10 books like The Great Transformation

By Karl Polanyi,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Great Transformation. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Captured Economy

By Steven M. Teles, Brink Lindsey,

Book cover of The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality

This is a good book to understand the pervasive existence of “rents” in the economy. From the literal rents that homeowners in popular areas can charge, to the rents that accrue to copyright or patent holders, to the rents earned by firms using regulation to block competition, the authors document all the places in our economy where this restricts innovation. It is ultimately a book asking “what is fair?”.

The Captured Economy

By Steven M. Teles, Brink Lindsey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For years, America has been plagued by slow economic growth and increasing inequality. In The Captured Economy, Brink Lindsey and Steven M. Teles identify a common factor behind these twin ills: breakdowns in democratic governance that allow wealthy special interests to capture the policymaking process for their own benefit. They document the proliferation of regressive regulations that redistribute wealth and income up the economic scale while stifling
entrepreneurship and innovation. They also detail the most important cases of regulatory barriers that have worked to shield the powerful from the rigors of competition, thereby inflating their incomes: subsidies for the financial…


The New Geography of Jobs

By Enrico Moretti,

Book cover of The New Geography of Jobs

Moretti’s book is, I think, woefully underappreciated. He gives a clear portrait of different regions of the United States, classifying them on the basis of their current economic structure and not on a predetermined political split or on industrial classifications from fifty years ago. It shows that we are in the midst of a substantial economic transformation that likely rivals the shifts seen during the early industrial revolution. This book gives you a real sense of what a “knowledge economy” will look like. More than that, though, he shows how that transformation could be beneficial to everyone (but might not).

The New Geography of Jobs

By Enrico Moretti,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In The New Geography of Jobs, award-winning Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti looks at the major shifts taking place in the US economy and reveals the surprising winners and losers ​— ​specifically, which kinds of jobs will drive economic growth and where they’ll be located ​— ​while exploring how communities can transform themselves into dynamic innovation hubs.

“A timely and smart discussion of how different cities and regions have made a changing economy work for them ​— ​and how policymakers can learn from that to lift the circumstances of working Americans everywhere.” ​— ​Barack Obama

We’re used to thinking of the…


The Value of Everything

By Mariana Mazzucato,

Book cover of The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy

I like this book because it takes a giant step back and asks what “the economy” means. What we measure, and what we choose to classify as “economic activity”, is a choice, not a given. By opting to classify some things as true economic activity (e.g. finance) but others as not (e.g. raising kids) we implicitly make choices about economic policy, as it can only deal with what it can count. It opens up the idea that we could stop and think about what should matter to the economy, and what may not.

The Value of Everything

By Mariana Mazzucato,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Modern economies reward activities that extract value rather than create it. This must change to ensure a capitalism that works for us all.

Shortlisted for the FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award

A scathing indictment of our current global financial system, The Value of Everything rigorously scrutinizes the way in which economic value has been accounted and reveals how economic theory has failed to clearly delineate the difference between value creation and value extraction. Mariana Mazzucato argues that the increasingly blurry distinction between the two categories has allowed certain actors in the economy to portray themselves as…


The Storm Before the Storm

By Mike Duncan,

Book cover of The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic

Duncan walks the reader through the generations leading up to the fall of the Republic, examining the political, economic, and social conditions that led to civil war and, eventually, the transition to Empire. While Duncan provides biographies of key figures like the Gracchi brothers, he also sets them in the context of their world: its constraints, its faith, its competing pressures. The Storm Before the Storm opens a window into an under-examined period of history, one which has echoes in modern-day politics.

The Storm Before the Storm

By Mike Duncan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Storm Before the Storm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Roman Republic was one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of civilization. Beginning as a small city-state in central Italy, Rome gradually expanded into a wider world filled with petty tyrants, barbarian chieftains, and despotic kings. Through the centuries, Rome's model of cooperative and participatory government remained remarkably durable and unmatched in the history of the ancient world.

In 146 BC, Rome finally emerged as the strongest power in the Mediterranean. But the very success of the Republic proved to be its undoing. The republican system was unable to cope with the vast empire Rome now ruled:…


The Black Swan

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb,

Book cover of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Taleb’s central idea is that it is impossible to predict the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable outlier events. His corollary is that we need to focus on building resiliency vs. better prediction capabilities. This notion of creating resilient organizations is central to our book but one which I see playing out over and over again as we experience wave after wave of disruptive, and seemingly improvable, events. 

The Black Swan

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The most influential book of the past seventy-five years: a groundbreaking exploration of everything we know about what we don’t know, now with a new section called “On Robustness and Fragility.”

