The best books that explain how capitalism works

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a product of Sputnik and the threat of nuclear war. Both turned me into a long-time reader of science fiction and a perpetual student in trying to understand how the world works and why? If we have free will, why do so many things seem to be predetermined? If we are rational beings, why do so many of our choices seem so absurd? And if a new world is possible, why can’t we bring it into existence? I was a professor of politics for 30 years (and I was respected! See “Soylent Green.”) and most of my research and writing try to answer these questions.


I wrote...

Political Economy, Capitalism, and Popular Culture

By Ronnie D. Lipschutz,

Book cover of Political Economy, Capitalism, and Popular Culture

What is my book about?

Political Economy, Capitalism and Popular Culture (PECPC) dissects films and novels in an effort to explain the mysteries of capitalism and the world it makes. Most economic textbooks are deadly dull as well as very orthodox and make claims to predicting human behavior. PECPC blows apart many economics myths and stories and does so through examples drawn from the books and films with which we are very familiar and can be read without the help of an economist. I wrote PECPC as a textbook for students who were uncomfortable with math and statistics, but economists can read it, too.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time

Ronnie D. Lipschutz Why did I love this book?

Some critics argue that Polanyi got 19th-century English history wrong, but his argument that the capitalist economy is “disembedded” from the social system and is focused only on growth and more capital seems spot on. 

The attempt to turn everything into a commodity will mean the wrack and ruin of the earth and its inhabitants. Not quite Polanyi’s words but, 80 years later, ever closer to what is happening.

By Karl Polanyi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this classic work of economic history and social theory, Karl Polanyi analyzes the economic and social changes brought about by the "great transformation" of the Industrial Revolution. His analysis explains not only the deficiencies of the self-regulating market, but the potentially dire social consequences of untempered market capitalism. New introductory material reveals the renewed importance of Polanyi's seminal analysis in an era of globalization and free trade.


Book cover of 1984

Ronnie D. Lipschutz Why did I love this book?

This book was and is widely thought to be a warning against the tyranny of English “socialism,” others against the Soviet Union.

At least one person argues that it was a satire of American society. Perhaps 1984 was published too soon; every day, Orwell’s world appears to look more and more like the one in which we live.

By George Orwell,

Why should I read it?

42 authors picked 1984 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU . . .

1984 is the year in which it happens. The world is divided into three superstates. In Oceania, the Party's power is absolute. Every action, word, gesture and thought is monitored under the watchful eye of Big Brother and the Thought Police. In the Ministry of Truth, the Party's department for propaganda, Winston Smith's job is to edit the past. Over time, the impulse to escape the machine and live independently takes hold of him and he embarks on a secret and forbidden love affair. As he writes the words 'DOWN WITH BIG…


Book cover of Ecotopia

Ronnie D. Lipschutz Why did I love this book?

Callenbach’s tale of ecological secession by Washington, Oregon, and Northern California remains an inspiration to those who believe another world is possible.

Callenbach imagined cheap solar electricity and newspapers being delivered through what was, essentially, street corner fax machines. Right on the first, wrong on the second. Unfortunately, Callenbach’s novel is sexist and even a little racist in places, and its utopian vision is unlikely to ever materialize. 

By Ernest Callenbach,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ecotopia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twenty years have passed since Northern California, Oregon, and Washington seceded from the United States to create a new nation, Ecotopia. Rumors abound of barbaric war games, tree worship, revolutionary politics, sexual extravagance. Now, this mysterious country admits its first American visitor: investigative reporter Will Weston, whose dispatches alternate between shock and admiration. But Ecotopia gradually unravels everything Weston knows to be true about government and human nature itself, forcing him to choose between two competing views of civilization.Since it was first published in 1975, Ecotopia has inspired readers throughout the world with its vision of an ecologically and socially…


Book cover of Reaching for Heaven on Earth: The Theological Meaning of Economics

Ronnie D. Lipschutz Why did I love this book?

Did it ever occur to you that economics might be theological, even a form of religious idolatry?

This is not, by the way, about the Worship of Mammon; it is about capitalism as a system of beliefs and practices.

Nelson carefully maps out the genealogy of modern economics, showing that its underlying foundation can be traced back to competing Greek philosophies as filtered through Catholicism and Protestantism. We have never been secular!

By Robert H. Nelson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reaching for Heaven on Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

this is the most profound book on the boundary of theology and economics in the past couple of decades. It has a depth of perspective, a scope of scholarship and a discernment that is rare in this field.-CHRISTIAN CENTURY


Book cover of Snow Crash

Ronnie D. Lipschutz Why did I love this book?

Snow Crash was written as the Cold War came to an end and imagines how globalization and cyberspace might develop across the United States.

There is not much left of the U.S. besides the “Feds,” who can barely keep their act together. There are only four things the United States can do better than anyone else: music, movies, microcode, and high-speed pizza delivery. 

The country is littered with FOQNEs, Franchise-Organized Quasi-National Entities, and Burbclaves, which are thematic near-sovereign, gated communities. And, by the way, this is where Zuckerberg got the term “Metaverse.” Stephenson should sue.

By Neal Stephenson,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Snow Crash as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The “brilliantly realized” (The New York Times Book Review) breakthrough novel from visionary author Neal Stephenson, a modern classic that predicted the metaverse and inspired generations of Silicon Valley innovators

Hiro lives in a Los Angeles where franchises line the freeway as far as the eye can see. The only relief from the sea of logos is within the autonomous city-states, where law-abiding citizens don’t dare leave their mansions.

Hiro delivers pizza to the mansions for a living, defending his pies from marauders when necessary with a matched set of samurai swords. His home is a shared 20 X 30…


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The Oracle of Spring Garden Road

By Norrin M. Ripsman,

Book cover of The Oracle of Spring Garden Road

Norrin M. Ripsman Author Of Song Book

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I love a good short story that can convey character, emotion, and complexity. While a novel allows the writer (and the reader) to delve into the chaotic complexity of a single set of characters, a good short story collection can explore a range of humanity and a diversity of moods or feelings.  This was my motivation in writing my book. I believe a good short story collection on a well-grounded theme (such as the contributions to this list by Doerr, Kundera, and Munro) can often reveal more about human nature than an excellent novel.

Norrin's book list on short stories for a cottage trip

What is my book about?

The Oracle of Spring Garden Road explores the life and singular worldview of “Crazy Eddie,” a brilliant, highly-educated homeless man who panhandles in front of a downtown bank in a coastal town.

Eddie is a local enigma. Who is he? Where did he come from? What brought him to a life on the streets? A dizzying ride between past and present, the novel unravels these mysteries, just as Eddie has decided to return to society after two decades on the streets, with the help of Jane, a woman whose intelligence and integrity rival his own. Will he succeed, or is it too late?

In the tradition of Graham Greene, this is a book about love, betrayal, and life’s heavenly music

The Oracle of Spring Garden Road

By Norrin M. Ripsman,

What is this book about?

“Crazy Eddie” is a homeless man who inhabits two squares of pavement in front of a bank in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. In this makeshift office, he panhandles and dispenses his peerless wisdom. Well-educated, fiercely intelligent with a passionate interest in philosophy and a profound love of nature, Eddie is an enigma for the locals. Who is he? Where did he come from? What brought him to a life on the streets? Though rumors abound, none capture the unique worldview and singular character that led him to withdraw from the perfidy and corruption of human beings. Just as Eddie has…


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