One For the Readers
Top 10 Best Economics Books
The topic of economics is rich with great writing, and many books have been published over the years which tackle economic issues for a popular audience. Here is our list of ten of the best books in the area of economics. Many of the books here are bestsellers, but we have included a few lesser-known titles that have had an important impact on how the public perceives economics. Some titles, too, are interdisciplinary, combining science, psychology and economics to explain history and human processes; others are narratives of events. All, though, are well worth a read – excellent lockdown pastimes.
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1. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
A description of the events leading up to the 2007-2008 world financial crisis by financial journalist Michael Lewis, who also wrote Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, this bestselling non-fiction book spent 28 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. In 2015 it was also made into an award-winning film starring Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, and Ryan Gosling. The book follows generally most of the people who believed the housing bubble was going to burst and, by betting against the collateralised debt obligation bubble, ended up profiting vastly upon eventual collapse. It also follows some of those who lost money, such as Howie Hubler, who sits in second place for the most lost in a single trade at $9 billion.
2. Post-Capitalist Society by Peter F. Drucker
Peter F. Drucker is considered to be the most important thinker on management theory ever, and his writings have contributed to development of the modern business corporation. Well known for predicting future events such as the economic rise of Japan and the emergence of an information society, this book argues that First World nations have already moved to a society beyond capitalism, in that capital is owned by organisations rather than individuals. Regular citizens therefore become, in essence, the owners of enterprises, and therefore the owners of capital, meaning capitalism is changed without being destroyed. Drucker concludes by arguing that organisations will continue to become highly specialised, and that outsourcing rather than diversification will define the future.
3. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
COO of Facebook and former VP of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, Sheryl Sandberg, made a splash with her first book, which deals with women in the workplace. She addresses the reasons that women continue to find less success in the workplace than men, even after the passing of equal pay laws, and encourages women to promote themselves more aggressively in their careers. It combines anecdotes, social experiments, and the author's personal experiences to give an overview of how gender politics still play a defining role in the workplace, and gives some solutions as to how this can be overcome. The book received both glowing reviews and much criticism, with some calling Sandberg a 'faux feminist' and others have argued that women are turned into consumer objects in the book, with emphasis taken away from solidarity and systematic gender bias. Whatever the relative merits of these criticisms, this book has been so widely reviewed and talked about that it's essential reading.
4. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
Freakonomics deliberately blends pop culture topics with the theories of economics by discussing specific amusing or interesting examples across a series of articles written by the authors – for example, how cheating operates in different businesses including teaching, sumo wrestling, and bagel selling. The light tone and fun content have made this book a big hit with the public, and it has stayed on bestseller lists since it was first published in 2005. It has sometimes faced criticism for being more a work of sociology or even criminology than economics; however, it remained popular, and the authors started their own blog, also entitled Freakonomics, in 2005.
5. The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class by Edward Conard
Former managing director of Bain Capital and prominent neoliberal Edward Conard has written another book about the social benefits of inequality, arguing against the commonly held view that the wealthy 1% of US citizens are the cause of many social problems. Debuting at number eight on the New York Times top ten non-fiction list, it was met with broadly positive reviews even by those who disagreed with its argument, such as esteemed economist Larry Summers. Its controversial central theme makes for interesting reading, whether or not you agree with the premise it sets.
6. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
Oldie but goodie, Adam Smith's magnum opus that was published two hundred and fifty years ago remains one of the fundamental works of classical economists. Written as the industrial revolution was taking its first baby steps, it discusses free markets, productivity, the division of labour, and attempts to offer practical solutions based in solid economic theory that would replace the culture of mercantilism that dominated at the time. A bestseller that sold out within months at the time of publication, The Wealth of Nations is one of the essential economics books that professionals and laypeople alike ought to have read.
7. Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason
Paul Mason, the former economics editor of the British TV channel Channel 4, looks at the current state of global politics and attempts to predict the macroeconomic future of the planet. An analysis of how the 'digital revolution' poses a serious threat to capitalism, Mason argues that the way we view and indeed do work has been totally changed, which has the potential to remove the market-driven economy. Written with the effects of the global financial crisis very much still in mind, Mason's book is polemical and, of course, firmly leaning to the left. Covering everything from protecting to the environment to minimising work until only very small amounts are necessary, some have hailed Mason as 'a worthy successor to Marx'.
8. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
Another anti-capitalist, Naomi Klein, tackles the subject of how environmental concerns will affect capitalist politics in her most recent book. She portrays the solving of the climate crisis as being directly at odds with neoliberal thinking, and requiring an ecological revolution for it to be fully addressed. Her central theme is that the market economy is fundamentally at odds with the climate crisis, seeing as it focuses on increased consumption and consists of trade agreements between countries which destroy the environment. It has received positive reviews even from those who disagreed with some of its argument.
9. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Another beloved classic, Guns, Germs and Steel covers aspect of geography, history, and economics in order to explain why European and Asian societies have been historically more prosperous than societies in other parts of the world. First published in 1997, it caused a storm upon release, arguing that Eurasian and North African civilisations have survived not due to any intellectual, moral, or genetic superiority, but due to environmental differences which were predetermined. Criticised as deterministic and simplistic, praised for its scope and consciousness of the role of the environment, the book won many an award and was the inspiration for a documentary produced by the National Geographic Society.
10. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley
Finally, this book covers topics in both psychology and economics in its argument that the human tendency towards the trading of goods and services is the beneficial trait which has allowed humanity to prosper. This trait, Ridley argues, is central to the reason that human civilisations exist. In a similar vein to Drucker, Ridley argues that as humans become more specialised in what they are good at, prosperity will continue. The Rational Optimist has alternately been seen as a defence of free trade and globalisation, and a work that ignores many legitimate criticisms of globalisation and wealth inequality.