What is a good, short readable book on market economics?

by on May 4, 2011 at 3:40 pm in Books, Economics | Permalink

Boswell, a loyal MR reader, asks:

I’ve been asked to select a book that all incoming freshmen will (supposedly) read over the summer and then give a lecture on the topic in the fall.  The constraints are two-fold:  it should be a short, affordable paperback, and it should be an interesting read that will engage nearly everyone, especially those who have no interest in economics whatsoever.

There must be a good, short book out there on economics that illuminates the power of markets and the economic way of thinking.  Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek are out – too heavy and dense for the average reader.  Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” was selected a few years earlier.  Henry Hazlett is out of date.  Any suggestions for possible books?  P.J. O’Rourke on Adam Smith?  Bastiat’s “The Law”?  Charles Wheelan’s “Naked Economics”?  Something by Tim Harford?  “Fooled by Randomness” by Taleb?  John McMillan’s “Reinventing the Bazaar”?

Ideas?  There is also Russ Roberts and early Paul Krugman, among others.

1 jdl May 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm

robert frank’s the economic naturalist?

2 Brian May 4, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I don’t like how Robert Frank positions himself as a “whistle blower” of sorts at the very beginning calling out economic educators across the country — and hence the need for his his book. at issue is the definition of Opportunity Cost, and he alludes to a survey done in college and basically “concludes” that everyone, including economics students and teachers, don’t even know what opportunity cost is. There was even a new york times editorial written about it, which i don’t have a link to at the moment. He then concludes that economic education is in dire straights. the irony is that HE is wrong. he was confusing the idea of economic profit with opportunity cost.
the rest of the book is only ok, and doesn’t so much deal with core economic concepts, and is rather a summary of his students’ investigations of every day life using economic reasoning —
i do like his recent podcast with russ roberts on income inequality though. it was a thought provoking conversation.

3 Hassan May 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Why not some of your own books?

Create Your Own Economy
Discover Your Inner Economist

Others I can think of include:

Development As Freedom
The Undercover Economist

Maybe some Krugman, but I feel he’s too political

4 Britonomist May 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I would say Freakonomics. It does present well the economic way of thinking, and it does in a way look at markets, although not traditional markets.

5 WF May 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm
6 goblue May 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I read the one on Keynes. Terribly boring.

7 tomslee May 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm

I have read a few in the series (but not the Economics one). There is a wide range of quality and liveliness across the titles I have read. The one on Literature was great, the one on Choice was dishwater dull. So the Keynes book doesn’t say a lot about the Economics one.

8 LD May 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Thomas Sowell’s Basic Econ, 4th edition. No question.

9 Advocatus Diablo May 4, 2011 at 6:28 pm

^^ this

10 MC in Alaska May 4, 2011 at 7:43 pm


11 Bill Logan May 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm

No. Perhaps you could suggest an alternative title that meets the requirement of being “a short, affordable paperback.”

12 Josh Hanson May 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I always liked “Not A Zero Sum Game” by Manuel Ayau.

13 JPCousteau May 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Roberts’ The Invisible Heart would be a solid pick because its light nature and the illustration of markets as only Russ can.

14 C May 5, 2011 at 10:01 am

I’ll second Russell Roberts.

15 Brandon Robison May 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Landsburg’s The Armchair Economist covers a lot of economic principles with interesting, real world examples, and I thought it seemed very accessible, even to the non-econ crowd.

16 CK May 4, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I’ll second this.

17 Nuntius May 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm


Also, Heilbroner’s Worldly Philosophers is great, although I admit it might be a stretch, as it’s more of a biography of economists (although some of them are fascinating indeed).

18 Rory Sutherland May 4, 2011 at 8:56 pm


19 joan May 4, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Heilbroner’s Worldly Philosophers is the book that made me interested in learning economics.

20 Keith May 4, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I agree. I just finished this book and it was excellent. Landsburg’s prose is crystal clear and free of jargon. His last chapter (on environmentalism) is a bit rantish, though. Freakonomics is good, but it’s more about statistics than economics generally.

21 Ben Hughes May 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I strongly second “Basic Economics” by Thomas Sowell. Simply outstanding.

22 John V May 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm

too long

23 LD May 4, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Yes, Ben Hughes is right. forgot the link before. http://www.amazon.com/Basic-Economics-4th-Ed-Economy/dp/0465022529

24 Bob Montgomery May 4, 2011 at 5:06 pm

it should be a short, affordable paperback

And you suggest a 786-page hardcover?

25 Pete May 4, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out Hayek. “The Use of Knowledge in Society” is short and available for free on Google Scholar.

You could also try Ridley’s newest book, the Rational Optimist. Very engaging but maybe a bit long. $10 paperback available from Amazon beginning in June. Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds is also excellent. These two stray from market economics but are very engaging.

26 Alan Gunn May 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I second “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” A whole book, however good, is too much on which to base a single lecture.

27 RZ0 May 4, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Economics Explained was the everyman’s standard a few years ago. I wonder how well it has held up.

28 korbonits May 4, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Naked Economics for a first introduction is excellent. If there’s something comparable that includes recent reevaluations regarding the financial crisis and Great Recession, perhaps that would be best.

Fault Lines by Raghuram Rajan is relevant but perhaps too big-picture for those in need of basic theory.

