I received today a fourth request this summer from former students who want either to begin studying economics or to move beyond the principles level. Here is my answer for that fourth requester, and for others who might have the same question.
In my experience learning economics, which is of course limited, the most valuable book by far has been Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. It is a masterpiece of clear writing that has been translated into many languages and has been in print, I believe, since it was first published in 1946. There is not a graph in it, just compelling, lucid explanation. The chapters are short; each is on some important topic such as subsidies, tariffs, minimum wages, inflation, and the like. Each is an application of the basic one lesson. If you want to understand economics and economic policy, don’t miss this book.
My next choice is Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics. I first listened to it on a tape I rented; I kept the tape extra time to listen to it again, immediately after listening to it the first time. Then I bought the book and read it, learning with each repetition. Sowell also does without graphs, though not without very interesting facts and figures that illustrate his points. Sowell also writes wonderfully clearly. This book is longer and more comprehensive than Hazlitt’s and it provides more economic theory. Don’t let “theory” scare you: his theory is in terms not of equations and graphs but of insights into how people interact in a world of scarcity, and the results of those interactions.
My next favorites are delightful introductions to economics for those who know nothing about it. At the same time they are very useful to students already started in economics, for fleshing out the principles they are learning. These are Russ Roberts’s three short, fun, rewarding novels—yes, novels, with characters and plots—that explore economic themes. The first is my favorite: The Invisible Heart, an Economic Romance. It explores a variety of policy-related themes through conversations among two young teachers who develop a romance, and their interactions with their students, family members, and the school administration. The second is The Choice, a Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism, whose title tells what it’s about. The third is The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity; it explores deeply the all-important role of ever-changing market prices in human well-being.
I love all five of these. I have read each one more than once. I recommend them enthusiastically.
I hope my own Free Our Markets: a Citizens’ Guide to Essential Economics, will deserve to be on this list when it comes out in the next week or so, but I must leave that judgment to others.