Best Books for Economics Students
Are you looking to pursue a career in economics in the future? Perhaps you are currently studying for your A-levels and economics is one of the subjects you are looking to enhance your current knowledge pool in.
Economics can be a difficult subject to get your head around. There are many technical terms to learn about, such as supply and demand, cost-benefit analysis and more. But there is more to economics than terminologies, you'll also need to understand how to apply theories to support your data findings. There’s no denying that economics is a complex subject, and boosting your knowledge with supporting text and economics books can be greatly beneficial for your studies and future career. There are many books available to help enhance your knowledge or to remind you of topics you may have forgotten about.
To give you a helping hand, we have compiled a list of the best economics books for students, all of which will help you at whatever stage you are currently at in your economics studies. In our list, we go through books that would be best suited for students still at the beginning of their economic journey, to more advanced students who may be thinking about enhancing their knowledge. No matter the stage you are currently at, we recommend taking a look at all the books, as it is never too early to start thinking about more complicated topics.
6 Best Books for Economics Students
Below, you'll find some of our best books for economics students to read. Ranging from theory and idea generation to evaluations of current society, there's plenty to sink your teeth into.
Freakonomics REV Ed: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
“Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work, whereas economics represents how it actually does work.”
As the name of the book suggests - the author of Freakonomics takes an unconventional approach to explain economics. At the core of this book, the author focuses on incentives and why human beings do the things they do, and how this subsequently affects our economy.
But what does this mean? To give you an insight into Freakonomics, think about this: have you ever found yourself becoming more motivated when you know by completing a certain task, there will be a reward waiting for you at the end? Or, if you don’t complete something, have you ever thought you’ll receive punishment? For example, if you have an important assignment to complete at school, what are the advantages and potential drawbacks from either doing or not doing the work.
This type of thinking follows the pattern of “the horse and stick” metaphor - the horse will keep walking towards a carrot on the end of a stick in front of its face just as we will work towards rewards in our day to day lives. It determines almost all of our behaviours.
As human beings, we behave in certain ways because we either believe the outcome of our behaviour could be rewarded in a form of positive incentives, or alternatively, with potential hindrances, which is why humans avoid certain behaviours. After all, they know that a particular type of behaviour could lead to punishment or a negative incentive.
For students who are still new to the subject of economics, it can be difficult to understand how incentives play such a significant role in this subject for wider society. They are important because they can encourage positive outcomes - incentives can be used to reduce economic inefficiencies, it is a tool used to keep motivation high, maintaining output at 100%.
The author has listed three general categories for incentives. They are; material, social and moral incentives. The book goes into great detail regarding what each incentive does. It explores the positives of enforcing each of them; however, if you are looking for an answer to which incentive plays a bigger role, do not expect to find this in Freakonomics. The book does not address whether one of the three incentives plays a bigger role than the others but rather the importance of each of them.
As we mentioned earlier, incentives are a great technique to use to generate the best output for people, and the purpose of economists is to generate knowledge within production, and consumption to create and transfer wealth into our economy. Throughout this book, the author describes the modern world through riddles and stories. If you learn best through anecdotal teaching, then this is the book for you. Not only do the stories help you better understand the subject, but they are also entertaining - expect to read an array of stories from sumo wrestlers to violent crimes.
Once you reach the end of Freakonomics, you’ll see the world through an economist's view, and you may start viewing certain things you may not normally notice and understand problems from a different perspective.
The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
“There is much more to life than what gets measured in accounts. Even economists know that.”
The second book you should consider reading to further understand economics is The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford, an economist and journalist who has a regular column in the Financial Times. The Undercover Economist offers a fresh explanation of the fundamental principles of the modern economy, demonstrated through examples from the streets of London to the skyscrapers of Shanghai and the sleepy canals of Paris.
This book leaves behind textbook jargon and equations, but while leaving old textbook jargons Tim Harford will reveal the game of negotiations and battles of wit in the economic field to give you a more unique insight into the subject than you would from a textbook. This makes it a really strong economics book for A-level students.
