Some books that have changed how I think about economics

This is a list of books on economics, for interested undergraduates.  If you read one and email me your comments I'll add them, with attribution. Please e-mail me if you know of other appropriate books. To order these books, please link to from here, or click on the titles of the books. In either case, will pay me a modest kickback. Last year I made $6! I assume this is a forbidden use of university computing resources. (Should it be?) So, if you buy a book and think I'm ripping you off, stop by my office and I'll buy you a latte. Thanks to Chris O’Connor for getting this started.

 (201) means this is a good pick for my micro principles students. I have copies of some of these to lend out, ask before you buy.

A good place to start:

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. (201) You've probably heard of this one. Online version here.

Books with catchy titles that are really about how to think like an economist:

The Undercover Economist, by Tim Harford. (201) The blurb calls it "An economist's version of the way things work." I haven't got to it yet.

Freakonomics, by Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner. (201) Applies economic thinking to some new questions.

Naked Economics, by Charles Wheelan. (201) A very readable, very entertaining, very enlightening introduction to how economists think about economic issues. Very good chapters about applying economic thinking to the behavior of government.

Applying economic thinking to particular subjects:

Global Crises, Global Solutions by Bjorn Lomborg. (201) This books applies benefit cost analysis to the world's problems, and asks which problems we should tackle first. Environmental cleanup, or better health care, for example?

The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Bjorn Lomborg. (201) This book came out in 2001, and received a huge amount of press for pointing out that, by most measures, the world's environmental quality has been steadily increasing. If you don't want to believe this, I recommend this as an infuriating read which will at least improve your arguments.

In Praise of Commercial Culture, by Tyler Cowen. (201) The French government heavily subsidizes the arts, while the United States leaves artists to survive on their own, or not. Yet New York City is now the capital of the world art scene, while Paris is a backwater. Why?

Choosing the Right Pond by Robert Frank. (201) Maybe it's not how much stuff you have, but whether you have more stuff than the other guy. For a more economic approach to questions of human nature, and in particular questions of status, Choosing the Right Pond is an excellent book. Frank attempts to resolve some "puzzles" that appear when economic theory is applied to real life.

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley. (201) The Red Queen explores the evolutionary history of sex and its effects on human nature. Through numerous examples from nature and human society, Ridley traces biologists and psychologists views on the significance and "goals" of things such as monogamy, gender and race bias, puberty, feminism and beauty. It serves as an excellent introduction to the realm of evolutionary psychology. For the non-scientist, it also serves as an introduction to evolutionary psychology.

The Moral Animal , by Robert Wright The influence of human evolution on everyday life. Wright, a journalist (former editor of the Econmist), has researched current trends and conclusions in the field, and has packaged them in an excellent book that explores the everyday phenomenon of marriage, childrearing and the like.

Passions within reason: the strategic role of the emotions, by Robert Frank. (201) Why getting angry and falling in love are rational, in different circumstances. So, if even our emotions are rational, why not analyze them using economic tools?

Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith's other book. It's very different. Online version here.

Stone Age Economics, by Marshall Sahlins. (201) I haven't read this in years, but I remember it as a well-intentioned attempt to use economics to analyze behavior in primitive societies. If you know of more recent work on this, I'd appreciate hearing about it.

The rise and decline of nations, by Mancur Olson. (201) An intriguing explanation for the decline of civilizations from Rome to the U.S. (well, it was written when Jimmy Carter was President) based on economic theories about how special interest groups affect political decision-making.

Peddling Prosperity, by Paul Krugman. Examples of the interaction between economy theory and real world problems.

Manias, Panics and Crashes : A History of Financial Crises, By Charles P. Kindleberger. "An informative and entertaining history of financial crises from the time of the South Sea Bubble in the early eighteenth century to the world depression of the thirties and the mini-panics of the early seventies."

Against the tide: an intellectual history of free trade, Douglas Irwin. (201) Some arguments for and against free-trade over history, from Aristotle to Adam Smith to Krugman.

The Pecking Order, by Dalton Conley. Are you the black sheep of the family? The favorite child? Then this book is about you and your siblings.

More advanced topics in Game theory and Experimental Economics:

Game Theory Evolving, by Herbert Gintis. An excellent intro to what game theory is, with an evolutionary slant that makes for interesting reading. Starts with simple games, assumes you know some economics but no game theory.

Thinking Strategically, by Dixit and Nalebuff. (201) What game theory is and how it can help you succeed in business and life

The Handbook of Experimental Economics by John H. Kagel Alvin E. Roth (Editors). The industry standard introduction to the field.  Assumes you know a bit about economics.

Experimental Economics by Douglas D. Davis, Charles A. Holt. More of an emphasis on market behavior, explains relevant parts of economic theory.

Economic Choice Theory : An Experimental Analysis of Animal Behavior by John H. Kagel, Raymond C. Battalio, Leonard Green A fascinating look at how useful economic ideas are for describing animal behavior.