The best books for seeing world history thru the lens of economics

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up listening to my grandfathers tell stories about the Great Depression (1930s). My cousins would want me to go out and play, but I wanted to stay indoors and listen to the stories. The Depression proved my grandfathers were not the best cotton farmers, but they were good storytellers, and I ended up an economics professor. Along the way, I ran across a thought from renowned British philosopher Francis Bacon: “Histories make men wise, poets, witty, mathematics, subtle;” Modern economics has gone in for subtlety, and maybe is a little too careless of wisdom. This thought sent me delving deeper into economic history, and I ended up writing five books in economics history. 


I wrote...

The ABC-Clio World History Companion to Capitalism

By Larry Allen,

Book cover of The ABC-Clio World History Companion to Capitalism

What is my book about?

From Adam Smith and the Industrial Revolution to Wall Street and multinational corporations, capitalism has long been one of the world's leading economic systems. This work traces the evolution of capitalism from its roots in medieval Europe's rigid economy, through the laissez-faire abuses of the 19th century, to its contemporary form as shaped by competition with socialism.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

Larry Allen Why did I love this book?

To read this book, published in 1776, is to experience the stimulus of an energetic and original mind, It is an intense education in the economics way of thinking, pushing to the limit the exploration of often far-reaching unintended and unwanted consequences of government policies. The experience forever changes where one looks when analyzing and diagnosing the implications and dynamics of economic policies. Smith’s real insights remain timely today, such as when he states that government debts are never paid off by raising taxes. Smith ranges far and wide to bag his prey but all is fused and rendered consistent with dispassionate candor and well-considered truth. In this book, Smith left the world a body of positive wisdom and rational explanations that put world history in a whole new light.

By Adam Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1776, the year in which the American Revolution officially began, Smith’s Wealth of Nations sparked a revolution of its own. In it Smith analyzes the major elements of political economy, from market pricing and the division of labor to monetary, tax, trade, and other government policies that affect economic behavior. Throughout he offers seminal arguments for free trade, free markets, and limited government.

Criticizing mercantilists who sought to use the state to increase their nations’ supply of precious metals, Smith points out that a nation’s wealth should be measured by the well-being of its people. Prosperity in…


Book cover of The Great Crash 1929

Larry Allen Why did I love this book?

John Kenneth Galbraith boasts a witty and melodious writing style that rivals the greatest writers of American literary history, making it worth reading just for the writing. Better still, his book, The Great Crash, written before the era of 401k retirements and multiple financial channels, is more relevant now than when it was first published. A pleasure to read and a pertinent subject, it is written by one of the greatest economists of the 20th century. His word choice is thought-stirring, Instead of calling a speculative mania a ‘bubble,’ he calls it ‘financial euphoria.’ Galbraith was as liberal as anybody can be who remained close friends with William F. Buckley Jr., but in economics an entertaining writing style covers a multitude of sins. This book deserves our heartiest admiration and endorsement. 

By John Kenneth Galbraith,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Great Crash 1929 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'One of the most engrossing books I have ever read' Daily Telegraph

John Kenneth Galbraith's now-classic account of the 1929 stock market collapse remains the definitive book on the most disastrous cycle of boom and bust in modern times.

Vividly depicting the causes, effects, aftermath and long-term consequences of financial meltdown, Galbraith also describes the people and the corporations who were affected by the catastrophe. With its depiction of the 'gold-rush fantasy' ingrained in America's psychology, The Great Crash 1929 remains a penetrating study of human greed and folly.


Book cover of The World Economy: History and Prospect

Larry Allen Why did I love this book?

This book treats a rich variety of weighty topics, global in scope. It lays bare the real insights that bubble up when economic history is subpoenaed to the bar of economic thinking. The famous British Disraeli said he only read biographies because biographies were life without theory. It helps to take a break from scholars whose thoughts are pinned down by the most recent theories. To study economics without theory, it is necessary to study economic history. Economic forecasters too often have a bias toward predicting a continuation of existing trends with small adjustments. Rostov’s long sweep of history shows that these forecasts may be overridden by long-term trends. This book contains a lot of meat—a great abundance of instructive explanations, intelligent comments, and practical conclusions. 

By W. W. Rostow,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This monumental study is an account of the world economy from the eighteenth century to the twentieth, an analysis and prescription for the future, and a challenge to the neo-Keynesian theories of income determination and growth. It is based on some forty years of research and teaching.

Originally published in 1978, the volume looks back over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It includes an analysis of how the world's population expanded from about 1 billion in 1800 to 4 billion in 1976, with some 6.5 billion in sight for the year 2000; an account of the expansion and distribution of…


Book cover of The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War

Larry Allen Why did I love this book?

Here is a stimulating and suggestive book, in 18 close-packed chapters, rich in fresh and illuminating insights. The scope, depth, and harmony of this book, strengthened with minute elaboration and carefulness, make it a work of permanent value. Missed here is the dogmatic readiness to force many intricate and diverse things to accommodate themselves to a few simple formulas. The book’s very descriptive title reveals its subject, which is presented with the utmost clearness, thoughtful intelligence, and adequacy of analysis, It is a welcomed reminder that time is the greatest innovator, spawning economic developments missed by the blind mechanisms of theoretical formulas. There is the accuracy of knowledge throughout, thoroughness in setting it forth, and admirable clearness. 

By Robert J. Gordon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rise and Fall of American Growth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, motor vehicles, air travel, and television transformed households and workplaces. But has that era of unprecedented growth come to an end? Weaving together a vivid narrative, historical anecdotes, and economic analysis, The Rise and Fall of American Growth challenges the view that economic growth will continue unabated, and demonstrates that the life-altering scale of innovations between 1870 and 1970 cannot be repeated. Gordon contends that the nation's productivity growth will be further held back by the…


Book cover of A Tract on Monetary Reform

Larry Allen Why did I love this book?

This book is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in economics, overshadowed by Keynes’ more path-breaking General Theory, but oozing with wisdom on every page. Here Keynes transcends the bounds of economics. In his words: “It is one of the objects of this book to urge that the best way to cure this mortal disease of individualism is to provide there shall never exist any confident expectation either that prices are generally going to fall or that they are going to rise; and also that there shall be no serious risk that a movement, if it does occur, will be a big one.” Of course, inflation is the subject here. Its writing style alone elevates it above the commonplace. In this book, the reader finds the balance of practical judgment found in the best economists. 

By John Maynard Keynes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Tract on Monetary Reform as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book, is devoted to the need for stable currency as the essential foundation of a healthy world economy. Describing the various effects of unstable currency on investors, business people, and wage earners, Keynes recommends the implementation of policies that aim at achieving stability of the commodity value of the dollar rather than the gold value. Keynes's brilliant, clear analysis of the world monetary situation at the beginning of the twentieth century, with his many suggestions and his masterful elucidation of economic principles, stands as a vital primer for anyone interested in developing a better understanding of basic economics and…


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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…


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