Reviews Feature 1

171

Books worth reading

When I wrote The Truth about Markets (published in 2003), I tried to explain to the publisher that there was potentially a market for popular books on economics similar to that which currently existed for popular history or popular science.  My explanation fell on deaf ears.

Since then, the wind has shifted by 180°.   The success of Freakonomics, published in 2005, changed everything.  The conventional perception on the part of both readers and publishers had been that economics was a subject for dull people who talked about whether interest rates would rise or fall without any actual foreknowledge of the answer. Suddenly there was  recognition that economic reasoning could be used to illuminate everyday life and politically controversial issues.  The result was an explosion not just of popular economics writing but of accessible books in the social sciences.  Freakonomics provoked spinoffs, inevitably, and fresh books in similar vein, such as the writings of Tim Harford.

These books deal only tangentially with the question that prompted me to write The Truth about Markets –  what should an intelligent general reader consult in order to obtain some insight into the subject matter of economics?.  Of the various works which have appeared since, the most similar in scope in purpose to The Truth About Markets – though very different in content – is Eric Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth.  Readers who want an easier, simpler ride might benefit from David Smith’s Free Lunch or Ed Conway’s 50 Economic Ideas.   Another option is the open access INETs new introduction to economics edited by Wendy Carlin.

There are few general books on the application of economics to business that can be recommended to general readers but Dick Rumelt’s Good Strategy – Bad Strategy is an outstanding exception.  Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy was the first popular work to apply economic thinking to business strategy, but for reasons I explain more modern economics is considerably more relevant.  Among the works of business gurus, Jim Collins (principally Built to Last written with Gerry Porras) and anything by Charles Handy, deserves a place on the bookshelf.

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