Lets list some useful economics textbooks for beginners
May 18, 2008 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend any books that cover fundamental economics at a beginner level?

I'm reading Natural Sciences at uni here in the UK, but my aim has always been to work in The City/Finance Industry. Note that this is not because of the high pay blah blah - I've been on a small internship and I'm genuinely interested.

Being a scientist, I have little true knowledge of Economics, although I do have a basic knowledge of Business Studies at GCSE. (I also did Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry and Physics at A-Level). Thus, I probably need to read up for any chance of employment down the line.

I'm looking for books to aid me in this cause. Any good, introductory "first year univeristy/A-Level standard" Economics textbooks for newbies that you can recommend? Like basic macro level stuff, supply and demand, etc, although you'll probably know better than me, so I'm open to all suggestions.
posted by dragontail to Education (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I think Greg Mankiw's Principles text is really excellent. I studied economics in undergrad and we used this text in the intro course. I learned economics theory in this book; all the other courses I took were just filling in details and applications (exception: empirical and statistical stuff). (I believe this is the most popular intro text as well; certainly Mankiw has made a big chunk of change off it.)

I recommend it heartily.
posted by grobstein at 10:06 AM on May 18, 2008

Greg Mankiw's Principles of Economics is great.
posted by TrashyRambo at 10:09 AM on May 18, 2008

A book that literally changed my life and how I view current issues is Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman. While not a primer on ecomomics, it is written on a level that is accessible to almost everyone. In a nutshell, it illuminates how efficient free markets are, and the various ways they are distorted by government policies. As a scientist, I think you will appreciate the Friedmans' intellectual rigor.
posted by dinger at 10:47 AM on May 18, 2008

I assume from Natural Sciences and Cambridgeshire in your profile that you're at Cambridge. I'm sure Mankiw's principles texts are great, but they might be a bit too basic and repetitive. Part I economists generally look at Varian's Intermediate Microeconomics and Mankiw's Macroeconomics. There's the advantage that your college library (and failing that, the faculty) will have plenty of copies. Mankiw is very readable, and accessible to people with zero prior knowledge. Varian is sometimes more dense, but you can skim the more technical stuff and focus on the principles. For game theory, Dixit and Skeath is excellent.

Although really, introductory economics textbooks (particularly micro) are unlikely to be that helpful or relevant to a job in the city. Everyone I know who's City-bound says that their academic knowledge of economics is almost entirely irrelevant, and until you get to Part IIB courses like Money, Banking and Finance, textbooks and courses don't deal directly with things you encounter in a career in finance. Also, I would question how interested city employers are in economics knowledge — I've got the strong impression they're interested in general analytic ability. The The University Careers Service can give you more advice and help.
posted by matthewr at 11:00 AM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

These threads may be of interest.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:15 AM on May 18, 2008

2nd Varian's Intermediate Micro. With your background the equations in there shouldn't be a problem.
posted by jtfowl0 at 11:21 AM on May 18, 2008

Not a book, but this is an excellent beginners lecture series that covers the basics. I can send you the MP3 version if you want - MeFi Mail me.
posted by forallmankind at 11:29 AM on May 18, 2008

For microeconomics, I strongly recommend watching these videos prepared by Professor McKenzie of UC Irvine. Based on his book "Microeconomics for MBAs". I found these an extremely efficient way to background myself. Note : They're not listed in order on his YouTube page. You have to check the lesson numbers.
posted by zaebiz at 11:50 AM on May 18, 2008

Given that there is no urgency I'd suggest that you don't go down the root of dry academic texts. Try and get a feel for economics by putting it all in context first, and understanding why it is important. Then get cracking on those most rigorous text books to give you the solid academics behind it all. Its the ideas and the way to think that is what is so interesting about economics. Plus, I'm guessing you have enough academic articles to read at the moment, and over the summer, so something lighter would be a pleasant change.

For that I really enjoy the Undercover Economist articles by Tim Harford, in the FT but also on-line at Slate. There is a book too. The articles generally take the form of explaining how a particular economics idea results in a logical, but counter-intuitive result.

Freakonomics is good too. Although there is less explanation of the economics principles. They have a blog too.

I'd second Free to Choose too, was great and changed the way I think. Although I don't agree with half of it, it challenges assumptions really well.
posted by cluck at 2:59 PM on May 18, 2008

The Market System by Charles Lindblom will tell you about the good and bad sides of the free market system. Summary: the free market system is really good at translating desires and motivations into costs, but it's very bad at dealing with effects that don't factor into the cost of the products or their manufacture (for example, the market is crap at dealing with the social and environmental costs of many products. That's why cigarettes are taxed, and why environmental legislation is necessary).

The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbronner is really a set of biographies of economists--and thus more a history of economics rather than an intro to it--but it is still a fascinating and readable book.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:43 PM on May 18, 2008

Response by poster: Alright, big thanks to everyone so far. I'll have to check out Mankiw - it's pretty much spot on. Though I'm happy to read more, so will probably end up reading all of your suggestions at some point during the summer (as matthewr correctly guessed, libraries are everywhere round where I live).

@cluck: I own a copy of The Undercover Economist, it's an excellent book as you said.

If you know of any more books/videos/anything, keep posting - as I said, I'll probably read it at some point.
posted by dragontail at 2:47 AM on May 19, 2008

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