A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions…


Tristram Shandy

By Laurence Sterne,

Book cover of Tristram Shandy

It is a novel and a prolonged non-sequitur about life and worldly existence that speaks to me both as a person and as a professional. I read it in college and was astounded by the psychological depth and whimsy. “A cock and bull story, but one of the best…I have ever heard.” I think of that line from Sterne when I write my own work or read others; 

Tristram Shandy

By Laurence Sterne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tristram Shandy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a new Introduction by Cedric Watts, Research Professor of English, University of Sussex.

Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a huge literary paradox, for it is both a novel and an anti-novel. As a comic novel replete with bawdy humour and generous sentiments, it introduces us to a vivid group of memorable characters, variously eccentric, farcical and endearing. As an anti-novel, it is a deliberately tantalising and exuberantly egoistic work, ostentatiously digressive, involving the reader in the labyrinthine creation of a purported autobiography.

This mercurial eighteenth-century text thus anticipates modernism and postmodernism. Vibrant and…


The Passions and the Interests

By Albert O. Hirschman,

Book cover of The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph

The book is, like the others I have recommended, decidedly distinctive and untraditional. It traces the convoluted history of capitalist thought prior to its advent (which is itself the subject of ceaseless debate). Reducing forces to “passion” and “order” made me look at a complicated subject in a new way.

The Passions and the Interests

By Albert O. Hirschman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this volume, Albert Hirschman reconstructs the intellectual climate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to illuminate the intricate ideological transformation that occurred, wherein the pursuit of material interests--so long condemned as the deadly sin of avarice--was assigned the role of containing the unruly and destructive passions of man. Hirschman here offers a new interpretation for the rise of capitalism, one that emphasizes the continuities between old and new, in contrast to the assumption of a sharp break that is a common feature of both Marxian and Weberian thinking. Among the insights presented here is the ironical finding that capitalism…


The Wealth and Poverty of Nations

By David S. Landes,

Book cover of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor

Why do some economies prosper while others seem never to make progress? Landes’s book – with its title a deliberate echo of Adam Smith’s famous work – emphasizes the role of culture in either enabling or retarding productive economic activity, throughout history and across the world. What Landes has in mind is culture in the broadest sense, including our most fundamental presumptions about human relations and the human condition. That, of course, means religion too. Some years ago, reviewing someone else’s book for The New York Times, I referred to David Landes as “a living national treasure if there ever was one.” Alas, Landes is no longer living, but I stand by that assessment.

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations

By David S. Landes,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Wealth and Poverty of Nations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now that the old division of the world into the two power blocs of East and West has subsided, the great gap in wealth and health that separates North and South remains the single greatest problem and danger facing the world of the Third Millennium. The only challenge of comparable scope and difficulty is the threat of the environmental deterioration, and the two are intimately connected, indeed are one. David Landes argues that the North-South division is the great drama of our times, and that drama implies tension, passion, conflict and disappointment as well as happy outcomes. While Landes does…


The Gift

By Marcel Mauss, W.D. Halls (translator),

Book cover of The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies

If there is one foundational text in economic anthropology, this is it. The French anthropologist Mauss showed, in this 1924 book, that gift exchange is the glue that connects people in communities with no formal authority. He is perfectly aware that there are no free gifts, but shows that all economic transactions have a moral element: They create social obligations, they connect us to each other.

The Gift

By Marcel Mauss, W.D. Halls (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Since its first publication in English in 1954, The Gift, Marcel Mauss's groundbreaking study of the relation between forms of exchange and social structure, has been acclaimed as a classic among anthropology texts.

A brilliant example of the comparative method, The Gift presents the first systematic study of the custom―widespread in primitive societies from ancient Rome to present-day Melanesia―of exchanging gifts. The gift is a perfect example of what Mauss calls a total social phenomenon, since it involves legal, economic, moral, religious, aesthetic, and other dimensions. He sees the gift exchange as related to individuals and groups as much as…


Technics and Human Development

By Lewis Mumford,

Book cover of Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine, Vol. I

Mumford’s classic describes the emergence of hierarchical power systems that subjugate both humans and the more-than-human nature, from ancient Egypt to modern capitalism and the “Pentagon of Power”. The book takes on the technocratic worldview, inherent in modern capitalism, with a huge scope of knowledge and remarkable detail, combined with Mumford’s deep humanism. Mumford also coined the term “Megamachine” to which I refer in my own book.

Technics and Human Development

By Lewis Mumford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Technics and Human Development as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mumford explains the forces that have shaped technology since prehistoric times and shaped the modern world. He shows how tools developed because of significant parallel inventions in ritual, language, and social organization. “It is a stimulating volume, informed both with an enormous range of knowledge and empathetic spirit” (Eliot Fremont-Smith, New York Times). Index; photographs.


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