Just read P.J. O’Rourke on Adam Smith and loved it but it is unabashedly libertarian. Great read for the older American, however, because it’s absolutely littered with brilliant quips and jokes ranging from pop culture to the downright pretentious.

29 Brian May 4, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Naked Economics has a NEW Edition. he adds a few pages to each chapter, and includes new ideas concerning the recent crisis. he even changes his mind about the effectiveness of different types of CEO compensation.

Naked Economics is by far the very best book out there. I teach AP Economics to High School students. it is not only the most readable, it includes the most interesting real life examples to illustrate core economic concepts.

30 Biomed Tim May 10, 2011 at 9:41 am

I agree with Naked Economics. It has the right mix of microeconomics and macroeconomics. The new edition covers the financial crisis, I believe. This would be appropriate for incoming freshmen.

31 Andy May 4, 2011 at 3:55 pm

I’d go with Russ Roberts or Tim Harford. Wheelan is also very good, but being a little longer and a more towards a standard treatment of economics (although very readable).

32 Matt May 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I’d second Harford. Very readable, but still much more grounded in traditional theory than a lot of other “popular” economics writers.

33 James SH May 4, 2011 at 4:01 pm

It’s not yet in paperback, but Greg Ip’s “Little Book of Economics” is cheap ($10 at Amazon).

34 Henry Farrell May 4, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Tom Slee’s No-one Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart is short, well written, surely illustrates the power of markets and economic thinking, and comes strongly recommended by an eminent economic commentator 😉

35 aje May 4, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Here’s what I deem to be the 6 best:

36 Sebastian May 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Krugman’s Peddling Prosperity is quite centrist and very good on economics, maybe a little dated in parts, but really not very much.
If Krugman is too far on the left, surely Landsburg and Roberts should be out – their libertarianism is much further from the disciplinary mainstream than Krugman’s liberalism.

Please don’t use Freakonomics! I don’t think it teaches people anything about economics.

How about a more international perspective?
Easterly’s “Elusive Quest for Growth” is terrific and it gives you the same “incentives matter” line as Freakonomics, but integrated into a much more interesting argument about some of the biggest questions of economics.

37 Anotherphil May 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

“Please don’t use Freakonomics! I don’t think it teaches people anything about economics.”

Yep, is to economics what Dominos is to Pizza.

38 Psychohistorian May 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Easily accessible, affordable, and perfectly satisfactory for the purposes of all but a narrow elite?

39 Gene Callahan May 5, 2011 at 11:25 am

Nobody I know in Brooklyn considers Dominos to be pizza, and this is hardly a bunch of elitists I’m talking about! Perhaps you are from a state like North Dakota where real pizza is not offered?

40 Dana May 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Nobody in Chicago considers anything in Brooklyn pizza (they’re wrong of course). But they’ll all give someone who knows nothing about the subject a general idea about the nature of pizza.

41 Slocum May 4, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Landsburg and Roberts should be out – their libertarianism is much further from the disciplinary mainstream than Krugman’s liberalism.

I don’t see Russ Roberts that way at all. His The Choice, for example, is certainly well within the mainstream (for economists) in its defense of free trade while treating opponents with understanding and respect. I’d say Russ Roberts is pretty much the opposite of strident — listen, for example, to his discussion with Robert Frank about The Economic Naturalist (which would also be a good choice):


42 Brad May 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Common Sense Economics
Hidden Order
The Choice
Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy

43 General Lee May 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm

+1 for The Choice

44 Michael May 4, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Andy Kessler – “How We Got Here”

Talks about markets from a very nuts-and-bolts perspective. Goes back to the industrial revolution, steam power, etc. to show how and why markets were created. One of my favorite books.


45 John May 4, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I read Tim Harford’s ‘The Undercover Economist’ in my senior year of high school and enjoyed it immensely. I would recommend it above ‘Freakonomics’ for an illustration of “the economic way of thinking.” While I enjoyed ‘Freakonomics,’ I walked away from it understanding that incentives are everywhere, but not much more — in that sense, Harford might be a better pick.

46 Todd May 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm

How about a couple of books that approach some important economic issues from a non-traditional perspective:

1. Hernando De Soto: “The Mystery of Capital”

2. Armatya Sen: “On Ethics and Economics”

3. Stiglitz, Sen & Fitoussi: “Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up”

4. Herbert Simon: “Reason in Human Affairs”

While these texts would expose students to some viewpoints they otherwise might not get in an Intro course, it might also make for more varied and lively “lectures” for the instructor. Imagine sitting through 50 lectures based on a Thomas Sowell book. I’d rather hear about Mao’s Little Red Book.

47 Sebastian May 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm

I actually thought about several of these – and they’re all great books – but I feel they’re all better when you’ve had at least some exposure to more mainstream economic thinking.

48 Steve H May 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Thomas Sowell
Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy

49 Noah Yetter May 4, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Eat the Rich by PJ O’Rourke (this was actually assigned to me in college)

50 AnotherTom May 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm

This was going to be my recommendation as well. I find O’Rourke just as funny, and less ideologically contentious, when he writes about foreign affairs.

51 Ben May 4, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Worldly Philosophers. It was required reading for my MBA econ class. Doesn’t get too deep much theory, but gives a good overview of the major economists starting with Adam Smith.

52 Nobody May 4, 2011 at 4:19 pm

How an economy grows and why it crashes. – Peter Schiff
Economics in One Lesson – Henry Hazlitt

53 Brad S May 7, 2011 at 11:37 am

Economics in One Lesson!!!!

