73 Recommendations for Further Reading
One of the great pleasures of writing The Economists’ Hour was the opportunity to read widely and deeply. What follows is a guide to some of the books that informed my own account, or that offer additional information about the issues covered in The Economists’ Hour. The focus here is on narratives; those seeking primary and scholarly sources should consult the endnotes. This also is not a “best of” list. I’ve surely forgotten some books I read, and left out some I should have read. But I enjoyed these books; you might, too.
It’s ridiculous to describe The Worldy Philosophers, by Robert Heilbroner, as a prequel to my own book. It’s overqualified for the job. But it is, in my view, the best popular history of economics, and Heilbroner’s story ends just about where mine begins.
The Commanding Heights, by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, and the documentary, offer a sweeping account of the revolution in economic policy during the second half of the twentieth century. An Extraordinary Time, by Marc Levinson, is another recent account. Both are first-rate works worth reading not least because they arrive at very different conclusions than my own.
Several books on economic policy cannot be listed under a specific chapter because they informed multiple chapters. These include two broad and sympathetic overviews of the influence of economists, Better Living Through Economics, edited by John J. Siegfried, and Trillion Dollar Economists, by Robert Litan. Nixon’s Economy: Booms, Busts, Dollars and Votes, by Allen Matusow, is a wonderful history of a pivotal period in American economic policy. I wish there were a comparable book about every modern administration.
American Economic Policy in the 1980s, edited by Martin Feldstein, and American Economic Policy in the 1990s, edited by Jeffrey Frankel and Peter Orszag, are simply invaluable: Essays and critiques by leading economists and policymakers treating developments in major areas of policy.
Economic Principles, by David Warsh, offers short but sharp perspectives on the modern players.
Finally, a number of books have influenced my understanding of the intertwined rise of the conservative movement and of trust-the-market economics, including: Age of Fracture, by Daniel T. Rodgers; Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal, by Kim Phillips-Fein; Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right, by Lisa McGirr; One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin Kruse; and Before the Storm, Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge, by Rick Perlstein.
Chapter 1: Markets in Everything
Milton Friedman has yet to receive the full biographical treatment he richly deserves. A partial remedy arrives in 2020, when the University of Chicago Press plans to publish a two-volume work by Edward Nelson that offers a detailed and comprehensive treatment of Friedman’s intellectual contributions. Other valuable sources include Friedman’s chatty memoir, Two Lucky People, written with his wife Rose Director Friedman, and The Economists, a 1978 group portrait by Leonard Silk that includes a long chapter on Friedman.
The most definitive account of the end of military conscription is I Want You!, by Bernard Rostker.
Chapter 2: Friedman v. Keynes
Keynes, by contrast with Friedman, has found a worthy biographer: Robert Skidelsky. His illuminating treatment of Keynes’s life and ideas is available in three volumes and in one condensed volume. Or read his Keynes: The Return of the Master, which describes Keynes’s continuing relevance in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis.
A Perilous Progress: Economists and Public Purpose in Twentieth-Century America, by Michael Bernstein, narrates the rise and fall of the Keynesian influence on economic policy. The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression, by Angus Burgin, narrates the counterrevolution. See also Masters of the Universe, by Daniel Stedman Jones and The Road from Mont Pelerin, a collection of essays edited by Philip Mirowski.
Chapter 3: One Nation, Under Employed
By far the best biography of Paul Volcker, in my view, is a slender volume written in haste in the mid-1980s. Volcker: A Portrait of the Money Man, by William R. Neikirk, is full of sharp anecdotes and insights. See also Volcker’s memoir, Keeping At It, and Secrets of the Temple, by William Greider.
A History of the Federal Reserve, by Allan Meltzer, is a detailed scholarly work that fills three volumes. It’s also surprisingly readable and organized, so it’s easy to dip into a particular period. The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire, by Neil Irwin, brings the story of central banking up through the financial crisis.
Chapter 4: Representation Without Taxation
Taxing America: Wilbur D. Mills, Congress and the State: 1945-1975, by Julian Zelizer, traces the mid-century evolution of tax policy. Econoclasts: The Rebels who Sparked the Supply-side Revolution and Restored American Prosperity, by Brian Domitrovic, is a sympathetic history of the supply-side movement rooted in detailed interviews with many of the leading figures.
The Reagan Revolution, by Rowland Evans and Robert D. Novak, is the rare work of presidential history that takes a deep interest in questions of economic policy.
The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O’Neill, by Ron Suskind, provides an inside view of the administration’s tax policies.
Chapter 5: In Corporations We Trust
For the federal government’s role in the rise of the technology sector, see Inventing the Electronic Century, by Alfred Chandler.
