How I Learned the Little Economics I Know

What does the coolest guy I know do in his free time? Okay, maybe not coolest I know, but definitely the coolest writer on this blog.

He reads through economics (text)books. He cannot be the only one..........

I wanted to throw together my list of the best ways to learn basic economics, generally microeconomics. Professors who have been teaching the subject for years have great insight, but I can add a "students" voice. Economics is fun and with the right book, everything changes. You don't have to be like me or the guys above.

I have not worked entirely through every listed book, but I have read all through the *'s. Those which I have no finished, I read enough to grasp the style and level. None of these were for class, just a nerd by himself. Most of my comments are therefore mostly about self-learning.

Non-textbook Economics

  1. Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy- Thomas Sowell*: The most important book in my intellectual life. It is why I am studying economics. After reading this book, I have not looked back. For concerned citizens, it elaborates the profoundness of the economic way of thinking. If you only read one economics book ever, make it Thomas Sowell.
  2. Economics in One LessonHenry Hazlitt*: If you do not have enough patience for the 500 pages of Thomas Sowell, pick up this classic by Henry Hazlitt. While the age shows in the examples, it is fresh in argument. Most of my sloppy thinking can be cured through more exposure to Hazlitt.
  3. Economics for Real People: An Introduction to the Austrian School- Gene Callahan: Before he turned away from Austrian economics, Gene Callahan wrote a great introduction to all of economics. It is an introduction to economic thinking with rightful praise for the Austrian insights.
  4. The Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life- Steven Landsburg*: The Freakonomics of the 90's, if Freakonomics taught economic logic. There are so many little things in life that economics illuminates. Why is popcorn so expessive at the movie theatre? I bet your answer is wrong, check Landsburg.
  5. The Law- Frederic Bastiat*: Almost 200 years old, this is a fun introduction to political economy. Politics and economics are one whole. You cannot read it without being impressed by Bastiat as a writer.

Top Principles Textbooks

  1. Economic Way of ThinkingPaul HeyneDavid Prychitko, Peter Boettke: I wish this was the first textbook I had read. It is the closest thing to a blend between textbook and general read. It is casual enough for the above section, but it equally suited here.
  2. Principles of Economics- Greg Mankiw*: The most popular textbook of this generation, Mankiw does a good job explaining basic concepts. He is clear, but not very exciting. It reads like a textbook.
  3. Economics: Private and Public Choice- James Gwartney*: This was the first textbook I read. It has a strong emphasis on public and private choice, obviously. I enjoyed that, but it is not as well written as the two books that surround it here.
  4. Economics- Paul Krugman, Robin Wells: Krugman is a great writer and it shows. However, it is relatively dry for the exciting world of economics. Also, if you are more likely to listen to Krugman than Sowell, at least pick this up so you get some economics.

Top Intermediate Micro Textbooks

  1. Exchange and Production- Armen Alchian and William Allen*: If you want to solve problems and get down in to the hard details, read this classic. No better textbook exists for learning economics. If you are a patient beginner, you can work through it. If you are more advanced, you will not find it easy.
  2. Price Theory- David Friedman*: I have a fondness for price theory because of this book. It uses logic, math, theory, and data to weave a complete picture of economics. It probably has the best graphs of these books for the visual learners, but is heavily verbal. Friedman could explain these same topics without drawing a single supply or demand curve. (Note:I put together the PDF for David Friedman so I encourage you to use it. Any faults on it are due to my impatience.)
  3. Applied Price Theory- Deirdre McCloskey: This book is similar to David Friedman's but a little more difficult. Deirdre is one of my favorite economists, so of course, I enjoyed this book. While the above books work for beginners with some math background and lots of patiences, this book is not.
  4. Intermediate Microeconomics- Hal Varian: This book is good for people who have taken a principles course and are ready for a little more difficult problems. It feels like an upgrade of a principles book with harder problems but without the heavy focus of logic of Alchian or Friedman. Nevertheless, it is great for learning textbook economics.

I love reading different authors on the same topic. I urge people who are new to economics or relearning to look for many authors and more variety than I have here.

Note: The list is fairly free-market, but I think that reflects the nature of basic economics. Most new readers could not tell Krugman's from Mankiw's.

8 thoughts on “How I Learned the Little Economics I Know

  1. Good list, overall. For the intermediate level, do you think that reading the all of the books is best to get a well-rounded view on the matter? I've only read Pindyck and Rubinfeld's book, which I found to be fairly solid.

    • I enjoy reading many people on a topic. It is why I love the blogosphere. I am not limited to the one viewpoint of a book or class.

      I would recommend Alchian and Allen's to almost anyone. Old books are able to remove readers from the currently fashionable trends. It forces readers to see things differently and challenges the current thinking. Whether the old or new trends are better, requires a reading of both.

  2. I read that University Economics by Alchian and Allen is the extended version of Exchange and Production. Do you also recommend it?

    • I do recommend Exchange and Production. However, I believe it is basically the same book as University Economics.

  3. Reading University Economics or Exchange was only surpassed by having both Allen and Alchian as professors. University Economics came first and as students we referred to it as "The Bible."

  4. Reading University Economics or Exchange was only surpassed by having both Allen and Alchian as professors. University Economics came first and as students we referred to it as "The Bible."

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