Quick, easy, and cheap!

I would also recommend “That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen” by Bastiat. I don’t know if it can be found alone or if you would have to buy a collection of his writings, but this work more than any other explains how to look at the world through the lens economics.

54 Jenny Davidson May 4, 2011 at 4:20 pm

It is not exactly what is being asked, but A O Hirschmann’s “The Passions and the Interests” seems to me a classic for all time. My preference for this sort of thing is really to go to absolute classics – so that it makes more sense, say, to assign a really important essay by Thomas Nagel as opposed to some recent popularization that doesn’t give direct access to a major intervention in the field itself.

55 Ano May 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Charles Wheelan’s “Naked Economics” is awesome.

56 Scott Koser, CFA May 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I second Economics in one lesson, Hazlitt

57 angus May 4, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I’d go with “Travels of a T-shirt” by a wide margin. It’s excellent and in my experience using it in class, non-econ students love it. Very few non-econ students are going to sit still for “Economics in one Lesson”, or Sen or DeSoto.

58 Robbie May 4, 2011 at 4:28 pm

The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford.

Easy reading yet informative and counter intuitive enough to get people hooked. Also essentially apolitical in contrast the Free to Choose and some of the other suggestions here.

59 JohnP May 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Here’s another vote for Sowell. But there’s no way he’ll ever be assigned, sad to say.

Of books that have a chance of actually being chosen, I’d vote for The Invisible Heart.

60 Michael F. Martin May 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Heinlein’s *The Moon is a Harsh Mistress*

61 Rich Berger May 4, 2011 at 4:30 pm

“There must be a good, short book out there on economics that illuminates the power of markets and the economic way of thinking.” In light of this requirement, I don’t understand why Hazlitt would be considered out of date.

62 Smith May 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm

“Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists”

Rajan & Zingales

63 Steve Reilly May 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm

What about Steven Landsburg’s Armchair Economist?

64 John May 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Naked Economics, easily.

65 TD May 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Macroeconomics Demystified by August Swanenberg

It’ll satisfy …

“a book that all incoming freshmen will (supposedly) read over the summer and then give a lecture on the topic in the fall.”

but probably not …

“will engage nearly everyone, especially those who have no interest in economics whatsoever”

66 JasonL May 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm

How about just the lyrics to the rap battle?

67 Leigh Caldwell May 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Another vote for Tim Harford, “The Undercover Economist”. It revived my interest in mainstream economics and is full of great examples and very readable. I seem to recall a few UK-based examples and anecdotes but I think there may be a US edition. Pretty much mainstream economics and politically neutral (though bearing in mind that he is British, which may mean he’s more left than the US median – or in the unoccupied centre between left and right-wing partisans).

The early Krugman book I liked was “The Accidental Theorist”. I don’t remember him being as leftish then as he is now, but do check.

And I think Tyler’s “Discover Your Inner Economist” looks good – though embarrassingly for an MR commenter, I haven’t read the whole thing.

But were you actually looking for a general introduction to economics as a whole (any of the above), or something illustrating a specific single idea from a market/economic point of view? If the latter, then maybe something like Sudhir Venkatesh’s “Gang Leader For A Day” would make for an interesting lecture.

68 Matt May 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm

The History of Money by anthropologist Jack Weatherford

69 Rahul May 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm

A very good way to really see how markets work is to read the Wall Street Journal. The student subscription is pretty reasonably priced too. The articles are more interestingly written than most books. The examples seem real, because they are! And you don’t run the risk of viewing the world through one man’s goggles; a major risk in economics I fear. If you skip the editorials the WSJ is pretty well balanced usually.

I vote for the WSJ over most books.

70 Ted Craig May 5, 2011 at 7:53 am

I know at econ prof at Richmond who gives the same recommendation.

71 Neil May 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Another vote for The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford.

It easily fits the brief of being a cheap, readable paperback but it also does a great job of illustrating how the forces of economics are at work under our very noses. One of the cover quotes on my copy said something like “It’s like being given a pair of x-ray specs, revealing the hidden side of everyday life” and as someone not previously exposed to much economics, that’s exactly how it felt.

I’m now in my first year of a BSc in Economics & Maths. It was The Undercover Economist that initially piqued my interest and made me want to understand more which led me to this point! That seems like exactly the scenario here.

I’d also vote against Freakonomics – it’s a great book, but it seems to be more “Here’s how the principles of economics can be applied to other areas” which might logically come after a book explaining what those principles are in their normal setting.

72 1st year May 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Equality & Efficiency or Capitalism & Freedom

73 JFA May 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm

“Marketplace of the Gods”” by Witham. Looks at a specific topic but succinctly applies the economic way of thinking to religion, and an added bonus is that it has the best popular discussion of rationality in economics that I have read.

74 Anand May 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm

My amateur vote goes to Schelling’s Micromotives and Macrobehavior.

75 Erik Brynjolfsson May 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Great book.

76 PM May 4, 2011 at 5:06 pm

The Wordly Philosophers. I read it in high school and is the reason why I ended up with a degree in economics.
$10 on Amazon (new), probably a few bucks used anywhere.

77 Erik Brynjolfsson May 4, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I had a similar positive experience in high school, although when I went back and re-read it recently, I was less impressed. Nonetheless, maybe the high school reader criterion is the better one for this purpose.

