist heroes, who was also a famous economic journalist in his day. (Tim Harford, where is your first novel?)

[amazon_image id=”0199536740″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (Oxford World’s Classics)[/amazon_image]

, Yevgeny Zamyatin: collectivism, conformity – the dark side of the early 20th century. Another recent discovery, courtesy of Nick Reynolds.

[amazon_image id=”0140185852″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]We (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics)[/amazon_image]

, Victor Hugo: need I say anything? I even loved the recent musical movie version

[amazon_image id=”0140444300″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Les Miserables (Classics)[/amazon_image]

 and , Willa Cather: the harsh life of the American frontier, and the strength of women

[amazon_image id=”0395083656″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]O Pioneers![/amazon_image]

, F Scott Fitzgerald: the Roaring 20s in a glamorous nutshell. I haven’t yet seen the new Baz Luhrmann movie version.

, Robert Tressel: not the greatest literature but a novel that still speaks to working people struggling for money.

[amazon_image id=”184022682X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Wordsworth Classics)[/amazon_image]

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16 thoughts on “Classics for economists

  1. No grumbles about who is on the list. One you might consider is Maria Edgeworth (see Wikipedia) a formidable and interesting writer on society, politics and education. “Castle Rackrent” is a favourite. She was contemporary with Jane Austen, but lived a lot longer. More to the point, although theoretically Irish, she had close connections with the Lichfield set. Also to Sheridan and some of the same families in Hampshire as Austen. There were some who were linked in Ireland to Maria and who turn up in Hampshire when Austen began to write. It is very likely that Austen had read her at least and perhaps in her own work did not attempt to compete. As I suggested before with Austen you really have to look for the things she does not mention or apparently deal with.

  2. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” There is more than frocks and romance here, there is wit and trenchant social commentary. Sentimental it is not. Who marries whom is what a lot of life, or at least literature and gossip, is about. There is a ton more sentimentality in North and South than there is in Jane Austen. Now that I think of it There are parallels between Margaret Hale/John Thornton and Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy, but Pride and Prejudice is much the better book.

    In spite of your disapproval of the divine Jane, your blog is well worth reading.

  3. Wonderful! I have been needing a new interesting novel reading list, especially of out-of-copyright books.

    But why the links to Amazon? Having flicked through your anti-Kindle rant, it strikes me that many of your gripes are against the way their DRM gets in the way. Would you have enjoyed using an ereader more if you’d realised that the majority of your favourite books are available for free, completely unlocked — ie easily digitally copied on to friends and family? (Might sharing books simultaneously be even nicer than sequentially?)

    I’d be happy to send you a list of links to Project Gutenburg, for nearly all of these, if you’re interested. (Note I am not suggesting anything nefarious here; see “out of copyright”).

    [But would it damage publishing and booksellers if more people were aware that almost everything out-of-copyright and worth having can be had, for free? Does that form a noticable part of their business — and would more people substitute out of buying recent works? Would be interested in your take. Personally I think the availability of great art at zero marginal cost is one of the wonders of our age.]

    • It’s a fair comment, and the only reason for Amazon links is their associates programme, which provides the only funding this blog has for buying books and making small payments or sending books to the occasional guest reviewers. If another bookseller had a similar programme I’d switch, and I buy books from Abe myself.

  4. No real criticism of any one choice, but should economists only read worthy novels about Important Themes In History, Great Historical and Economic Processes, Poverty, Industrialisation, Imperialism, The Dark Side of Early Twentieth Century Collectivism etc. It’s verging on self-parody.

  5. Pingback: Another take on classics for economists | The Enlightened Economist

  6. Kipps by H G Wells is poignant and funny. Based around the getting and losing of wealth, and the connection between economic organisation, politics and class.

    Amazon own Abe, surely?

  7. Huge thanks for these, Diane. Have bought 5 for holiday reading. For the Kindle I’m afraid – for which they are so embarrassingly cheap (several on this list are under £2) I feel guilty buying them!

    Thanks for including the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. I read it at 16 and it shaped (and still shapes) my political views. I read it again 3 years ago and found it was still the most powerful indictment of the economic system, and the waste of human potential, certainly as it was in in early 20th century.

  8. I think that there are some brilliant books that you’ve missed: both Frank Norris novels “The Octopus” and “The Pit” are fantastic, and largely unheralded novels. Unnfortunately, Norris died before he could complete the trilogy.

    The other book I’d heartily recommend is modern: Richard Powers “Gain” – really worth a read, and ties together a narrative about the emergence of a soap manufacturer and a woman dying of cancer. It is brilliant.

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