Books on Economics That Are Worth a Read

I have always enjoyed reading, but about four years ago, I decided to set a goal of reading a book every two weeks. While I have kept to the pursuit of the goal, I have yet to meet it if one measures it on an annual basis. I have come close, but I have not yet completed 26 books in a given year. I do not read very quickly (unlike one of my daughters who devours books voraciously – her Dad shares with just a slight tinge of envy), so when I decide to read a rather thick tome, it takes me longer than two weeks.

Furthermore, most of what I read are books about economics or somehow related to economics, so they are not always the quickest reads. That may sound odd, since I am an economist, but honestly, it is really what I enjoy reading. I can’t help it; I am a nerd. To achieve some balance, I do read fiction, and even cookbooks, and thoroughly enjoy reading them.

Through this process, I have come across books that I have thought were excellent and others that maybe did not quite reach that level (does not mean they were not worth the read, though), so I thought it would be fun to put together a list of the books on economics that I have read over the years that I have found to be excellent.

So what is “excellent’? For this list, it does not mean they were the best-written books in the sense that they achieved high art with the English language. It also does not mean that I necessarily agreed with everything that was discussed in the book.

What it does mean is that these books extended my knowledge in new and interesting ways, presented complex ideas in novel ways, and/or just made me aware of an issue or made me think more deeply about an issue. I should also add that they reflect my own interests. After all, who reads books about topics in which they have no interest?

They tend to be heavily weighted toward urban economics, macroeconomics, complexity economics, cultural economics, economic history, and heterodox economics, although other issues are covered. While I think you will learn a good bit about economics from the books on these lists, it is not a list of the great books in the history of economic thought (maybe that will be a post for the future). It is also not comprehensive in any way of the best books on economics, as I still have a lot left to read, fortunately.

I also tried to stay away from textbooks, although a couple made it on the list. Also, keep in mind that this is my opinion, obviously, and you may not agree. I would like to hear what you think.

So, here is the list, not in rank order, with a comment or two inserted.

  1. This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff (A dense read chocked full of data, but gives you a very good sense of the factors leading to financial crises and the hugely detrimental effects they can have on the economy from a long historical perspective.)
  2. Complexity and the Economy by W. Brian Arthur (If you have any interest in complexity economics, this is a great introduction to the subject. In fact, you should read anything by W. Brian Arthur.)
  3. The Death of Economics by Paul Ormerod (These two books by Ormerod are great reads on complexity economics.)
  4. Butterfly Economics by Paul Ormerod
  5. The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs (Jane Jacobs was not trained as an economist, but in my opinion, her writings on economics were some of the most important in helping us understand the functioning of the macroeconomy and urban economies.)
  6. Cities and the Wealth of Nations by Jane Jacobs
  7. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
  8. Mis-Measuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Armatya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi (Probably not the most exciting read on this list, but you will have a great understanding of the shortcomings of one of our main economic indicators – GDP – so I think it is a very important book.)
  9. Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser (Some interesting arguments about the value of cities that may be a bit counter-intuitive.)
  10. The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon (Arguably the most eye-opening book on the list. It is a long book, but a great read with many fascinating historical anecdotes.)
  11. After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead by Alan S. Blinder (There are many good books on the most recent financial crisis and the Great Recession, but this is the best that I have read. Blinder is also quite entertaining.)
  12. Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science by Clair Brown (This is one of those books that really stretched my thinking on economics. Fascinating stuff.)
  13. Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality by James Kwak (If you want to understand the perils of misunderstanding and/or inappropriately applying economic theory, you should read this book.)
  14. Globalizing Capital: A History of the International Monetary System by Barry Eichengreen (Great read on the historical development of the international financial system, but you had better bring at least some knowledge of finance and the the financial markets.)
  15. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Power by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (This book, along with the next three in the list, provide a great overview from different perspectives of global economic development throughout large spans of history.)
  16. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
  17. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are so Rich and Some so Poor by David S. Landes
  18. A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World by Gregory Clark
  19. Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World by Jeff Madrick (See the comment on Economism.)
  20. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein (An interesting book on the relationship of economics to one of the most important issues of our time.)
  21. Creative Communities: Art Works in Economic Development by Michael Rushton (One of my main interests is in understanding the intersection between arts and economic development, so I found this book very interesting.)
  22. A Textbook of Cultural Economics by Ruth Towse (If you want to get a more in-depth understanding of the economics of arts and culture, this is a good book. As the title tells, it is a textbook, but Towse does a good job of explaining the economics, although some helpful details on the economic theories are missing, in my opinion.)
  23. Economics and Culture by David Throsby (Throsby is one of the leading scholars in the field of cultural economics, so if you have an interest in this, I highly recommend this book and the following one, as well.)
  24. The Economics of Cultural Policy by David Throsby
  25. Theories of International Economics by Peter M. Lichtenstein (To be honest, this is the book I am currently reading, so I have not finished reading it, but Lichtenstein does such a wonderful job of explaining international economic theory that I had to put it on the list. He also discusses international economics from the perspective of many heterodox theories, which I think it very important.)


Again, I hope you find this list interesting and maybe even useful, and if you decide to read any of the books, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Lastly, if you really want to understand how the economy functions, I strongly encourage you to read about some of the heterodox or alternative economic theories (which is why I included some books on this list that do just that), and I also highly recommend that you read books on topics of interest from the perspective of anthropology, political science, sociology, psychology and all of the other social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences.

Happy reading!