78 CFM May 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Totally. Best survey on possibilities in political economy.

79 Zac Gochenour May 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Hidden Order

80 dirk May 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Jim Rogers’ Investment Biker

81 dirk May 4, 2011 at 7:22 pm

The key insight of this book for me was that market economics is a reality which exists even in places where it doesn’t officially exist. All the better that the book is dated to just after the fall of communism since now is a perfect time for a resurgence of anti-statist lessons and that boring Ayn Rand shit just ain’t cutting it. The travelogue style and bite-sized history lessons fulfills the requirement of “engaging read for those who have no interest in economics”.

82 MrP May 4, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I am a non-economist, found “Economics in one Lesson” by chance, and couldn’t stop reading until I was done.

83 Nick_L May 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Dr Strangelove’s Game: A Brief History of Economic Genius by Paul Strathern.

Not well known, but an entertaining and interesting overview on the history of economics, with a good focus on some of the more colorful characters and key economic events.


84 John V May 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm

“Early Paul Krugman”…


85 John V May 4, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Henry Hazlitt’s is NOT out of date.

Still the best for quality and brevity.

86 Sebastian May 4, 2011 at 5:51 pm

but you all realize that this would be blatant propaganda, right? Hazlitt was an economic radical. The left-wing counterpart wouldn’t be assigning Krugman (not even contemporary Krugman), it would be to assign “No Logo” as a book on globalization for everyone to read.
I find the idea that libertarianism is somehow non-ideological that all the people proposing Sowell, Landsburg, and Hazlitt seem to buy into quite odd.

87 hsearles May 4, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Is it true or is it not true? Calling Hazlitt “propaganda” does nothing to make it less true.

88 Sebastian May 4, 2011 at 11:46 pm

The book is a nasty, condescending attack on Keynesian economics, which never even tries to explain Keynesianism and gets large chunks of it wrong, in the process commits various fallacies of itself (starting on p. 4 by equating private and public households) and has its empirical claims proven wrong by later research on various other issues (wage effects of unions, modern trade theory…).

Look, even if you think it’s a good book and he’s right – if you don’t recognize that it’s an incredibly one-sided book with a very heavy ideological bent you just don’t know anything about economics. If you want to give it to students as an introduction to Austrian economics – fine. But as an introduction to economics at large this is a joke.

89 Rich Berger May 5, 2011 at 9:47 am

Yes, Hazlitt has a strong free-market emphasis, but he hits hard at many of the fallacies that non-economists fall for. He will acquaint beginning students with the idea that many policies that are adopted to achieve benefits for specific groups have side effects that may render the policy harmful on balance. He will teach skepticism about “benevolent” government actions and he will teach the student how to be on the lookout for the seen and the unseen. He will teach the student how to think like an economist, understanding that most options in life have tradeoffs, which is probably the most valuable lesson to be learned.

90 Justin May 4, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Hazlitt is way out of date. It does not have a discussion of externalities, hyperbolic discounting, agency costs and transaction costs. It does not have a modern discussion of risk, adverse selection, and credit constraints. It does not consider behavioral economics and how it sheds light on the “animal spirits” that lead to the demand side of recessions.It does not grapple with experimental economics and the ease with which financial bubbles are created even in toy markets.

If you want to leave the vulgar libertarian echo chamber, you need to get out. Check out Wisdom of Crowds, Economics without Illusions, Games in Economic Development. None of those are introductions though.

91 Tomasz Wegrzanowski May 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm

One of the Freakonomics books sounds perfect for this.

92 DaveyNC May 4, 2011 at 5:47 pm

“Eat the Rich” by P.J. O’Rourke or Freakonomics. Both eminently readable and that is important for a group of people that likely do not read.

93 Craig M. Newmark May 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Trade-Offs: An Introduction to Economic Reasoning and Social Issues by Harold Winter.

Short? Check.

Affordable paperback? Check.

Engage nearly everyone? Check. (Or at least anyone who has a bit of interest in public policy.)

My review is at http://newmarksdoor.typepad.com/mainblog/2005/06/i_just_finished.html

94 A. May 4, 2011 at 8:03 pm

That is a good one, and doesn’t seem to be well-known.

95 Felipe May 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm

“Basic Economics” by Thomas Sowell.

96 lusakajoe May 4, 2011 at 6:18 pm

The Truth about Markets by John Kay (published in US as Culture and Prosperity). I found 90% of it very readable. Mervyn King,Governor of the Bank of England says “John Kay provides a remarkable explanation of difficult ideas in simple and clear language, with many fascinating examples, for those with no training in the language of economists. He shows how markets really work – every-thing you wanted to know about economics but were afraid to ask.”

97 MikeDC May 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I think if it’s not going to be Harford or Roberts, or if something explicitly about econ isn’t going to work, you could think outside of the box and choose something like Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard.

98 Joel May 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm

The Road Through Miyama [Hardcover]
Leila Philip (Author)


This author can write. ‘You have to be this tall to get on this ride.’

99 Arthur May 4, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I’ve read only a few of these, but want to chime in with a un-recommendation for “The Armchair Economist.” It sells itself as a general purpose fun economics book but it has a crazy libertarian bent. IIRC, there is a chapter about how you shouldn’t recycle cans and bottles because the time/value of recycling the material is less than a person’s typical salary.

