14 Best Economic Books: Must-Read Books For Beginners

Check out our guide with the best economic books for beginners, which introduce the reader to economic theory, financial crises, the free market, and the global economy. 

Economics feels like a daunting subject at first. The subject of money is important to all of us, and while managing our accounts can be stressful enough, trying to untangle the world economy is often a step too far. In reality, economics isn’t all about complex math equations. This subject is social science, and understanding it is more rewarding than many imagine. Reading articles about economy can be helpful if you’re a beginner to this subject.

Grasping the basics of economics will help you build a clearer picture of the world. For example, understanding how the financial system is organized, the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, and the Great Depression will help you become more financially savvy and help you dismiss misleading politicians who prey on our economic illiteracy.

Best Economic Books Ranked

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Thinking Fast and Slow book cover

Thinking Fast and Slow is a book about decision-making, a key pillar of behavioral economics. The book outlines two forms of thinking that we all employ daily. One system is fast, and the other system is slow.

These two systems drive every decision, including what we eat for breakfast in the morning, what we buy at the shop, and how we invest. Daniel Kahneman argues that understanding the two systems is crucial to becoming more financially competent.

The book breaks down the details of how our two decision-making systems work. It then expands on how you can control your decisions, avoid making irrational choices, and improve your finances.

Kagneman is a Jewish psychologist and Economics Nobel Prize winner. If you want to improve your ability to manage your finances and help your career flourish, his book is a must-read.

“The psychologist, Paul Rozin, an expert on disgust, observed that a single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries, but a cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches.”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

2. Factfulness by Hans, Anna, and Ola Rosling

Factfulness by Hans, Anna, and Ola Rosling
Factfulness book cover

Factfulness seeks to bust the myth that humanity is not making meaningful progress. For example, did you know a US citizen’s life expectancy in 1860 was just 39 years? Behind the gloomy headlines, we’ve come a long way, and Hans, Anna, and Ola Rosling want to inform their readers about humanity’s achievements.

The book explores ten typical misconceptions many of us hold about the world. They include myths about the global economy, such as inequality and fears about population growth and poverty. It provides tremendous economic and social information that makes the reader reconsider some of the negative news about the real-world economy’s progress.

“Forming your worldview by relying on the media would be like forming your view about me by looking only at a picture of my foot.”

Hans, Anna, and Ola Rosling, Factfulness

3. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
The Wealth of Nations book cover

The Wealth of Nations is undoubtedly one of the most influential books ever written on economic theory and the free market. Even though Adam Smith finished the book in the 18th Century, it continues to inform modern economic theory.

Adam Smith was a world-renowned Scottish economist who completely changed how we view market economics. The book focuses on the invisible hand, which drives our needs to fulfill our self-interest.

Smith argued that society as a whole would benefit by allowing the invisible hand to operate freely. The invisible hand is arguably unshackled in free market economies allowing consumers to choose winners and losers in a competitive market. He also developed ideas around the division of labor and incentives, which we now understand as basic economic growth components.

The Wealth of Nations continues to impact economic theory today and is a must-read for economics students. If you want to understand the origins of modern economics, pick up a copy of this book from Amazon.

“It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.”

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

4. The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations by Jacob Soll

The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations by Jacob Soll
The Reckoning book cover

The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall charts the growth of the modern economy as we know it, from the middle ages to modern-day Europe. One of the biggest questions in economic theory is why some nations fail while others succeed, and Jacob Soll tries to answer that in this book.

The story begins with the legendary Medici banking family. It covers how Italy’s modern banking system led to the spectacular economic growth of the individual states that made up the country pre-unification. Soll then details how modern accounting systems made way for rapid economic expansion. The book shines a light on the economics behind the French Revolution, the collapse of the Spanish empire, and the 2008 crisis.

“Citizens and investors, in turn, cannot have confidence in multinational businesses or, indeed, their governments, when their auditing firms and public agencies seem so powerless to obtain accurate numbers.”

Jacob Soll, The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall 

5. Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo
Good Economics for Hard Times book cover

Good Economics for Hard Times explores the global economy’s biggest threats and how we can overcome them. The book covers every major issue, from climate change to immigration, and provides empirically supported economic solutions.

Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo are MIT professors who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2019. They have spent years arguing that only sound economic theory can help us overcome global challenges as opposed to the political rhetoric many leaders have resorted to since the 2008 crisis.

They use worldwide examples to show economic policy successes and failures. Each policy is carefully analyzed by the book allowing the reader to understand better how economics impacts the everyday life of citizens.

