While the time available to the classroom teacher to read for pleasure and professional growth is limited, there are some books in our field that are that are entertaining and enjoyable and at the same time useful and informative.
The books discussed below are fun and entertaining as well as full of economic content that will improve your knowledge and understanding of economics and provide useful examples for classroom presentation and discussion.
Compiled by Brian Shank, teacher at Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs, CA and CASET Board Member
Murder at the Margin, A Deadly Indifference, and The Fatal Equilibrium, by Marshall Jevons
These are three delightful detective whodunit mysteries in which a Harvard Economics professor uses solid economic principles to solve the murders and catch the killer
Saving Adam Smith, by Jonathan B Wright
In this thriller of high stakes intrigue, romance and crime, Adam Smith comes back to life as “channeled” through a 21st century auto mechanic who invades the life of a young Economics professor seeking tenure, fame, wealth and romance. This book has a bit of everything including a refreshing discussion of the Wealth of Nations and Smith’s other work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
The Instant Economist by John Charles Pool and Ross M. LaRoe
In one hundred short pages in story telling form, this book summarizes most of the main points covered in any standard micro/macro/international course,
This book could almost be read word for word to a regular or AP course in its folksy storybook way.
THE LITERARY BOOK OF ECONOMICS The Literary Book of Economics by Michael Watts
As a professor of both English Lit. and Economics, Watts has combined great literature and great economics. He takes well-known excerpts from the English and American Lit we all read in High School and College and shows how they illustrate and bring to life the Economic principles we all teach.
This work makes collaboration between English teachers and Economics teachers a fun possibility as well as creating a fresh “economic” look at some famous classics.
THE COMMANDING HEIGHTS by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw
This is the best and most readable economic history of the 20th century that exists. There is also an acclaimed 6-hour PBS VHS or DVD series based on the book. This book covers all the major economic players and events in all areas of the world from the 1900 to the present day.
FREAKONOMICS by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J Dubner
If you have ever wished you could find some really great examples to show students that the world actually functions according economic principles and not according to conventional thinking this book has a multitude. Economic principals such as “people respond to incentives in predictable ways” are illustrated with many contemporary stories and examples.
GIVE ME A BREAK by John Stossel
This is Stossel’s first foray into the economic concept of unintended consequences. While economics is not the only subject covered in this book, he provides a fascinating application of economic principles to many of the issues of life, media and government in America.
MYTHS, LIES, AND DOWNRIGHT STUPIDITY by John Stossel. When news journalists actually learn the economic way of thinking and apply it to real world situations it can be entertaining and enlightening. This book continues Stossel’s good work that many of us have seen in some of his classroom programs. This is an entertaining read with many good brief examples that can be woven into many lessons. Stossel now writes a regular column along with Walter Williams in the free-market magazine “THE FREEMAN.”
NAKED ECONOMICS by Charles Wheelan
As a former writer for “The Economist,” Wheelan brings his scholarship and wit to a general overview of basic Micro and Macro economics. This could almost be used as a textbook without graphs. It has many very clear discussions and good examples of all the basic topics covered in a typical regular or AP course.
It is well written and witty and does “undress the dismal science.”
SEX, DRUGS & ECONOMICS by Diane Coyle
This is another well- written and witty overview of the basic course with clever and useful examples. Ms. Coyle approaches her overview from the perspective of the business world and human behavior to illustrate fundamental economics.
This is another example of a “textbook without graphs” and is very entertaining. This is a good introductory merger of psychology and economics,
THE MYSTERY OF CAPITAL, Why Capitalism Triumphs In The West And Fails Everywhere Else. By Hernando De Soto
As the title indicates this book addresses globalization, the questions many students ask, and the future. It is very readable and fills a hole in the globalization chapters and the study of the modern developing world.
THE WORLDY PHILOSOPHERS by Robert L Hielbroner
This is a classic on the history of the lives and ideas of the great economists of history. I read it as a High School senior in the 60’s. It has been repeatably updated. It is a very clear, concise and readable summary of the theories and ideas of the Physiocrats through Smith, Ricardo, Malthus and Mill. It gives a fair treatment of Marx and Engles and explains Keynes and Keynesianism up through modern reinterpretations.
NEW IDEAS FROM DEAD ECONOMISTS by Todd Buchholz
This book is similar to The Worldly Philosophers but goes further in applying the ideas of the great economists to modern times and issues. In that regard he discusses the impact of modern day economists like Friedman, Samuelson, and Galbraith and their application of old theories to new problems. This is a very readable discussion of the evolution of economic theory and its relevance to our day.
THE TRAVELS OF A T-SHIRT IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY by Pietra Rivoli
This will be a classic. It is a very entertaining discussion of free trade, protectionism, outsourcing and the global economy in all of its complexities with all of its players and their competing interests. The use of a single product in a single industry to illustrate the global assembly line is very effective and gives good insights and examples of the “flattening” of the world economy and the forces at work both visible and invisible in the Global economy. See also THE WORLD IS FLAT by Thomas Friedman.
THE ECONOMIC NATURALIST by Robert Frank. In a series of short readable chapters, Frank addresses questions regularly asked by students such as: why equally talented workers often earn different salaries and why are milk cartons rectangular and soda cans are cylindrical and many similar questions about everyday economic life. The chapters are entertaining narratives showing how basic economic principles such as opportunity cost and diminishing returns fill our daily lives. This is great book to get entertaining and accessible examples for your classes.
THE UNDERCOVER ECONOMIST by Tim Harford
This is an extremely witty and entertaining book on the application of economics to the daily mysteries of life. It is similar to FREAKONOMICS, NAKED ECONOMICS and THE ECONOMIC NATURALIST. Harford, who regularly contributes to NPR’s Marketplace, is one of the new breed of economists who through narrative, wit and humor bring alive what many of us learned in huge dry textbooks and long boring lectures buried in math and graphs (which still have their place). This is a great read for the beginning or veteran Economics teacher.
ECONOMICS: WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD COMMON SENSE KNOW ABOUT WEALTH AND PROSPERITY by James Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup and Dwight R. Lee.
This book is a concise discussion of wealth creation, the benefits of a free market system and the application of economic principals to one’s personal life. It is written from a very free market perspective and it combines a readable discussion of economic principals on a general scale with much discussion of personal economic and financial behavior. Given the present financial crisis and the individual and family casualties being wrought by financial ignorance and departure from sound economic thinking, this book is timely.