100 Geoff NoNick May 4, 2011 at 7:09 pm

“The Mystery of Capital” by Hernando de Soto. Its thesis with respect to collateralization as an economic benefit may be relatively narrow, but it’s very readable, touches on many topics in economics and would be the sort of book that could make people eager to learn more.

101 Tony May 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

To better satisfy “no interest in economics whatsoever” I’d go “Logic of Life” by Hartford. Think kids would be more taken by a treatment of racism than Cameroonian development (which I think he did in “Undercover Economist”). The ones with liberal parents and access to Wikipedia might be angry if their kids were assigned a Sowell book; ditto conservatives with Krugman.

102 SteveX (formerly Steve) May 5, 2011 at 7:26 pm

How about if you assigned them both Sowell AND Krugman, and then evaluated them on how well they reconciled the biases? Teach them to think now, not after they graduate.

103 Sarah May 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm

From Poverty to Prosperity by Arnold Kling and Nick Schultz. The authors interview ~15 prominent thinkers on economic growth. The interviews are in plain English and carry deep insight. Reading it would have motivated me to study economics.

104 Grover Cleveland May 4, 2011 at 7:39 pm

How about David Friedman’s “Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life”? Very readable and something that undergrads can easily understand. Also short and afforadble.

105 ChefDad May 4, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Wheelan’s Naked Economics is my runaway winner for people who aren’t going to take an econ class.

106 Gil Stange May 4, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I would recommend Robert’s latest novel “The Price of Everything.” Not sure if it is out yet in paperback.

107 NM May 4, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan is probably the best of the bunch.

108 hsearles May 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm

“Economics in One Lesson” is not “too old,” basic economics is a sphere of economics that has been well-thought out for more than a century and Hazlett delivers a book that addresses the topics within that field extremely well. There is no reason to delude oneself into thinking that the wheel needs to be reinvented simply because of its age, to reject “Economics in One Lesson” for that reason is similarly asinine.

109 jorod May 4, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I liked Hoodwinking the Nation by Julian Simon. But the title might be too tendentious. And maybe a bit dated. (Also any article by Julian Simon) (Certain libraries keep this book in a special section and restrict circulation. May be too hard to find copies.)

Also, The Victory of Reason by Stark. How Capitalism, Freedom and Christianity Saved the West after the fall of the Roman Empire. A fun read. When were stirrups on saddles invented?

Another might be Capitalism and Arithmetic: The New Math of the 15th Century by Swetz.

110 jorod May 4, 2011 at 8:22 pm

The thing I don’t like about Naked Economics is Wheelan wants to use taxation to steer behavior. Also, he seems like an environmentalist nut. But his writing on incentives is very good.

111 JamesFromPittsburgh May 4, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I’ll concur with Naked Economics. It’s at the right level for an introductory class. I read it as a frosh and it really imparted a love of economics and economic analysis in me. I believe there’s a revised version giving some details on the Great Recession.

112 Daniel Klein May 4, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Henry Hazlitt. Its being written decades ago itself makes an important point.

Something newer:
David R. Henderson, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey

113 JLessard May 4, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Moneyball. Duh.

114 BSF May 4, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Eveline Adomait’s “Cocktail Party Economics” was written with that market niche in mind.

115 Ren May 4, 2011 at 9:31 pm

“The Truth about Markets” by John Kay is a good one.

116 Vangel May 4, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Hazlitt is not out of date. Every time you listen to some economist he keeps committing many of the errors that Hazlitt pointed out to readers decades ago.

117 jorod May 4, 2011 at 10:05 pm

One of Hazlitt’s comments: Artificially low interest rates encourage speculative behavior….

118 Jeremy Bersch May 4, 2011 at 10:27 pm

“The choice” by Russel Roberts. I had to read it for my International Economics class in college. Its a good short and very informative read

119 Douglas Hopkins May 4, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Do you want something new and provacative?

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Though written by a non-economist, George Borts, a Professor and former Chair of Economics at Brown University, has described my alternative as, “A well-reasoned and innovative policy proposal.”

Premise – Why do we give preferential tax treatment to the already privileged? Where in capitalist theory does it say investors need or deserve subsidies (thru preferential tax treatment) for investments?

See http://www.2pctsolution.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Prologue-2pct.pdf and http://www.2pctsolution.com/?page_id=131 for quick overview. If you’re interested I’ll happily send you a review copy.

120 SteveX (formerly Steve) May 5, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Well Douglas, if you aren’t a prankster, you sure came to the right site to get a brutally honest evaluation of your premise. 😉

121 laurence prusak May 4, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Economics by Partha Dasgupta is a great choice for this sort of assignment I used it in this way and it was a hit!
Very well written, cheap, smart and useful…

122 aasa May 4, 2011 at 10:53 pm

The infinite net buys the group to buy the ultra low price to let your heart jump crazily does not stop has a look quickly
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123 Guybrush Threepwood May 4, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Economics in One Lesson. No-brainer.

124 David Mcdavidson May 4, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Monkey Business: Swinging Through the Wall Street Jungle by John Rolfe Peter Troob

I kid.

125 Nathan W May 4, 2011 at 10:55 pm


126 noiselull May 4, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Jim Cox – Concise Guide to Economics

127 Justin May 4, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Ugghh – that makes Hazlitt look nuanced.

128 samuel May 4, 2011 at 11:07 pm

I’m disappointed no one has said Filthy Lucre by Joseph Heath of UofT.