In fact, Steven D. Levitt, the author of the aforementioned Freakonomics describes The Undercover Economist as “required reading” and attests that it “brings the power of economics to life”. If you want a fresh take on the subject from an economist who has real world experience and an engaging writing style - this is the book for you!
Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest & Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt
“Everything we get, outside of the free gifts of nature, must in some way be paid for.”
“A million copy bestseller” really says all you need to know about how helpful this book has been to those starting out in economics. This book has not only become notorious for being one of the best introductions to the subject you can get, but it is now a fundamental text for modern libertarian economics.
This book is ideal for you if you’re a beginner in economics; perhaps you haven’t studied the subject at school yet so aren’t sure whether you want to pursue it at a higher level or not. This book will help you get to grips with the fundamentals of economics and all that it entails. Put simply, this book is the one lesson you will need to understand the basics of the subject.
There is vast praise for this book and for Hazlitt himself, with many current economic commentators crediting Hazlitt with foreseeing the collapse of the global economy which happened more than 50 years after the initial publication of Economics in One Lesson. And despite being first published in 1946, this book is largely recognised to be every bit as relevant today as it was during its initial publication.
Good Economics for Hard Times: Better Answers to Our Biggest Problems by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo
“Herd behavior generates informational cascades: the information on which the first people base their decision will have an outsized influence on what all the others believe.”
Nobel Prize winners, Abhijit V. Benerjee and Esther Duflo, show how economics, when done right, can help us solve the thorniest social and political problems of our day. The revolutionary book holds a mirror up to the ideologies we follow in our society, and how we have the tools needed to answer questions around topics such as; climate change, immigration and inequality. This book is largely seen as the new thinking in economics we need.
This book may not be the best one to start with if you’re a beginner as it covers some ideas you may not be familiar with, but if you have some experience in learning about economics or are looking for a great economics book for A-Level students and looking for a fresher take on the subject, this is the book for you.
One of the best things about this book, in our opinion, is that it discusses elements of life we are all familiar with, no matter where we are from. Everyone is aware of the climate crisis, warfare around the world and gender inequality to varying degrees. This book is relevant to everyone, so I would have to agree with Thomas Picketty, the renowned French economist and professor when he describes this book as a “must read”. Definitely, one to add to your Amazon Wish-list.
Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science by Charles Weelan
“Why did the chicken cross the road? Because it maximized his utility.”
This bestseller is popular with both students and economists alike and is a perfect introduction to the subject if you’re new to economics. Weelan works to demystify jargon, answering questions you were too embarrassed to ask in your lecture and laying the ‘naked’ truth behind the subject, that other books may not reveal to you.
Weelan draws on current affairs to help you better understand certain topics and theories, as well as adding his own expert commentary on current economic crises and globalisation as a subject.
The Chicago Tribute describes this book as “clear, concise, informative and witty, and believe it or not, entertaining.” I bet you never thought you’d hear that said about an economics book!
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect to eat our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
The final book in this series of recommendations is one that was first published in 1776 during the Scottish enlightenment and revolution, but despite its age, is a book on the economy that is fundamental to anyone interested in the subject.
Not only was this book revolutionary when it was first published, but it went on to influence many other economists and authors that came after. In fact, Alexander Hamilton was influenced in part by The Wealth of Nations to write his Report on Manufactures, in which he argued against many of Smith's policies.
If you are choosing to study Economics at A-Level, college or undergraduate level, this is definitely a book you should have on your shelf to refer back to. Many consider The Wealth of Nations as the backbone to a lot of economic theories and policies.
Ready to apply for Oxford Summer Courses?
For a once in a lifetime experience, join us for summer 2023 where you can discover over 40 academic subjects taught by expert tutors. You’ll also meet other like-minded individuals from around the world and make friends for life! Apply today and choose from 3 stunning locations; Oxford, Cambridge and London.
Share this article
Looking to enhance your economics knowledge? Check out the best economics books for students, from Freakonomics to The Wealth of Nations. These books explore incentives, negotiation battles, basic economics, and solving societal problems. Gain fresh insights and demystify jargon with these informative and entertaining reads.