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
Germinal, Emile Zola: the fuel of the Industrial Revolution – coal and human life
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.
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 Charterhouse of Palma, Stendhal: pre-unification Italy and European politics
The Leopard, Giuseppe de Lampedusa: The Risorgimento, and modernity.
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?)
We, Yevgeny Zamyatin: collectivism, conformity – the dark side of the early 20th century. Another recent discovery, courtesy of Nick Reynolds.
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo: need I say anything? I even loved the recent musical movie version
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)