Books for Beginner Economists

I am not an economist by any definition of the word: I haven’t taken a formal economics class since high school. But in the last few years I’ve read a few books that have introduced me to the wonderful, fascinating world of economics, which I now consider one of my favorite subjects.

Two books that provide a good grasp on foundational economics are Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan and Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. Both books offer a “qualitative” introduction to economic concepts: no equations, formulas, or scary math. Both answer fundamental questions about human behavior using tools of economics and provide a framework for answering other questions using economics.

Both of these books, however, discuss economics within the flawed framework of assuming that humans are rational actors who make rational choices. This is a great place to start learning about economics, because to a first approximation this assumption works quite well in evaluating how people make decisions. However, we see some of the predictions and ideas based on this framework begin to break down in the “edge cases” where humans behave in a systematically irrational way.

Enter behavioral economics, the branch of economics that blends together with psychology to study economic choices and decision making in the light of human irrationality. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky did much of the seminal research in this field (Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his work), and you can read about the psychological underpinnings in their book Thinking Fast and Slow.

However, for an economics perspective I highly recommend Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Suntein. Nudge acts as a handbook for decision and policy makers in a world defined by unpredictable and irrational choices. Reading this book will help you understand yourself better, as well as provide valuable insight into how we can create solutions to economic problems that actually work.

Check out these books from your local library or use the links above to buy them on Amazon. If you do read any of these books, I’d love to hear what you think!.

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