129 Jay Jeffers May 5, 2011 at 9:35 pm

seconded ^^

130 Jay Jeffers May 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Oh, BTW, I think Economics Without Illusions is the same book. He did the same with his anti no-logo book: released it under a different title depending on whether it was published in the U.S. or Canada. So, I think the book actually has been mentioned.

131 Justin May 4, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Your best best is the first or second edition of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics It is a good description of orthodox neoclassical economics and short (unlike the later editions)

But you’ll have to follow it up with Economics without Illusions by Joseph Heath as an antidote for the right-wing bias in Sowell. And no, I don’t agree with everything by Heath.

132 samuel May 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Thank you for informing me of its American title. Most of Heath’s points in that book aren’t hard and fast. It’s not really the point whether “the right” is correct about minimum wages and unemployment, for example. It is more along the lines of “things are complicated, evidence conflicts, there are a lot of frictions and variables.” It had a strong “beware the ideologue” theme that would be useful in a teaching setting.

133 Joe Li May 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm

second on The choice by Russ Roberts. reads like a story, makes a case for free markets, against protectionism.

The Travels of a T-shirt by Pietra Rivoli is also a fun read; longer but more concrete examples of the cotton–>shirt market.

134 Well May 4, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Moneyball. Seriously.

135 Carlos Pio May 5, 2011 at 12:05 am

Buchholz, A Shortcut to Economic Literacy

136 Ramagopal May 5, 2011 at 12:11 am

Dasgupta’s Economics: A Very Short Introduction is small enough to read in one sitting and affordable priced. But it can be tough going at times for a general reader. I prefer Naked Economics By Wheelan and Sex, Drugs and Economics by Diana Coyle. Coyle’s book is available free online under creative commons
Partha Dasgupta’s Economics: A Very Short Introduction is small enough to read in one sitting and is an affordable paperback. . However it can be tough going at times for a general reader.
And for I thoroughly enjoyed Obelix & Co, a volume in the Asterix comics series. It is an entertaining take on what can happen when a market economy encounters a barter economy . I think economists can enjoy it more than others

137 Day Activities For Kids May 5, 2011 at 1:21 am

Well I haven’t read any books yet on market economics but here I found some good books reference so I will definitely get these books.

138 Steve May 5, 2011 at 3:27 am

Another vote for “The Undercover Economist” by Harford.

Most students never understand the perfect competition model–but it’s really the building block for almost everything we talk about in economics. Harford understands this and structures the book accordingly–it builds up perfect competition and then explains market failures.

I don’t think any of the other popular economics guys intend to teach key economics concepts (Landsburg or Levitt) or understand them (Sowell, all the right-wingers mentioned on this blog).

139 Steve May 5, 2011 at 3:30 am

Scrap that actually. Poor Economics. Hot off the press and people might actually read it.

140 Andy May 5, 2011 at 7:57 am

Sowell doesn’t understand key economic concepts? OK. I assume you’ve only read some of his columns (which admittedly are not always good).

141 Andrew May 5, 2011 at 5:20 am

John Kay – the Truth about Markets.

Good economist, great explainer of complex ideas.

142 Wadooma May 5, 2011 at 6:56 am

Almost Everyones Guide to Economics – J.K. Galbraith

Very easy to read as it is in an interview format.

143 Mikko May 5, 2011 at 8:34 am

The cash nexus? Too heavy and too focused on money and power ?

144 Jar Jar Binks May 5, 2011 at 9:27 am

Fatal Equilibrium

145 Starfury May 5, 2011 at 9:51 am

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

146 Thane May 5, 2011 at 9:57 am

Todd Buchholz’ From Here to Economy, while a little dated, is pretty good.

147 John May 5, 2011 at 11:06 am

I’m always surprised that no one mentions Buchanan’s Cost and Choice when people ask for short, easy to understand books on understanding economic thinking.

It must be the most under rated monograph in economics there is.

148 Andy May 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm

But it’s not really for beginners.

149 Hasdrubal May 5, 2011 at 11:10 am

How about Yoram Bauman’s “The Cartoon Introduction to Economics?”

It’s more direct explanation of principles than stories, but it’s quick reading and not intimidating for even the least economically inclined.

150 Cyril Morong May 5, 2011 at 11:17 am

“The Economics of Public Issues” by Roger LeRoy Miller, Douglass North and Daniel Benjamin.

Miller and Benjamin have a similar book called “The Economics of Macro Issues”

Both books have short chapters on about 30 issues

151 Team John L May 5, 2011 at 11:21 am

The Law is going to be terribly thick for an incoming undergrad, I think you can veto it for the simple fact that no one will get through the darn thing.

152 Anon May 5, 2011 at 11:22 am

“Economic Literacy: Basic economics with an attitude” Fredrick S. Weaver
“Economics Explained: Everything you need to know about how the economy works and where it’s going” Robert Heilbroner and Lester Thurow
“Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition” Milton Friedman

Actively involving the students in a choice experiment will likely teach far more economics than just reading and discussion. Make three lists of say 10 appropriate books, one list in which a short biography with prior institutions, political persuasions and orientations of the authors are described, another in which details of the books publication date,prices, total pages, and sorted by price per page are provided, and another in which the books’ cover images and author’s pictures are provided. Randomly allocated students to one of the three lists and send them that list with instructions to select and read one of the books. Providing a list of topics or questions to focus the reader could provide the common basis of the experience.

