Three Textbooks on Economic Growth

Lately, I’ve been reading lots of textbooks on economic growth. Here are a few:

Introduction to Modern Economic Growth by Daron Acemoglu: Weighing in at just under 5 pounds and 1000 pages this is the Mas-Colell, Whinston, Green of economic growth. It’s hard not be impressed by Acemoglu’s mastery of the subject and for a handful of top graduate programs this is clearly the book for the next generation. The title, of course, misleads in a revealing way–this book is first and foremost a book about modern economic theories of growth and, in particular, the math behind those theories.  Acemoglu is too good an economist to write a book just about the math–there is good material here especially in areas where Acemoglu has made important contributions such as directed technological change and political economy–but the economic insights can easily be lost in this massive tome.  Acemoglu is a good guide to the math but there is no effort to communicate to a larger audience.  Empirical work is occassionally cited, but rarely discussed in much depth.

The Economics of Growth by Philippe Aghion and Peter Howitt: Also aimed at the graduate market this book is the David Romer of economic growth.  Still more of a guide to models rather than to economic growth per se but key empirical work is presented and one does find the words “motivating evidence.”  Simplified models with a touch of empirical analysis drive the book forward.  Combined with a few empirical papers and a bit more background on the theory and this would make a good graduate text for all but the top programs.  Careful questions will prove useful to professors.

Economic Growth (first edition here) by David Weil.  One of the best textbooks I have ever read on any subject – this is the book to get.  Weil’s book covers more topics with greater wisdom and wit than any of the other books and this is first and foremost a book about economic growth rather than about theories of economic growth.  Weil is good on the basic models and especially on tying theory to empirical work.  Ostensively aimed at the undergraduate market, there is a huge amount here for professional economists and graduate students. After passing their prelims on dynamic programming, this is the book that graduate students should read to discover the real questions that are in need of answers.  I learned the most from this book.


Q: what specifically are the characteristics that make a book the "Romer" of its category? Is it "Simplified models with a touch of empirical analysis"?

Really useful stuff - thanks!


The link to "Introduction to Modern Economic Growth" is missdirected. It takes you elsewhere.

Link fixed, thanks. The Barro and Sala-i-Martin book is a bit dated but does a very good job on panel-data models.

this is the book that graduate students should read to discover the real questions that are in need of answers. I learned the most from this book.

After suffering great financial losses since 2001, I wonder why I need a book to learn the list of "real questions that are in need of answers."

Can you give some examples of the "real questions" you learned about that you didn't already know? This blog raises lots of questions and few answers; are these not "real questions"?

"The Elusive Quest for Growth" by Easterly should also be required reading material on the subject!

I agree on the Acemoglu. I had the privilege to attend his lectures. It was impressive math models that seemed to lose the spirit of development and left me feeling there was so little actual experience in the field. Sadly, this is reflective of both our Economics profession and our political elites.

How about Helpman's "Mystery of Economic Growth"?

Thanks for this post. You know, I'd really appreciate a post where you suggested news sources that you consider good ones.

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