Award-winning journalist Tim Harford is a master at writing clear and entertaining prose about the economy. With his new book, Harford details the history of economic change since the invention of the plow in China 2000 years ago. He focuses on 50 seminal inventions -- from the passport and the bar code to paper money and intellectual property. In short, very readable chapters, Harford brings all 50 inventions to life, placing them in their proper historical contexts and explaining their significance today. Along the way, he entertains us with fascinating anecdotes and a great sense of humor. Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy is a delight to read and a great gift book for just about everyone!
A recent article in the Guardian about the U.K.’s economy, titled “Austerity effect hits women twice as hard as it does men”, explained that austerity measures there have disproportionately affected women. After reading that piece, when I came across Katrine Marcal’s book it presented itself as a required read. Did you know that today almost 60% of American women are in the workforce but they still hold less than 15% of top jobs and 62% of minimum-wage jobs? Marcal introduces these startling statistics in the preface, and immediately in chapter one starts challenging the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, and his “economic man”, the idea that our actions are motivated by self-interest. She criticizes his exclusion of unpaid and caregiving work from economic modeling, an oversight that persists even today. This fast-paced and entertaining book illustrates how economic models work using examples from Russia, China, the U.S., and even Dubai; she even uses comparisons with Robinson Crusoe, Goethe’s Faustus and David Bowie to teach us about economics. Oh, and spoiler alert… it was his mother.
If you are at all curious about Economics, when it works and when it fails us, and how it needs to be practiced, then the next book on your reading list should definitely be Economics Rules, by prize-winning economist Dani Rodrik. From Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” to modern day economic theories, Rodrik gives us a guide to better understand the power and limitations of a social science that affects every aspect of our lives. He evangelizes for the practical utility of economics: his main premise is that there are abundant, simple economic models that could be applied to different public problems, from combating disruptions in the global economy, to financing public transport, to fighting poverty. On the other hand, he is well aware that economics often fails us, and through analysis and examples shows us why economists sometimes don’t get it right. And no, this book is not intended only for those with the background in economics; it is written in a way that is approachable, funny and interesting. You can enjoy it and learn from it even if you’ve never heard about Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, or John Maynard Keynes before.