The Enlightened Economist Prize 2023

Drumroll – it’s time to announce the winner of this year’s prize, from the long shortlist.

It’s been a difficult choice, as so often. Indeed, I’m going to have a runner-up as well this time. A reminder that this is entirely my personal decision, reflecting a book’s combination of insights, facts or ideas that were new to me and compelling writing to make it an enjoyable read. There is nothing systematic about the longlist, which just depends on what I read during the previous 12 months. And the Prize is that I offer to buy the winner (and the runner up) lunch if we happen to be in the same place.

So this year’s winner is Ed Conway’s Material World, a fantastic voyage of discovery around the world exploring the critical materials on which modern life, and the modern economy, depend. Some of these are familiar, like lithium, others far less so – such as the specific sand or salt needed for critical manufacturing processes. A quarter century ago I published a book called the Weightless World which observed, correctly, that economic value was increasingly intangible. There has been progressively less material stuff per £ of GDP since at least the 1970s. But the material to which all that intangible value is tethered is essential. This is a terrific read.

The runner up, as we head into a UK election period, is Paul Johnson’s Follow the Money. It didn’t quite make top slot because the content – UK policy and politics –  is so much more familiar to me. But it deserves a prize for clarity of writing and the white-hot burning anger about the seemingly ever-worsening leadership and economic management people in this country have been suffering. Essential preparatory reading for the next 12 months in the UK.

Ed, Paul – I’m at your disposal for the prize lunch!



Enlightened Economist Prize Longlist 2023

It’s the time of year when I look back over 12 months of reading and select a top 10. This time I have two top 10s, one for the usual economics and business books – the prize contenders – and another 10 I liked a lot as a bonus for readers. The prize is a free lunch when the winner and I happen to be in the same place, and anything I read is eligible even if it was published earlier than 2023.

OK, here’s the longlist, alphabetically:

Power and Progress by Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson – my review

Our Lives in their Portfolios by Brett Christophers – my review

Permacrisis by Gordon Brown, Mohamed El Erian and Mike Spence

Material World by Ed Conway – my review

Ravenous by Henry Dimbleby – my review

Pricing the Priceless by Paula DiPerna – my review

How Big Things Get Done by Bent Flvbjerg and Dan Gardner – my review

Seven Crashes by Harold James – my review

Follow the Money by Paul Johnson – my review

The Lazarus Heist by Geoff White – my review

And here’s the bonus list, which I’m going to label ‘These times’ – mainly technology and history, includes some fiction:

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani

Journey to the Edge of Reason by Stephen Budiansky – my review

Reality+ by David Chalmers – my review

Parfit by David Edmonds – my review

Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad by Daniel Finkelstein

Homelands by Timothy Garton Ash

The MANIAC by Benjamin Labatut – my review

The Last Colony by Philippe Sands

Cahokia Jazz by Francis Spufford

The Philosopher of Palo Alto by John Tinnell – my review

Finally, I have to recommend as a seasonal gift for yourself or someone else my dear husdand Rory Cellan-Jones’s memoir Ruskin Park. I’m biased but it’s had rave reviews. It’s about him growing up with his single mum in a South London council flat and his amazing family story, about his mother’s love story and the barriers talented and ambitious women like her faced in the 1950s through the 70s, and about the BBC.

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Enlightened Economist Prize 2022 – the winner

It’s always much harder to select a winner than to decide on the 10 (occasionally 12) books on the longlist, and somehow harder than usual this year. For I’ve decided there are two that have the combination of interest, distinctiveness and excellent writing I’m looking for. So, with the usual caveat that this is an entirely personal decision based on what I happen to have read, my own interests, (and no doubt my mood at the time), I’m offering a free lunch to both Brad DeLong for Slouching Towards Utopia and James Bessen for The New Goliaths. Congratulations to both!


The 2022 Enlightened Economist Prize – longlist

Looking back over my reading during the past 12 months, there is a strong longlist for this year’s Prize. As a reminder, this is a completely arbitrary decision based on the books I’ve read (regardless of their publication date), and – apart from the glory – the only actual prize is an offer to the author of a free lunch next time they and I are in the same location. There’s a bias toward digital economy titles, economic history, and a couple of great business books. Here’s the list:

Free Market: The History of an Idea by Jacob Soll (my review)

The New Goliaths by James Bessen (my review)

Cloud Empires by Vili Lehrdonvirta (my review)

Jan Tinbergen by Erwin Dekker (my review)

Slouching Towards Utopia by Brad DeLong (my review)

The Journey of Humanity by Oded Galor (my review)

The Vaccine by Joe Miller (my review)

Money Men by Dan McCrum (no review – it reads like a thriller, excellent read)

Restarting the Future by Jonathan Haskel & Stian Westlake (my review)

The Money Minders by Jagjit Chadha (embarrassed to say I didn’t write up a review as I read an early draft to provide a blurb. All you need to know to demystify central banking, in crystal prose).



The 2020 Enlightened Economist Prize – (very) longlist

It’s the time of year when I look back over 12 months of reading and nominate a ‘winner’. The rules are: this is entirely arbitrary. It depends what I liked best (for ideas, quality of writing, provocativeness, accessibility etc) from what I happen to have read (publication date irrelevant). There is a prize: I offer to take the author(s) to lunch if we happen to be in the same city.

This year’s list is quite long. There is an actual longlist of 11 books (in the order I read them), then some supplementaries.

The longlist:

  1. Deaths of Despair – Anne Case and Angust Deaton. My review here.
  2. The Sum of the People – Andrew Whitby. My review here.
  3. Frank Ramsey – Cheryl Misak. My review here.
  4. The Economics of Belonging – Martin Sandbu. My review here.
  5. Arts and Minds – Anton Howes. My review here.
  6. Angrynomics – Mark Blyth and Eric Lonergan. My review here.
  7. If/Then – Jill Lepore. My review here.
  8. Boom and Bust – William Quinn and John Turner. My review here.
  9. The Code – Margaret O’Mara. My review here.
  10. Rentier Capitalism – Brett Christophers. My review here.
  11. The Mismeasure of Progress – Stephen Macekura. My review here.

Not much overlap with Tyler Cowen’s list. Mine reflects my leaning towards statistics and tech.

Supplementary lists.

Two books everyone should read before being allowed to hold or express any opinions about numbers in public life – compulsory purchases:

Three terrific books about democracy and its decline:

There are many good recent books about AI, but only one that can make you fall off your chair weeping with laughter. Great Holiday Season present to yourself:

There were a number of bubbling under titles, and a whole bunch of good books I read about logical positivism, the Vienna Circle, and the 1920s. But it was time to draw a line. I’ll select an overall winner in a week or so.