21 books directly related to economic development 📚

All 21 economic development books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Gender, Development and Globalization: Economics as if All People Mattered

Gender, Development and Globalization: Economics as if All People Mattered

By Lourdes Beneria, Günseli Berik, Maria Floro

Why this book?

It’s a great and up-to-date overview of gender inequality on a global scale, covering paid and unpaid work, public policies, and the impact of patriarchal institutions. It also explains why current trajectories of economic development are both inadequate and unsustainable.

From the list:

The best books on feminist political economy

Book cover of Material World: A Global Family Portrait

Material World: A Global Family Portrait

By Peter Menzel,

Why this book?

Never was the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” more true than in this photographic journey around the world. Menzel and his team traveled to 30 countries, found a family in each location willing to move the entire contents of their home from inside to front yard and then photographed family, contents, and dwelling. From a mud hut in Mali to a luxurious dwelling in Kuwait, Menzel’s photos are always informative, never lackadaisical, and sometimes heart-wrenching. Points to ponder: The most valued possession for the Bosnian family featured in the book is listed as a lamp.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the world outside your front door

Book cover of Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail

Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail

By Ray Dalio,

Why this book?

Successful real estate investment and development is in part the result of understanding an economic context and taking the long view. Toward those ends, there’s no better jumping-off point than Ray Dalio's historical review of the economic “Big Cycle” that has determined the success and failure of nations and economic systems over the past several centuries. And by the way, Ray knows what he’s talking about: his Bridgewater Associates is the world’s largest hedge fund.

From the list:

The best books on real estate and wealth-building

Book cover of A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy

A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy

By Joel Mokyr,

Why this book?

I’ve included this book to illustrate how the perspective of cultural evolution is spreading to disciplines and problems far beyond its origins in biology and anthropology. In this case the discipline is economic history and the problem is explaining why the Enlightenment, which paved the way for the rapid technological and economic transformations brought about by the subsequent Industrial Revolution, occurred when it did (1500-1700) and where it did (Western Europe). Mokyr’s answer draws on cultural evolutionary concepts to argue that a culturally transmitted mindset of innovation and progress, as well as the intense competition of ideas within a politically…

From the list:

The best books on cultural evolution

Book cover of Steady-State Economics

Steady-State Economics

By Herman E. Daly,

Why this book?

Want solutions? Start with our failed economic system. Daly, a World Bank senior economist, examines the economic restructuring necessary to live on a finite planet. He corrects the errors of classic economics by showing that a human economy is a subsystem embedded in a finite, fragile ecosystem, maintained by extracting limited resources and exporting waste. A steady-state economy accounts for the limits of both resources and waste. 

From the list:

The best books about ecology from an ecologist

Book cover of Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

By James C. Scott,

Why this book?

Have you ever wondered why we can’t just make the world better? Sure, we’ve made enormous strides in agriculture and medicine over the past few centuries. We can generate electricity and move around the world in a day. We can feed and heal people. But why haven’t we just sat down and figured out the right way to live? Planned it all out on a clean sheet, like an architect.

Seeing Like a State is a book about why it’s impossible for ambitious programs of top-down control to succeed, and why they so often end up with millions of people…

From the list:

The best books about how the world really works

Book cover of Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman

By Jeremy Adelman,

Why this book?

I have picked this book because it tells a story that should interest anyone even if they have no interest in technical economics. Albert Hirschman was born into a Jewish family in Berlin and in his teens became politically committed as a socialist, at a time when the rise of the Nazi party made this a dangerous activity. The book tells the story of his exploits in Germany and occupied Europe before he ended up in the United States, where he made his career as a specialist on economic development, spending a significant part of his life advising the government…

From the list:

The best biographies of late 20th century economists

Book cover of Laboratory of Socialist Development: Cold War Politics and Decolonization in Soviet Tajikistan

Laboratory of Socialist Development: Cold War Politics and Decolonization in Soviet Tajikistan

By Artemy M. Kalinovsky,

Why this book?

The Soviet Union’s periphery was a fertile testing ground for large-scale development projects, comparable to European colonial and post-colonial development projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Like many colonial projects, Soviet development projects were not just designed to modernize the physical landscape but the people as well.

The Russian concept of kul'turnost' (culturedness), a concept rooted in specific notions of European middle-class modernity, was a fundamental driving force in the Tajik modernization campaigns as well. But, it was surprisingly mutable, with local elites often creating their own definition of cultured behavior. Laboratory of Socialist Development grapples with how universal…

From the list:

The best books on Soviet social history

Book cover of The Economy of Cities

The Economy of Cities

By Jane Jacobs,

Why this book?

This book discusses how the first cities formed, and how they operated. We assume they had to be centers of trade and production, but Jacobs really drills down into how that worked. In contrast to other scholars who argue cities emerged as agriculture grew, Jacobs suggests cities were the driving force behind agricultural development. Don’t be put off by the term “economy” if you’re not a numbers person, this isn’t a discussion of tables and percentages, but about the earliest cities would have created culture.

From the list:

The best books on the history of cities

Book cover of How Lives Change: Palanpur, India, and Development Economics

How Lives Change: Palanpur, India, and Development Economics

By Himanshu, Peter Lanjouw, Nicholas Stern

Why this book?

This is ostensibly the third book documenting the history of a North Indian village from 1950 until today, but it also records much of the anthropological literature documenting the development in other villages in India over that period which parallels that in many other villages of South Asia. Viewed in the context of statistical data which is collected on a much broader scale this confirms the remarkable economic evolution India has experienced from basketcase to development model.

From the list:

The best books about India now

Book cover of Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World

Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World

By Jason Hickel,

Why this book?