When students arrive on campus, tally the books selected classified by list, gender and political persuasion, provide the list assign as new reading something along the lines of Predictably Irrational, Nudge or Cialdini’s “Influence: Science and practice” and then discuss.

153 Ramagopal May 5, 2011 at 11:49 am

The online book The Joy Of Economics by Robert J. Stonebraker, Winthrop University, is a lucid introduction to the economic way of thinking. It is available free here

For Thomas Sowell fans, the book which meets Tyler’s criteria ( interesting, short and affordable) is not his Basic Economics but Applied Economics. I read through it in one sitting.
Harford’s Dear Undercover Economist meets Tyler’s criteria better than his Undercover Economist and Logic of Life.

154 Paul Johnson May 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Reviewing your reader’s specific charter:

“I’ve been asked to select a book that all incoming freshmen will (supposedly) read over the summer and then give a lecture on the topic in the fall. The constraints are two-fold: it should be a short, affordable paperback, and it should be an interesting read that will engage nearly everyone, especially those who have no interest in economics whatsoever.”

It seems to me that he/she will have to temper the professorial urge to lecture students on ” the power of markets and the economic way of thinking.” Especially since they already did Friedman’s book.

Maybe “The Worldly Philosophers” with a stirring speech about the relevance of their insights to the world of today? Economics for turbulent times – Schumpeter. Or a contrarian speech? Adam Smith as first social psychologist (Theory of Moral Sentiments), Keynes as the first behavioral finance economist,etc…

155 Sanchit Kumar May 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Great Stagnation!

156 jack Davis May 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm

My personal favorite is Caplan’s The Myth of The Rational Voter; he explains the differences b/w economists and non-economists and takes on a number of sacred cows, even democracy itself! I also liked Alan Blinder’s Hard Heads, Soft Hearts, and Wheelan’s The Naked Economist.

157 rjo May 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm

“Economics in one lesson”. One and done. This should be mandatory reading for anyone on The Hill.

158 Ram Krishna Wagle May 5, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Freakonomics. It defines the way traditional economist think. And it is superbly written. Almost like a story book.

159 Ram Krishna Wagle May 5, 2011 at 9:02 pm


160 arbitrary aardvark May 5, 2011 at 9:23 pm

the machinery of freedom, david friedman.

161 jorod May 5, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I have to admit that Capitalism and Freedom provides a foundation you can build on forever.

162 Tom May 5, 2011 at 10:34 pm

“Man and Economics” by Robert Mundell

163 Chris May 5, 2011 at 10:59 pm

I read Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan as a high school sophomore considering Economics as a college major. It convinced me that I was looking in the right direction. I am now a 3rd-year Economics major at UCLA, and I am very happy with my choice.

It is simply a splendid text. It doesn’t stray as far from the core topics of Economics as books like Freakonomics, but it manages to illustrate economics ideas without math and graphs. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE math and graphs, but we all know that those are the things that prevent our friends in other social sciences and the humanities from understanding or engaging with economic ideas.

Anyone who has ever been a consumer can relate to and benefit from the ideas Wheelan introduces. Strongly recommended.

I also enjoyed reading The Undercover Economist at about the same time, although I don’t think it gives quite as broad a survey of economic ideas.

164 Paul Papanek May 6, 2011 at 12:13 am

Strongly suggest The Predator State, by Jamie Galbraith. Very lively, with a sprinkling of politics, and enough paradoxical data to create curiosity, even among newcomers to the field.

165 Ramagopal May 6, 2011 at 12:25 am

Paul Heyne’s slim volume The Student’s Guide to Economics is a good introduction to the economic way of thinking which one can read in less than an hour!

Tyler invited suggestions for books which introduce a beginner to the economic way of thinking about the economy. Heilbroner’s justly famous book has been recommended by some readers. While this work has inspired hundreds to become economists, I doubt if it presents the economic way of thinking in a systematic manner. I have the same reservations about Amartya Sen’s books suggested by a couple of readers.

166 egl May 6, 2011 at 1:03 am

Robert Frank’s book is full of just-so stories. Many of these were based on student essays, and Frank apparently did not require his students to go beyond formulating a plausible-sounding microeconomic explanation. And more: Frank did not look carefully into the answers before including them in the book. I don’t know what’s worse: the sin against his students or the sin against his readers. Stay away.

167 Ryan Vann May 6, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Market Economics? As apposed to …….

Anyway, for a general intro to econ, I think Worldy Philosophers by Heilbroner is decent read. It’s more about some of the thinkers behind rather than the intricacies of actual theories though.

168 AB May 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm

FDR’s Folly by Jim Powell

169 ettubloge May 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I started with “Free To Choose” in which Milton and Rose Friedman discuss public policy on common sense economic basis. FGrom that you can branch off to may of the recommended books shown above

170 Kirsten May 6, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Joe Heath’s “Filthy Lucre” (more pro-capitalism than it sounds). His other two books, “The Rebel Sell” and “The Efficient Society” are also really good – we read TES in my first year undergrad course for much the same purpose, although it is probably a bit Canada-centric for a US course.

171 Opherb May 6, 2011 at 8:38 pm

“Economic Facts and Fallacies” by Thomas Sowell. It’s 300 pages. “Basic Economics” by Sowell is over 750 pages, so probably wouldn’t make it on the “short” list.