The book exposes some of the biggest myths that have often damaged the political economy and points out the successes. If you want to learn about economics’s central role in managing the biggest changes facing humanity, add this book to your reading list.

“What is dangerous is not making mistakes, but to be so enamored of one’s point of view that one does not let facts get in the way. To make progress, we have to constantly go back to the facts, acknowledge our errors, and move”

Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Good Economics for Hard Times

6. Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
Capital in the 21st Century book cover

Capital in the 21st Century is a very data-heavy book that can seem daunting at first sight. However, it’s well worth reading as it provides an incredibly clear description of capital in the twenty-first Century.

Economists have praised Thomas Piketty for his work on inequality and its threat to the political economy. The book combines vast data sets on leading economies to support Piketty’s argument that free market economic thought has imperiled the global economy.

Essentially, the book argues that if the rate of return in a country is greater than the rate at which the economy is growing, wealth and income inequality will continue to grow. If you want to learn more about how income inequality in America has grown, try this book.

Despite the density of the book Piketty explains macroeconomics with clarity making it readable for people with minimal prior knowledge of economics. The book has been listed as a best-seller by the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. It won the award for the best book of the year from the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book lists.

“United States… on the one hand, this is a country of egalitarian promise, a land of opportunity for millions of immigrants of modest background; on the other hand, it is a land of extremely brutal inequality, especially in relation to race.”

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century

7. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Duber

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Duber
Freakonomics book cover

Freakonomics explains basic economics and was widely praised for introducing economics to people without knowledge. The authors dispel various economic theory biases and use fun real-life examples to explain the global economy.

The book looks at several important themes in the modern economy through the prism of tongue-in-the-cheek stories. They explain racism, injustice, drugs, and other social issues through economics without getting too caught up in quantitative data.

In this book, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner succeeded in bringing economics to a mainstream market. Even though some aspects feel a little childish, this is a great read and a fantastic place to start if you want to get into economics.

“Social scientists sometimes talk about the concept of “identity.” It is the idea that you have a particular vision of the kind of person you are, and you feel awful when you do things that are out of line with that vision.”

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen Duber, Freakonomics

8. Common Sense Economics by James Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup, and Dwight R. Lee

Common Sense Economics by James Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup, and Dwight R. Lee
Common Sense Economics book cover

Common Sense Economics is an ideal introduction to macroeconomics, basic economic theory, and the global economy for beginners. The book begins by laying out the basic argument that the role of a successful economy is to distribute wealth evenly and fairly.

The authors break down basic economics into six sections that, when taken together, will give beginners a solid foundation in economic theory. The book dives into a few essential topics: private ownership (versus state-run ownership), free trade, liberalism, and supply and demand. It also describes why understanding the basics of economics is so important.

The book also examines why institutions like the Federal Reserve and other central banks are central to the global economy. Even though there might be better books for someone who has already attended business school, it is an excellent title for beginners.

“We are a nation of economic illiterates. As a result, we are easily misled by leaders who tell us of their good intentions–their passion to solve our problems. Our democracy puts voters in charge of choosing our policy makers, so the consequences of economic illiteracy can be disastrous.”

James Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup, and Dwight R. Lee, Common Sense Economics

9. The Road To Serfdom by F. A. Hayek

The Road To Serfdom by F. A. Hayek
The Road to Serfdom book cover

The Road to Serfdom is up there with The Wealth of Nations regarding impactful books on economics. And F.A. Hayek is up there with Adam Smith regarding economic theory heavy weights.

Although The Road to Serfdom was published in 1944, its insights into the free market, microeconomics, and the global economy are timeless. Hayek, an Austrian economist who wrote in German, argued that centrally planned economies lead to oligarchies.

Even though it was controversial when it was published, it has become one of the most-read economics books in the world and has been published in more than 20 languages. The book continues to feature on university reading lists, and every established economist knows Hayek inside and out.

“Although we had been warned by some of the greatest political thinkers of the nineteenth century, by Tocqueville and Lord Acton, that socialism means slavery, we have steadily moved in the direction of socialism.”

Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

10. Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics book cover

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics charts the history of behavioral economics and its effect on society. By combining psychology and economics, the book develops economic theory beyond the standard information contained in behavioral economics textbooks.

Richard Thaler, a research assistant for the National Bureau of Economic Research, aims to shake up a traditional economic theory with his work. His book has five parts that build on basic behavioral economic concepts to more complex applications.

