Sunday, 16 May 2010

Top 10 - Economic Books

Here is my top 10 economic books.  A list that give a reader a commanding grasp of all economic issues that drive the discipline.  These are not technical books (most frameworks buckle under the weight of their assumptions) but all are seminal in their own ways and therefore essential reading in my view. 

1. Capitalism and Freedom - Milton Friedman - Alongside Schumpeter, Mises and Hayek there is arguably no greater "Free Market" thinker than Friedman.  He explains why Capitalism is the best eco-political system.  He explains how the great depression was the fault of government policy rather than failure in markets.  He shows how the Keynesian multiplier and other government redistribution tools are based on false assumptions and are primarily motivated by political gain and utopian fantasies of equality.  This is a masterpiece.

2.  The Ascent of Money - Niall Ferguson - this is a seminal book that explains how money came about and importantly how credit markets were born and have driven markets for last few hundred years.  Despite the ego, Ferguson really does have a talent for making the complex understandable

3. On the Wealth of Nations - PJ O'Rourke - this is an excellent summary of arguably the most seminal book in the subject of economics, ever: "The Wealth of Nations", Adam Smith.  Unfortunately it was written some 200 years ago and suffers from the dated language and many ideas that seem obvious to us today.  O'Rourke's abridged and updated version is therefore ideal

4. Origins of Wealth - Erik Beinhocker - the title is play on two masterpieces - The Origin of the Species (1859) by Charles Darwin and The Wealth of Nations (1776) by Adam Smith.  Beinhocker reviews classic economic theory and then puts forward the Complexity Theory of Economics which deals with market entropy versus the traditional view of market equilibrium.

5. The Prize - Daniel Yergin - Like Gold, Oil drive a disproportionate amount of economic activity.  Put simply, this is the best book on the subject.  With most modern economies having built their consumption on $30 a barrel, the current trend toward $100 a barrel looks set to make this black gold ever more important 

6. The Power of Gold: a History of Obsession - Peter L. Bernstein - Like Oil, gold is increasingly important as world governments are awash with too much debt post the "Credit Crunch".  Many smart economists are saying that a flight to gold is an inevitability.  If this happens, and understanding will be crucial

7. The Black Swan - Nassim Taleb - History appears to most to proceed in steady fashion but as Taleb demonstrates, it almost always proceeds with “the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen and the unpredicted.” Gradual change is our paradigm, yet actual change is “almost always outlandish.”   This is perhaps the only book that has questions on it greatness, but it is listed because it delivers essential ideas in the neatest way.  The future is highly unpredictable, most of all behaviour, and therefore it is important we understand this 

8. Freakonomics - Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner - the first useful book on Microeconomics ever, in my view.  Levitt's central premise hangs off incentives.  Sometimes obvious, but never boring.  Some of the examples, like why it is economically a better decision to sell crack in Chicago rather than get a job, makes it is essential reading for any deep thinker

9. Against the Gods: a history of Risk - Peter L. Bernstein - understanding of risk is essential to both Finance and Economics, hence why this book and Taleb's Black swan will appear in both Finance and Economics "Top 10" lists.  This book will give you everything you need to know about the subject 

10. The Commanding Heights - Daniel Yergin - this is a excellent book on how command controlled (communist) economies fail.  Although most know that Soviet experiment was clearly a catastrophe, it is important to understand why.  Often we see policy makers making the same mistakes that took the world toward Communism


Unknown said...

Great list - Have read 4 of these including the "The Prize" which puts a new perspective on pretty much everything. The number of times I have tried to thrust it into hands ...


Anonymous said...

Great list, but I believe that Dubner/Levitt's point is that it is a better economic decision to find a work-a-day than to sell cocaine in Chicago.

Anonymous said...

May I add these two classics

When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending, Devaluation, and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany (

Another classic on the great depression is

The Great Crash 1929 ( by John Kenneth Galbraith

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