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.
Nostromo (or virtually any other of his novels), Joseph Conrad: the heart of colonialism
Nostromo (Penguin Popular Classics)
Germinal, Emile Zola: the fuel of the Industrial Revolution – coal and human life
Germinal (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature)
North and South or Mary Barton, Mrs Gaskell: the social effects of industrialisation with a special eye on women. Mary Barton is set in my home city, Manchester.
Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life
The Master and Margarita, 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.
The Master and Margarita (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Charterhouse of Palma, Stendhal: pre-unification Italy and European politics
The Leopard, Giuseppe de Lampedusa: The Risorgimento, and modernity.
The Leopard: Revised and with new material (Vintage Classics)
The Whirlpool, George Gissing: in fact anything by Gissing – as he summed it up, “Not enough money,” in Britain’s newly industrialising cities
Middlemarch, 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.
Roxana, 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?)
Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (Oxford World’s Classics)
We, Yevgeny Zamyatin: collectivism, conformity – the dark side of the early 20th century. Another recent discovery, courtesy of Nick Reynolds.
We (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics)
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo: need I say anything? I even loved the recent musical movie version
Les Miserables (Classics)
My Antonia and O Pioneers, Willa Cather: the harsh life of the American frontier, and the strength of women
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald: the Roaring 20s in a glamorous nutshell. I haven’t yet seen the new Baz Luhrmann movie version.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressel: not the greatest literature but a novel that still speaks to working people struggling for money.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Wordsworth Classics)