172 Anon May 6, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Just one lecture? Then the hands down winner is:
“Common Sense Economics: What Everyone Should Know About Wealth and Prosperity” revised edition 2010. JD Gwartney, RL Stroup, DR Lee,TH Ferrarini

They’ve even provided PowerPoints for presentations.

173 wadooma May 7, 2011 at 12:21 pm

1 The Economic Naturalist Robert Frank
2 Create Your Own Economy Tyler Cowen
3 Discover Your Inner Economist Tyler Cowen
4 Nudge
5 Development As Freedom
6 The Undercover Economist Tim Harford
7 Freakonomics
8 Economics: A Very Short Introduction Partha Dasgupta
9 Basic Economics Thomas Sowell
10 Not A Zero Sum Game Manuel Ayau
11 The Invisible Heart Russell Roberts
12 The Armchair Economist Steven Landsburg
13 The Worldly Philosophers Robert L. Heilbroner
14 The Use of Knowledge in Society
15 The Rational Optimist
16 Wisdom of Crowds
17 Economics Explained Robert L. Heilbroner, Lester Thurow
18 Naked Economics Charles Wheelan
19 Fault Lines Raghuram Rajan
20 (on Adam Smith) P.J. O’Rourke
21 Little Book of Economics Greg Ip
22 No-one Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart Tom Slee
23 Peddling Prosperity Krugman
24 Elusive Quest for Growth Easterly
25 The Choice Russell Roberts
26 Common Sense Economics
27 Hidden Order
28 Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy Pietra Rivoli
29 How We Got Here Andy Kessler
30 The Mystery of Capital Hernando De Soto
31 On Ethics and Economics Armatya Sen
32 Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up Stiglitz, Sen & Fitoussi
33 Reason in Human Affairs Herbert Simon
34 Little Red Book Mao
35 Eat the Rich PJ O’Rourke
36 How an economy grows and why it crashes Peter Schiff
37 Economics in One Lesson Henry Hazlitt
38 The Passions and the Interests A O Hirschmann
39 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein
40 Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists Rajan & Zingales
41 Macroeconomics Demystified August Swanenberg
42 The Accidental Theorist Paul Krugman
43 Gang Leader For A Day Sudhir Venkatesh
44 The History of Money Jack Weatherford
45 (Wall Street Journal)
46 Equality & Efficiency
47 Capitalism & Freedom
48 Micromotives and Macrobehavior Schelling
49 Investment Biker Jim Rogers
50 Dr Strangelove’s Game: A Brief History of Economic Genius Paul Strathern
51 Economics without Illusions (not an intro)
52 Games in Economic Development (not an intro)
53 Trade-Offs: An Introduction to Economic Reasoning and Social Issues Harold Winter
54 The Truth about Markets (published in US as Culture and Prosperity) John Kay
55 Scratch Beginnings Adam Shepard
56 The Road Through Miyama Leila Philip
57 From Poverty to Prosperity Arnold Kling and Nick Schultz
58 The Price of Everything Russell Roberts
59 Hoodwinking the Nation Julian Simon
60 The Victory of Reason Stark
61 Capitalism and Arithmetic Swetz
62 The Joy of Freedom David R. Henderson
63 Moneyball
64 Cocktail Party Economics Eveline Adomait
65 The Truth about Markets John Kay
66 Monkey Business (kidding?) John Rolfe Peter Troob
67 () Ricardo
68 Concise Guide to Economics Jim Cox
69 Filthy Lucre Joseph Heath
70 A Shortcut to Economic Literacy Buchholz
71 Sex, Drugs and Economics Diana Coyle
72 Obelix and Co Rene Goscinny, Albert Uderzo
73 Almost Everyones Guide to Economics J.K. Galbraith
74 The cash nexus (?)
75 Fatal Equilibrium
76 Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
77 From Here to Economy Todd Buchholz
78 Cost and Choice Buchanan
79 The Cartoon Introduction to Economics? Yoram Bauman
80 The Economics of Public Issues Roger LeRoy Miller, Douglass North and Daniel Benjamin
81 The Economics of Macro Issues Miller and Benjamin
82 Economic Literacy Fredrick S. Weaver
83 Capitalism and Freedom Milton Friedman
84 The Joy Of Economics (online book) Robert J. Stonebraker
85 Applied Economics Thomas Sowell
86 Dear Undercover Economist Tim Harford
87 Logic of Life Tim Harford
88 Great Stagnation! Tyler Cowen
89 The Myth of The Rational Voter Bryan Caplan
90 Hard Heads, Soft Hearts Alan Blinder
91 The machinery of freedom David Friedman
92 Man and Economics Robert Mundell
93 The Predator State Jamie Galbraith
94 The Student’s Guide to Economics Paul Heyne
95 FDR’s Folly Jim Powell
96 Free To Choose Milton and Rose Friedman
97 The Rebel Sell
98 The Efficient Society
99 Economic Facts and Fallacies Thomas Sowell
100 Common Sense Economics (lecture) JD Gwartney, RL Stroup, DR Lee,TH Ferrarini

174 Morten I May 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm

After reading a few of these popular books, I must definitely recommend “The Undercover Economist” by Harford. It is very well written and covers a lot of fundamental microeconomics with great real-world examples.

“The Worldly Philosophers” is interesting for a history of economics, but not so relevant for non-economists. “Freakonomics” is interesting, but does not really cover standard economics – especially compared to Harford. “Economics in one lesson” is old, very libertarian and sometimes plain wrong.

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