Where to start learning about economics?

A Twitter correspondent (thank you @alaninbelfast!) has alerted me to the decision by the Cite des Sciences (@citedessciences) to cover economics in a year-long exhibition. He asks, what are the best introductory books for somebody who knows nothing about economics?

There are lots and lots of introductory books available, so where to start is a good question. I’m a huge fan of Tim Harford’s

, which demonstrates how microeconomics (covering individuals, businesses, and specific markets) is used in a range of everyday contexts, not least because it turned my economics-refusnik teenage son into an economist when he grew up. Tim’s new book,
is about macroeconomics (the economy as a whole, GDP, inflation and all that jazz). I’ve not read it yet – I’m sure it’s excellent, but macroeconomics itself is in a less solid state than microeconomics.

[amazon_image id=”1408704242″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy[/amazon_image]

David Smith’s books are all clear and accessible and there is a newish edition of his

. John Kay looks more at markets and business – 
would be good ones to start with. I quite liked too 
by George Buckley and Sumeet Desai. I have to recommend my own
, which is more about the frontiers of economics, the exciting newer developments like behavioural economics.The classic on the history of economic thought is Robert Heilbronner’s
, and it hasn’t yet been bettered for the general or new reader.

[amazon_image id=”0691143161″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters (Revised Edition)[/amazon_image]

Geoff Riley of tutor2u provides a long list of recommendations that range from introductions to economics to recent, accessible books that will reward students and newbies.

My recommendations overlap substantially with others I’ve found online- such as this one from Kingsmead Academy for A/AS students, but it also gives the leading textbook titles for anybody who becomes sufficiently interested. And the great new(ish) (non-book) online resource is MR University, terrific stuff there.



15 thoughts on “Where to start learning about economics?

    • It’s a great book, and definitely one I’d recommend for the general interested reader. But it didn’t occur to me as a place for the absolute beginner to start – isn’t “good general reads about economics” a slightly different category?

      Anyway, thank you for highlighting it. Here’s the Amazon link for others (there doesn’t seem to be a book website):

      • Any introduction to physics that focused entirely on classical mechanics and didn’t mention quantum mechanics and relativity would give you a skewed picture of the field. Similarly, I think complexity gets short shrift in most books on economics. I would add Taleb’s Anti-Fragile for good measure and I would have picked Harford’s Adapt over the Undercover Economist. But perhaps I am betraying my own bias. 🙂

    • Good introductory books should introduce readers to mainstream economics. The books by Hazlitt and Rothbard do not fit the bill.

      • The links do reveal their perspective, I think, although as I said, I’ve not read them.
        For that matter, complexity theory as recommended by Steve above isn’t mainstream either.
        These issues help explain why I just stuck to a few titles in the original post.

  1. Good list, Diane. I’d add the following:

    Charlie Whelan’s Naked Economics: http://www.amazon.com/Naked-Economics-Undressing-Science-Revised/dp/0393337642 (my favorite primer)

    Peter Dougherty’s Who’s Afraid of Adam Smith: http://www.amazon.com/Whos-Afraid-Adam-Smith-Market/dp/0471720909 (a wide-ranging and delightful argument)

    John MacMillan’s Reinventing the Bazaar: http://www.amazon.com/Reinventing-Bazaar-Natural-History-Markets/dp/0393323714

    And, selfishly, The Org: http://www.amazon.com/Org-Underlying-Logic-Office/dp/0446571598/

  2. I would suggest a beginner first read Heilbroner’s Worldly Philosophers so that she falls in love with our subject. Then she can go to Wheelan’s Naked Economics and Harford’s Undercover Economist ( in that order.) After that I would recommend The Joy of Economics by Robert Stonebraker. The book introduces the economic way of thinking by illustrating how we can use it to think about various social issues like crime, marriage, divorce and culture. The full text is here

    Then she can proceed to Partha Dasgupta’s Economics: A Very Short Introduction , which introduces economics as a social science rather than as a business science.


    I would recommend your The Soulful Science after a beginner is acquainted with mainstream economics.
    Riley’s recommendations are superb but I am unable to locate good introductory books in his list, except for the one by Heilbroner

  3. I’m an absolute layperson but I liked:

    Grand Pursuit – Sylvia Nasar

    Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises – Charles P. Kindleberger

    And right now I’m (slowly) reading:
    Mankiw, N. Gregory – Brief Principles of Macroeconomics
    I really like it, but that’s because I bought it secondhand for 5 euros!
    I couldn’t afford that book if it were new 🙂

  4. Pingback: Undercover, bigtime | The Enlightened Economist

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