Business and Economics 101 for a complete newcomer
September 6, 2014 11:22 AM   Subscribe

I want to become literate in two of the major fields that are the most foreign to me, business and finance or economics. Can you help with book or website recommendations?

I'm interested in a layman's explanation of how businesses are run and/or how to run a business. I'm interested in books for the general population that explain the world of money, everything from how businesses make money to high-frequency trading to Wall Street to the international economy. Small mom and pop businesses all the way up to international corporations. I'm not used to having money, so the idea of caring about money is foreign to me, but now it's an itch I need to scratch. (Know your enemy.) How is money made? How are businesses developed? What should I know about various economies? And so forth. The more and more varied the suggestions, the better, anything from an introductory level up to an intermediate level.

Books directed at capitalist insiders, such as anything by Jack Welch, for whom I have very little respect, are very welcome for the purposes of getting inside the moneymakers' heads and for their snark value.
posted by quiet earth to Work & Money (5 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I would definitely recommend the Planet Money podcast, which is a very accessible show about interesting stories in economics. Alex Blumberg, the founder of Planet Money (and regular This American Life contributor), has just started a new podcast called StartUp ("... a series about what happens when someone who knows nothing about business starts one"). I haven't listened to it yet, but I expect it to be excellent based on his other work.

Anything by Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist, is also heartily recommended and very accessible.
posted by Emanuel at 11:53 AM on September 6, 2014

There's a new book out called 'How to speak money' by John Lanchester that got a good review in the guardian this morning.
posted by biffa at 2:31 PM on September 6, 2014

Honestly, I'd recommend picking up a well written Economics 101 book. Principles of Economics by Gregory Mankiw (okay to use an older / international edition) is the textbook I learned from. It is very easy to read from on your own, and has a very light dash of humor to keep things interesting.

If you're truly foreign to economics/business/money, then this is the best place to start. A lot of foundational ideas are covered in a standard economics 101 textbook, and these foundational ideas will get referred to again and again and again in any other more exciting business text or blog post or article (even if it is for the lay reader). For example, ideas about making decisions on the margin, price discrimination, public good / free rider problem, the role of government in boosting a nation's economy via monetary policy/inflation, general dislike of taxes or artificial pricing, supply and demand dynamics, etc. etc. are generally assumed in non-introductory texts, but are actually quite complicated ideas to unpack and understand particularly since they yield counter-intuitive insights!

All of these core ideas will be well covered in any economics 101 (look for one that covers microeconomics and macroeconomics; the Mankiw one does both) and will serve you very very well in anything else you read regarding business/economics/finance. And although reading an intro textbook sounds boring, I personally found Economics 101 to be fascinating and eye-opening! Really, it can be a joy to read.

I've majored in Economics and spent my career in management / strategy consulting, and the one book to read that will give you disproportionate mileage in understanding how the world of business, money, finance, international currency markets, etc. etc. works is just the basic text. You'll be surprised how far you can get with making your way through the intro text.
posted by ellerhodes at 4:31 PM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Read Paul Krugman's column in The Times. He's featured every Monday and Friday. He writes mainly on economics but sometimes politics, his being liberal. He does a very good job of explaining what are often complex topics, and he writes on both foreign and domestic issues. He frequently explains how things came to be the way they are today, so you'll get history lessons.

Professor Krugman teaches at Princeton and is a Nobel Prize in Economics recipient. If he's going to get wonky he lets you know. So you'll not only learn about fiscal and monetary policy, but how corporations go about doing business, and his take on what we should and should not be doing with our economy.

You don't need to subscribe to his politics to get educated on a wide variety of economic issues.

If you're not a Times subscriber, you can read 10 articles for free each month on their website.
posted by PaulBGoode at 8:32 PM on September 6, 2014

biffa: "There's a new book out called 'How to speak money' by John Lanchester that got a good review in the guardian this morning."

There was an excellent introduction to this aspect of Lanchester's work in the New Yorker recently. It's a wonderful bit of writing.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:47 AM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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