The best books on economics and political economy

Why am I passionate about this?

Peter T. Leeson is the author of the award-winning The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates and Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better than You Think. He is the Duncan Black Professor of Economics and Law at George Mason University. Big Think counted Peter among “Eight of the World’s Top Young Economists.”


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WTF?! An Economic Tour of the Weird

By Peter T. Leeson,

Book cover of WTF?! An Economic Tour of the Weird

What is my book about?

This rollicking tour through a museum of the world’s weirdest practices is guaranteed to make you say, “WTF?!” Did you know that “preowned” wives were sold at auction in nineteenth-century England? That today, in Liberia, accused criminals sometimes drink poison to determine their fate? How about the fact that, for 250 years, Italy criminally prosecuted cockroaches and crickets? Do you wonder why? Then this tour is just for you!

From one exhibit to the next, you’ll overhear Leeson’s riotous exchanges with the patrons and learn how to use economic thinking to reveal the hidden sense behind seemingly senseless human behavior—including your own. Leeson shows that far from “irrational” or “accidents of history,” humanity’s most outlandish rituals are ingenious solutions to pressing problems—developed by clever people, driven by incentives, and tailor-made for their time and place. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Economics in One Lesson

Peter T. Leeson Why did I love this book?

There is no book from which you can absorb more economics with less effort. Readers new to economics should start here. Readers familiar with economics should return here often.

By Henry Hazlitt,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Economics in One Lesson as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With over a million copies sold, Economics in One Lesson is an essential guide to the basics of economic theory. A fundamental influence on modern libertarianism, Hazlitt defends capitalism and the free market from economic myths that persist to this day.

Considered among the leading economic thinkers of the “Austrian School,” which includes Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich (F.A.) Hayek, and others, Henry Hazlitt (1894-1993), was a libertarian philosopher, an economist, and a journalist. He was the founding vice-president of the Foundation for Economic Education and an early editor of The Freeman magazine, an influential libertarian publication.  Hazlitt wrote…


Book cover of Human Action: A Treatise on Economics

Peter T. Leeson Why did I love this book?

This is the most rewarding book in economics—maybe in all of social science—if you’re willing to be patient and attentive (no math, statistical equations, or even graphs, but this is not light reading). Human Actions treatment of economics is comprehensive, tackling questions from the philosophical—What, for example, is the nature of economic laws?—to the practical—What do those laws mean for, say, regulating the price of milk? A true tour de force, this book changed how I think about the world, and it might do the same for you. Just remember what I said about patience and attentiveness!

By Ludwig von Mises,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Human Action as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Human Action, Mises starts from the ideas set forth in his Theory and History that all actions and decisions are based on human needs, wants, and desires and continues deeper and further to explain how studying this human action is not only a legitimate science (praxeology) but how that science is based on the foundation of free-market economics.

Mises presents and discusses all existing economic theories and then proceeds to explain how the only sensible, realistic, and feasible theory of economics is one based on how the needs and desires of human beings dictate trends, affect profits and losses,…


Book cover of How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World

Peter T. Leeson Why did I love this book?

In the late eighteenth century, Adam Smith famously asked: Why are some nations rich and others poor? You probably aren’t going to read Smith’s Wealth of Nations to find out the answer. And thanks to Rosenberg and Birdzell’s readable book, you don’t have to. While more recent books offer complementary accounts of wealth and poverty, How the West Grew Rich remains the best.

By Nathan Rosenberg, L.E. Birdzell, Jr.,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How the West Grew Rich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How did the West,Europe, Canada, and the United States,escape from immemorial poverty into sustained economic growth and material well-being when other societies remained trapped in an endless cycle of birth, hunger, hardship, and death? In this elegant synthesis of economic history, two scholars argue that it is the political pluralism and the flexibility of the West's institutions,not corporate organization and mass production technology,that explain its unparalleled wealth.


Book cover of The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism

Peter T. Leeson Why did I love this book?

A key insight of economics is the power of markets to organize human affairs. The Machinery of Freedom takes that insight to the limit. How might society work if even governmental functions were organized using markets? Friedman’s answer will surprise and challenge you. And whether you come away convinced or not, you will come away with a better understanding of markets.

By David Friedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Machinery of Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book argues for a society organized by voluntary cooperation under institutions of private property and exchange with little, ultimately no, government. It describes how the most fundamental functions of government might be replaced by private institutions, with services such as protecting individual rights and settling disputes provided by private firms in a competitive market. It goes on to use the tools of economic analysis to attempt to show how such institutions could be expected to work, what sort of legal rules they would generate, and under what circumstances they would or would not be stable. The approach is consequentialist.…


Book cover of The Law by Frederic Bastiat

Peter T. Leeson Why did I love this book?

The shortest, surest guide to understanding the government’s relationship to the economy. The Law was first published in 1850, but its relevance, importance, and accessibility are perennial. Multiply your value by getting the Foundation for Economic Education’s newest edition, which includes Bastiat’s classic essays “The Broken Window” and “The Candlemakers’ Petition.”

By Frédéric Bastiat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Law by Frederic Bastiat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Title: The Law by Frederic Bastiat <>Binding: Hardcover <>Author: FredericBastiat <>Publisher: bnpublishing


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Trial, Error, and Success: 10 Insights into Realistic Knowledge, Thinking, and Emotional Intelligence

By Sima Dimitrijev, PhD, Maryann Karinch,

Book cover of Trial, Error, and Success: 10 Insights into Realistic Knowledge, Thinking, and Emotional Intelligence

Sima Dimitrijev, PhD Author Of Trial, Error, and Success: 10 Insights into Realistic Knowledge, Thinking, and Emotional Intelligence

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My core value is realistic education—learning from each other’s errors and successes, but with full awareness of the difference between the determined past and the uncertain future. We can benefit from uncertainty, which I’ve been doing for a living as an engineer, academic researcher, and inventor. I make use of knowledge and science as much as possible, but I also know that strategic decisions for the uncertain future require skepticism and thinking to deal with the differences in a new circumstance. With my core value, I am passionate about sharing insights and knowledge that our formal education does not provide.

Sima's book list on realistic knowledge and decision making

What is my book about?

Everything in nature evolves by trial, error, and success—from fundamental physics, through evolution in biology, to how people learn, think, and decide.

This book presents a way of thinking and realistic knowledge that our formal education shuns. Stepping beyond this ignorance, the book shows how to deal with and even benefit from uncertainty by skeptical thinking, strategic decisions, and teamwork based on enlightened self-interests.

This bottom-up thinking is thought-provoking for leaders who wish to build teams rather than herds. The insights in the book will help you to be better prepared for the unexpected, less likely to conform when you…

Trial, Error, and Success: 10 Insights into Realistic Knowledge, Thinking, and Emotional Intelligence

By Sima Dimitrijev, PhD, Maryann Karinch,

What is this book about?

Everything in nature evolves by trial, error, and success. They didn't teach you this in school, even though you should know why the rigid laws of physics don't rule nature and don't inhibit your free-will decisions to try, fail, and succeed. As a guide to success, this book shows how skepticism, prudent use of science, and thinking lead to strategic decisions for the uncertain future.
 
Presenting real-life examples, the thinking in the book combines sharp analyses with broad analogies to show:
 
How to identify realistic knowledge and avoid harm due to overgeneralized concepts. How to create new knowledge and solve…


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