More classics (and other novels) for economists

Yesterday I reposted my 2013 list of classic novels for economists. Commenters on the post and many people on Twitter offered other suggestions. Here they are. First, classic novels:

Balzac – Alexandre Delaigue & others mentioned Le Père Goriot (cited by Thomas Piketty) and Eugenie Grandet was recommended by Rebecca Spang (about greed, speculation and coins).

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (of course! how could I have omitted it. Thanks Stephen Kinsella.

From Laurent Franckx, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

Merjin Knibbe & others pointed to Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment and The Gambler, and Gogol’s Dead Souls. Also Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

On the Gogol, “The plot of this hilarious satire revolves over an attempt by the protagonist to acquire fictious collateral (dead serfs) for which money could be borrowed from the Russian state bank (in early 19th century)”, writes Juha Tarkka.

Merjin also suggested some others I hadn’t even heard of: by Heijermans, Kamertjeszonde (no translation?!). Multatuli’s Max Havelaar. Fukazawa’s The ballad of Narayama, Malot’s Sans Familie.

Matt Clancy suggested The Grapes of Wrath. Of course! Another one I should have thought of, were it not for the A Level aversion therapy: hated it when forced to read it.

Nick Isles proposed Jude the Obscure. (I hate Hardy’s novels; I always want the characters to just pull themselves together.)

Zola was popular:  The Ladies’ Paradise, L’Argent. Anything by Zola is magnificent.

Trollope’s The Way We Live Now was a popular one, and again a glaring omission from the original list.

Robbie Mochrie, impressively, suggested a Jane Austen work I’ve never heard of, about “the ways in which economic activity was shifting from land use to provision of goods and services early in the industrial revolution,” Sanditon.

Cyril Ritter points to Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1945, “For its depiction of a system that exploits poor people and keeps them poor and uninformed.”

Then there were some non-classic suggestions, which was against the rules but there were some great ideas.

I thoroughly agree with all those recommending Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, which in effect makes the point about the formal identity under ideal conditions of decentralised general equilibrium and the centrally planned economy. But more than that it’s a cracking good read. Also Spufford’s Golden Hill and The Backroom Boys. He’s a wonderful writer.

Jacques Crémer recommended The Godfather, Mario Puzo, on game theory.

Others in this category:

China Miéville, Embassytown

Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun (international capital flows)

Asimov’s Foundation series


Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

David Lodge’s Nice Work




4 thoughts on “More classics (and other novels) for economists

  1. Below are two passages from Crime and Punishment that relate to economics and one sounds like the invisible hand.

    “But Mr. Lebeziatnikov who keeps up with modern ideas explained the other day that compassion is forbidden nowadays by science itself, and that that’s what is done now in England, where there is political economy.” (economics used to be called political economy)

    “if I were told, ‘love thy neighbour,’ what came of it?” Pyotr Petrovitch went on, perhaps with excessive haste. “It came to my tearing my coat in half to share with my neighbour and we both were left half naked. As a Russian proverb has it, ‘Catch several hares and you won’t catch one.’ Science now tells us, love yourself before all men, for everything in the world rests on self-interest. You love yourself and manage your own affairs properly and your coat remains whole. Economic truth adds that the better private affairs are organised in society–the more whole coats, so to say—the firmer are its foundations and the better is the common welfare organised too. Therefore, in acquiring wealth solely and exclusively for myself, I am acquiring, so to speak, for all, and helping to bring to pass my neighbour’s getting a little more than a torn coat; and that not from private, personal liberality, but as a consequence of the general advance.”

  2. Vanity Fair? The book rather than the TV although that is fun. It will be interesting to see how they deal with Mr. Sedley’s going bust. Also, conspicuous consumption as it used to be.

  3. I second Trollope… really anything by Trollope would be ripe for any Gary Becker type of analysis… especially the Barchester books.

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