An imperative of growth-at-any-cost occupies the heart of mainstream economics. So deeply has society internalised it — on the left and right of the political spectrum — that government policies are routinely evaluated according to their impacts on GDP. The golden rule, drummed into economists throughout their training, is that more economic growth is always a good thing, a clear sign of progress. However, as the ecological crisis demonstrates, never-ending growth of the material economy is destroying the conditions upon which our survival depends. Less is More comprehensively demolishes the cult of growthism and offers a compelling vision of degrowth,…

From the list:

The best books critiquing free-market fundamentalism

Book cover of The New Geography of Jobs

The New Geography of Jobs

By Enrico Moretti,

Why this book?

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).

From the list:

The best books on the economic challenges of the 2020s

Book cover of Grassroots Innovation: Minds On The Margin Are Not Marginal Minds

Grassroots Innovation: Minds On The Margin Are Not Marginal Minds

By Anil K. Gupta,

Why this book?

The discourse on modern India is often about achievements in science and technology, R&D in national laboratories, and industry. However, in a country of one billion plus people, innovation is happening not just in formal sectors. Ordinary people – farmers, teachers, students, artisans, school dropouts, homemakers – are constantly innovating to solve everyday problems using frugal means. The book is an account of spotting grassroots innovations, nurturing them, and building networks with formal systems and markets. It is critical to understand this process for a deeper appreciation of contemporary India. 

From the list:

The best books on the history of modern India

Book cover of Wretched Refuse?: The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions

Wretched Refuse?: The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions

By Alex Nowrasteh, Benjamin Powell,

Why this book?

Perhaps the strongest argument against expanded migration rights is the fear that too many of the “wrong” kind of immigrants might kill the goose the laid the golden egg that makes a country attractive to migrants in the first place. If immigrants have harmful cultural values, vote for dangerous political leaders, or otherwise undermine the political and economic system, they could degrade the host nation’s institutions. In the extreme case, they might even replicate the same awful conditions that led them to flee their country of origin. Wretched Refuse is the most thorough analysis and refutation of such concerns. Nowrasteh…

From the list:

The best books on migration rights and democracy

Book cover of The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

By Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing,

Why this book?

This is the epic adventure of the delicious matsutake mushroom, which thrives in the ruins of the clear-cut Oregon ponderosa pine forests. Because it’s prized in Japan and China, it’s a precious trophy for those who hunt it. This delightful, elegant book takes us through its life cycle and complex ecosystem underground, the Hmong villagers and other refugees in America who hunt it, the middlemen who pay them, the shippers, buyers, biologists, foresters, economists, and, yes, the anthropologists who study them. It’s an entertaining, surprisingly enriching read about a global phenomenon that takes place “in Capitalist Ruins.” As an aside,…

From the list:

The best books that blend science with fiction yet are not entirely either

Book cover of Masculinities and Femininities in Latin America's Uneven Development

Masculinities and Femininities in Latin America's Uneven Development

By Susan Paulson,

Why this book?

Masculinities and Femininities in Latin America’s Uneven Development provided further reinforcement for my interest in showing the diversity of masculinities. Paulson’s long history in Latin America and longstanding involvement with gender studies convinced me of her expertise. This was particularly valuable for me, with my limited Latin American experience. Additionally, her discussions of the interactions between notions of masculinity, as perceived and acted out by men with varying degrees of power, was a new way of looking at the issue for me, an eye opener. She clarified some of the dynamics of colonialism as it operates in the present and…

From the list:

The best books on diverse masculinities

Book cover of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy

Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy

By Saskia Sassen,

Why this book?

The important argument lying at the heart of this beautifully written book is that the trajectory of the current global economy, driven by neoliberal logics, is fundamentally one of expulsions: that is, expelling the poor, the biosphere, democracy, and anything else that gets in the way of maximizing profit. This book takes massive case studiesfrom palm oil production in Malaysia and Indonesia to water bottling by large corporations in the USand demonstrates how they are ultimately about pushing people out instead of inviting people in. It raises important questions about who the economy is for,…

From the list:

The best books about how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy

Book cover of The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

By Kenneth Pomeranz,

Why this book?

We all know from our grade school history books that, from the late 15th century, the Europeans took to the sea in droves because they wanted to reach the ‘Chinese market’ via their own routes. Kenneth Pomeranz does not contest this; but he makes two powerful arguments that should require us to revise our history books for this period. First, the West did not so simply best the rest from 1492 – certainly not the Chinese empire. In this brilliant comparative economic history, Pomeranz shows that the Chinese economy remained as vibrant as the Western European ones until the…

From the list:

The best books on empires in world history

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

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

By David S. Landes,

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best books on economics, religion, and society

Book cover of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

By Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee,

Why this book?

One of the biggest questions surrounding AI is the impact it will have on jobs. Just as manufacturing jobs are affected by mechanical automation, many white- and blue-collar jobs are going to be affected by AI-driven automation in the future. The question is whether AI will be like all technologies in the past (which have created more jobs than they have destroyed) or whether it is unique in its ability to automate and displace human jobs at a faster pace than the jobs it creates. Many commentators have asked the question and there are dozens of books exploring how AI…

From the list:

The best books on “managing technological innovation for mere mortals”

Book cover of Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China's Rise

Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China's Rise

By Scott Rozelle, Natalie Hell,

Why this book?

This book spoke to me because it shows that parents in China are just like parents in America. Of course we all love our children, but we struggle to master the complex information, logistics, and expenditures involved in modern child development. One of the authors has shown that a shockingly high share of children in rural China is cognitively stunted due to infectious worms, untreated vision problems, and under-stimulation. Interviews with Chinese families show how challenging it is for parents to diagnose and address these issues without public support. This book shatters American stereotypes about China, and for me, it…

From the list:

The best parenting books that don’t pretend self-help is a magic solution to all problems