The 10 Best Economics Textbooks
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in May of 2016. Whether you simply want to get a sense of how the economy works at its most basic level or you're studying the field in preparation for a career that requires a thorough understanding of the topic, one of these economics textbooks will provide you with the knowledge that you need. We've ranked them here by their content quality, level of complexity, and educational value. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 27, 2020:
For this update, we've added The Economics Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained, which is an easy-to-understand guide for high schoolers and college freshmen who want to learn the basics. For college seniors and postgraduate students, Advanced Macroeconomics by David Romer provides an in-depth study of every major research agenda in the field.
We removed Economics Principles in Action; its information is a bit dated, and many people find its writing to be lackluster because it contains no anecdotes. McConnell Brue Flynn was also taken off the list because of less-than-stellar writing. Although it's still a popular choice for college professors, students seem to find it more tedious to read than similar tomes.
December 10, 2019:
This list has been updated with the most recent editions of several volumes, including Economics by Hubbard & O'Brien, Mankiw's Principles of Economics, and Mishkin Economics of Money. We also decided to scrap Economics Today: The Micro View due to its many typos, complaints of missing sections, and niche focus, which might better serve those studying microeconomics rather than students who need a general overview. And since many of the textbooks on this list touch on managerial economics but don't completely center on them, such as Principles, Problems & Policies, we used the vacancy to recommend Managerial Economics for business students. On the whole, you'll find helpful overviews that touch on a vast arrangement of ideas.
The traditional textbooks on this list are packed with pedagogical tools and broken down into straightforward layouts. Many also have additional resources available online, such as Principles of Economics. Those looking for a compelling read that makes potentially dry subject matter engaging, Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell is an excellent choice. For more advanced students, Mishkin Economics of Money should be enlightening.
A quick note on Economics in One Lesson: this volume is still relevant, interesting, and insightful, however, it was written by a libertarian philosopher in the 1940s and has not been revised or updated much since the late 1970s. Beginning students should defer reading a book of this nature until they have a thorough grounding in the subject and can form their own arguments for and against ideas and perspectives, otherwise, you'll likely become confused or misunderstand certain theories.
An Economy Of Words: Choosing An Economics Textbook
This is true because, broadly speaking, you can consider one of two types of books in this discipline.
Most people think of the study of economics as an examination of the way money flows throughout various systems, from the home to the bank, the banks to businesses, across international borders, and so forth. In fact, though, a thorough understanding of economic principles is critical for making sense of much more than just the ways in which money is used and exchanged; economic concerns underpin everything from political to military to cultural sensibilities, impacting almost every aspect of our lives. There is an economic angle to everything from agriculture to aerospace, from the arts to academics and beyond.
In short, anyone who wants to have a grounded, nuanced understanding of myriad topics should have at least a basic understanding of the major concepts in the field of economics. And that base of knowledge can come from a great economics textbook.
When shopping for an "econ" textbook, you must first consider the reasons for which you are in the market, as it were, before looking for a specific book. This is true because, broadly speaking, you can consider one of two types of books in this discipline. The first is a general economics textbook, one that introduces and explains the major theories, concepts, and factors that influence the field. The other approach looks at a much more specific aspect of the study of economics, such as a text geared toward someone working on a business degree (or simply trying to better understand business) or written for someone with an interest in monetary or banking policy who may want to be involved in the legal and/or political worlds.
If you simply want a better understanding of the anything-but-simple world of economics, look for a textbook written for a 101-level college course that is not geared toward a specific area of the subject. You can also try one of the many popular books written in long-form prose more akin to a regular nonfiction book than in textbook format; just try to ascertain if the author has any editorial bent (a.k.a. a bias) before committing to one of these books, as they may present information in a less-than-objective manner.
If you do want to delve into a specific area of economic study, it won't be hard to find a volume that can match your interests. Just be sure that you have enough grounding in the subject to where a multi-hundred page tome focused on federal policy will make sense instead of washing over you in a veritable tidal wave of acronyms and jargon.
The casual economic enthusiast may only need to read one book broadly covering the topic to gain the insights he or she seeks; the person wanting or needing specialized knowledge might need to start with a general survey-style book, then move on to more niche reading.
Economy 101: The Two Main Areas Of Study
When the "armchair economist" is asked about the pivotal concepts underpinning the study of the discipline, she will surely answer that they are microeconomics and macroeconomics. But if asked to elucidate these broad concepts, chances are good that the response will be a pause and perhaps a shrug. (That is, unless she has already read an econ textbook.) If you only understand the definition of two terms in this multifaceted discipline, it must be these two: micro and macro.
In the world of microeconomics, you should be ready to study the individual consumer, the choices they make, and why.
Very simply put, the study of microeconomics involves looking at a specific market or segment, wherein the word market denotes a distinct system. This can mean studying the finances, accounting, and investments of the average household or small business, for example. The segments in question can involve the supply and demand patterns of one specific industry (tobacco and sugar both offer fascinating data for those interested in watching trends), or of specific aspects of the larger economy, such as studying how wages have risen, fallen, or otherwise changed over time (seeing how incentives such as insurance and stock options balance against cash salaries, for example).
Macroeconomics, on the other hand, studies how all the aforementioned markets and segments -- and of course so many more -- are interconnected and interdependent, and how large forces such as government policy, stock market trends, and large-scale influencers such as war, climate changes, new technologies, and so forth have an impact on currency, trade, wages, and so forth.
In the world of microeconomics, you should be ready to study the individual consumer, the choices they make, and why. In macroeconomics, you will look at the policies lawmakers create, the reasons why regulations were formed, and the impact they have over time. Microeconomics often involves studying data collected during a single year; macroeconomics might involve studying information gleaned over a decade if not from the course of many generations.
Other Resources To Bolster Your Economics Education
If you want to burnish your credentials as an economist but you're not quite ready to enroll in the London School of Economics, then you should be prepared to do a fair amount of reading. One of the best ways to gain a deep understanding of the concepts at play in this realm is to stay abreast of the daily news concerned with economics.
Instead, choose one or two radio programs or podcasts that you can trust to be objective and tune in daily when you can truly focus.
The best resources for doing so are the newspapers The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. The former is (and has long been) considered America's best daily resource for news and analysis of the world of finance, the stock market, and more. The latter takes a more international perspective, covering global trade and markets in more detail than the Journal, but often skipping over domestic stories.
Listening to the radio all day long or having the TV flickering away in the corner for hours on end are both poor ways to gain viable knowledge about any topic, especially one as complex and multifaceted as economics. Instead, choose one or two radio programs or podcasts that you can trust to be objective and tune in daily when you can truly focus. Humans are notoriously bad at multitasking, so choose an activity you can complete without it drawing your attention as you listen -- cleaning or cooking come readily to mind, and NPR's Marketplace is a fine choice program for daily information on stocks, business, regulations, and more.
When it comes to television, the 24-hour news channels -- even those with an economic bent like MSNBC -- simply produce too much programming for most of it to be meaningful. Rather than being lost in the blathered opinion of multiple talking-head "reporters," you might want to seek out re-cap style segments that add a bit of context to the week's news.