George Stigler’s Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist is an entertaining account of his life and contributions. For other perspectives, see In Search of the Two-Handed Economist, by Craig Freedman, and Edward Nik-Khah’s essay in Building Chicago Economics: New Perspectives on the History of America’s Most Powerful Economics Program.
The leaders of the Law and Economics movement were both self-aware and highly verbal. They have left a fat collection of letters, oral histories, works for a popular audience and memoirs. Among the most interesting is, “The Fire of Truth: A Remembrance of Law and Economics at Chicago, 1932-1970,” an oral history published in the Journal of Law and Economics. See also Antitrust and the Triumph of Economics, by Marc Allen Eisner, and The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement by Steven M. Teles.
Chapter 6: Freedom from Regulation
As I do at pretty much every opportunity, I will begin by recommending Thomas McCraw’s intellectual history of American regulation, Prophets of Regulation. Reading his book was the spark that ultimately led me to write this one. Alfred Kahn is one of the main characters, and there is no better account of Kahn’s life and contributions. The Worldly Economists, by Robert Sobel, also includes a portrait of Kahn.
For a broad overview of market regulation, one of my favorite introductions to economics is Reinventing the Bazaar, by John McMillan. See also Who Gets What and Why, by Alvin Roth.
For the battles of the 1970s, see The Politics of Deregulation, by Martha Derthick and Paul J. Quirk, and Fluctuating Fortunes, by David Vogel.
Chapter 7: The Value of Life
Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life, by Theodore Porter, is both a marvelous history of the rise of cost-benefit analysis, and one of the few books on this list that made me laugh out loud. Also excellent is The Pricing of Progress, by Eli Cook.
Two of the primary practitioners of cost-benefit analysis have written accessible accounts: Cass Sunstein’s The Cost-Benefit Revolution and W. Kip Viscusi’s Pricing Lives: Guideposts for a Safer Society. For a critical perspective, see Retaking Rationality: How Cost-Benefit Analysis Can Better Protect the Environment and Our Health, by Michael A. Livermore and Richard Revesz.
For the divide between Europe and the U.S., see: The Politics of Precaution: Regulating Health, Safety and Environmental Risks in Europe and the United States, by David Vogel.
Chapter 8: Money, Problems
Barry Eichengreen is the nearest thing to an official biographer of the dollar. His book Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System, is an accessible introduction. The International Monetary System, 1945-1981, by Robert Solomon, is heavier reading, but also valuable. The Battle of Bretton Woods, by Benn Steil, narrates the creation of the post-war currency and trade system. One Nation Under Gold, by James Ledbetter, is an entertaining account of the frantic efforts to preserve that system in the 1960s.
For the rise of the Euro, see, The Euro: The Battle for the New Global Currency, by David Marsh.
Chapter 9: Made in Chile
Pinochet's Economists: The Chicago School of Economics in Chile, by Juan Gabriel Valdes, is a detailed history written by a former Chilean diplomat. See also the documentary “Chicago Boys,” by Carola Fuentes and Rafael Valdeavellano. A History of Chile: 1808-2002, by Simon Collier and Willam F. Sater, offers an introduction to the country’s history.
The literature on Taiwan’s economic rise tends to be scholarly rather than narrative. Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan, by Jonathan Manthorpe is an accessible general history. For the rise of East Asia, see How Asia Works, by Joe Studwell, and Bad Samaritans, by Ha-Joon Chang.
For the rise of global finance, see Capital Rules by Rawi Abdelal.
Chapter 10: Paper Fish
A Piece of the Action, by Joe Nocera, remains the best account of the revival of the financial industry. Fool’s Gold, by Gillian Tett, tells the derivatives chapter of the story. Capitalizing on Crisis, by Greta Krippner, offers an important counterpoint to the standard narrative. Makers and Takers, by Rana Foroohar, charts the consequences of financialization.
The Myth of the Rational Market, by Justin Fox, is the history of a very bad idea. The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan, by Sebastian Mallaby, is the biography of the man who was supposed to be supervising the financial system. Crashed, by Adam Tooze, is the best account yet written of the resulting financial crisis. Frozen Assets: How I lived Iceland’s Boom and Bust, is an amazing first-person account by Armann Thorvaldsson.
There’s a burgeoning literature on inequality. One of the earliest books in the new wave, and still one of the best, is The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It, by Timothy Noah. The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality, by Angus Deaton, is another indispensable primer. The Broken Ladder, by Keith Payne, explores broader consequences. Unbound: How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do about It, by Heather Boushey, is a useful guide to where we might go from here.