The best books on economics and public policy

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

Who am I?

I’m passionate about economics and public policy because they are the tools we can use to improve our lives—everything from fighting a pandemic to preventing the next financial crisis. I’m interested in politics, too, because that is how policies get made in a democracy. We’re living through a time with serious social challenges and a political system paralyzed by partisanship. We have to do better.

I wrote...

Book cover of Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science

What is my book about?

At last! A new edition of the economics book that won't put you to sleep. In fact, you won't be able to put this bestseller down. In our challenging economic climate, this perennial favorite of students and general readers is more than a good read, it's a necessary investment--with a blessedly sure rate of return. This revised and updated edition includes commentary on hot topics such as automation, trade, income inequality, and America's rising debt. Ten years after the financial crisis, Naked Economics examines how policymakers managed the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Demystifying buzzwords, laying bare the truths behind oft-quoted numbers, and answering the questions you were always too embarrassed to ask, the breezy Naked Economics gives you the tools to engage with pleasure and confidence in the deeply relevant, not so dismal science.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Burton G. Malkiel,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked A Random Walk Down Wall Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Today's stock market is not for the faint hearted. At a time of frightening volatility, the answer is to turn to Burton G. Malkiel's advice in his reassuring, authoritative, gimmick-free and perennially best-selling guide to investing. Long established as the first book to purchase before starting a portfolio, A Random Walk Down Wall Street now features new material on "tax-loss harvesting"; the current bitcoin bubble and automated investment advisers; as well as a brand-new chapter on factor investing and risk parity. And as always, Malkiel's core insights-on stocks and bonds, as well as investment trusts, home ownership and tangible assets…

Book cover of Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism

Why did I love 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.

By Anne Case, Angus Deaton,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Bestseller
A Wall Street Journal Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book of 2020
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Shortlisted for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year
A New Statesman Book to Read

From economist Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton, a groundbreaking account of how the flaws in capitalism are fatal for America's working class

Life expectancy in the United States has recently fallen for three years in a row-a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Alan Murray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Showdown at Gucci Gulch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Tax Reform Act of 1986 was the single most sweeping change in the history of America's income tax. It was also the best political and economic story of its time. Here, in the anecdotal style of The Making of the President, two Wall Street Journal reporters provide the first complete picture of how this tax revolution went from an improbable dream to a widely hailed reality.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Jonathan Haidt,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Righteous Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A landmark contribution to humanity's understanding of itself' The New York Times

Why can it sometimes feel as though half the population is living in a different moral universe? Why do ideas such as 'fairness' and 'freedom' mean such different things to different people? Why is it so hard to see things from another viewpoint? Why do we come to blows over politics and religion?

Jonathan Haidt reveals that we often find it hard to get along because our minds are hardwired to be moralistic, judgemental and self-righteous. He explores how morality evolved to enable us to form communities, and…

The Big Short

By Michael Lewis,

Book cover of The Big Short

Why did I love 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.

By Michael Lewis,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Big Short as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The real story of the crash began in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn't shine and the SEC doesn't dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower- and middle-class Americans who can't pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren't talking.

Michael Lewis creates a fresh, character-driven narrative brimming with indignation and dark humor, a fitting sequel to his #1 bestseller Liar's Poker. Out of a…

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