He firmly argues against the idea that people are rational actors. Using behavioral economics, he shows how humans often make irrational choices which upturn much of what economists have taken for granted about the global economy for decades.

“Of course, coaches are Humans. They tend to do things the way they have always been done, because those decisions will not be second-guessed by the boss. As Keynes noted, following the conventional wisdom keeps you from getting fired.”

Richard H. Thaler, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics

11. Bad Samaritans: The Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations and the Threat to Global Prosperity by Ha-Joon Chang

Bad Samaritans: The Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations and the Threat to Global Prosperity by Ha-Joon Chang
Bad Samaritans book cover

Bad Samaritans: The Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations and the Threat to Global Prosperity is a savage critique of the free market system that’s been in place since the 1980s. The book asks why some countries are not able to escape poverty.

Ha-Joon Chang is an award-winning South Korean author and professor who has spent his career critiquing the global economy, which he sees as inherently biased towards rich countries, especially the US. In this book, he draws on his personal experience of growing up in South Korea when it was still one of the poorest countries in the world and witnessing its rapid rise to a leading economy.

He focuses on the rapid economic development of East Asian economies such as South Korea, China, and Singapore to demonstrate how going against standard free market rhetoric can result in development. This is a fantastic read to learn about the major issues facing free market economics.

“Once you realize that trickle-down economics does not work, you will see the excessive tax cuts for the rich as what they are — a simple upward redistribution of income, rather than a way to make all of us richer, as we were told.”

Ha-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations and the Threat to Global Prosperity

12. Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future by Paul Krugman

Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future by Paul Krugman
Arguing with Zombies book cover

Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future covers the world’s biggest economic challenges in the 21st Century. The book outlines the modern economy, which is great for beginners, and then dives into the issues with its structure.

Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist who has published several successful books about the global economy. He tends to focus on issues with free market principles and macroeconomic misconceptions.

The second part of the book explores the connection between climate change and inequality in economics. He strongly advocates for increasing global equality and using economic theory to tackle climate change. Krugman claims that neoliberal theory based on Milton Friedman’s ideas has been failing since the 1980s.

The book also looks at social unrest and the issues that he believes have driven the rise of populist politicians in Europe and North America. He argues that inequality is driving the issues facing the developed world. This book is an excellent introduction to a field of economic theory that is turning the tide against the neoliberal free market theory.

“I believe in a relatively equal society, supported by institutions that limit extremes of wealth and poverty. I believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law. That makes me a liberal, and I’m proud of it.”

Paul Krugman, Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future

13. Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt
Economics in One Lesson book cover

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics was published in 1946 but contains timeless ideas about economic theory. Henry Hazlitt proposed that building a successful economy requires policymakers to look for long-term outcomes, not just immediate returns.

The book revolves around a broken shop window metaphor to explain the difference between short- and long-term economic outcomes. Hazlitt points out that the short-term impact of a broken window is that the owner has to pay to repair it. However, the person paid to fix the window in the long term, and the company producing the glass stands to benefit.

He then goes a layer deeper, arguing that the shopkeeper may have planned to spend the money on a more economically productive activity, such as expanding their business. He applies the metaphor to basic economic concepts, like minimum wages, tariffs, and state subsidies.

Many of Hazlitt’s ideas were revolutionary and are now taken for granted by economists. This book is excellent for beginners as it introduces the reader to basic economic concepts through an easy-to-digest metaphor.

“This is perhaps as good a place as any to point out that what distinguishes many reformers from those who cannot accept their proposals is not their greater philanthropy but their greater impatience.”

Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

14. Das Kapital: A Critique of Political Economy by Karl Marx

Das Kapital: A Critique of Political Economy by Karl Marx
Das Kapital book cover

Das Kapital: A Critique of Political Economy is a book that most of us have heard of, usually from the armchair economist types that try to sound smart by throwing the name Karl Marx around. This book and the author are more than just a buzzword. Marx is one of the most influential economic thinkers ever, and his ideas profoundly changed the world.

In Das Kapital, Karl Marx developed the most widely cited critique of industrial capitalism. He argued that capitalism is based on exploiting the working class, who have no choice but to sell their labor to the elite owners of industrial capital.

From Marx’s perspective, the industrial class extracts surplus value from workers and then hoards their wealth resulting in inequality. Although many free-market thinkers strongly disagree with Marxism, we can’t deny the importance of the theory.

Although this book may be a tough read for beginners, it contains the economic theory that backed some of the most significant revolutions of the last century. Furthermore, it continues to be used as a counter-argument to the capitalist system.

“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”

Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.

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