The best books on economics and public policy

Charles Wheelan Author Of Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science
By Charles Wheelan

The Books I Picked & Why

A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing

By Burton G. Malkiel

A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing

Why this book?

Anyone who cares about investing should understand the efficient market theory—why it is difficult or impossible for investors to “beat the market.” Burt Malkiel, a Princeton economist for decades, is the guy who explains this theory best, often with vivid examples of loopy market-beating strategies. This is a serious book that also happens to be entertaining. If you think you’ve got a future as a day trader, read A Random Walk Down Wall Street first.


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Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism

By Anne Case, Angus Deaton

Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism

Why this book?

Case and Deaton, Princeton economists (married to each other), explain how economic developments in recent decades, such as the rise of trade and the weakening of unions, have eroded the fabric of our society. Case and Deaton document the devasting impact on people and communities left behind by looking at deaths of despair—those from suicide, overdoses, and alcoholism. If you have the feeling that something is not right with capitalism—or even if you don’t—this is a book that will offer you a detailed look at America’s economic underbelly.


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Showdown at Gucci Gulch: Lawmakers, Lobbyists, and the Unlikely Triumph of Tax Reform

By Alan Murray

Showdown at Gucci Gulch: Lawmakers, Lobbyists, and the Unlikely Triumph of Tax Reform

Why this book?

Who knew that a book on tax reform could be so interesting? Showdown at Gucci Gulch, which tells the story of the 1986 federal tax reform, remains the best in depth look at how a bill really becomes a law, including a cast of interesting characters, from Ronald Reagan to Dan Rostenkowski. The book is also a good primer on what a good tax system ought to look like and how myriad special interests invariably oppose such a system. Murray and Birnbaum were reporters for the Wall Street Journal who covered the 1986 tax reform and write with a reporter’s eye for detail. Really, this is an entertaining book.


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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

By Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Why this book?

Haidt is an NYU social psychologist who explains in this book how and why conservatives and liberals view the world differently. There are powerful insights into the kinds of issues that divide us—and more importantly, why they divide us. Jonathan is like a psychologist for our country. If we all read this book, we would not necessarily achieve social harmony, but we would at least have a better understanding of why we disagree.


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The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

By Michael Lewis

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Why this book?

Nearly every Michael Lewis book offers some important lesson in finance or statistics (e.g. Moneyball). The Big Short tells the story of the 2008 financial crisis through the stories of several investors who saw it coming. The book does a brilliant job describing the complex Wall Street financial products that turned a real estate collapse into a global financial panic. Lewis probes how misaligned incentives for actors ranging from mortgage brokers to ratings agencies caused people to do things that were good for them and catastrophic for the rest of us. Lewis is a great storyteller; his stories also happen to teach a lot of economics.


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