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February 06, 2011

Sunday Book Thread

I carry around in my head a list of "essential books" -- books that profoundly influenced me or changed the way I think about things. These are books that I push on friends, give away as gifts, and read over and over again.

One of these books is Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics, now recently updated to the 4th edition. Along with Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, it forms the bedrock upon which most of my economics knowledge is built. I remember how amazed I was when I first read it: Sowell had produced a primer on economics that was somehow concise and accurate without resorting to jargon and dense pseudo-mathematical formulae.

One of Sowell's strengths as a writer is that he has a wonderful simplicity of style. He has a good ear for the plainsong of American speech, but he doesn't dumb down his prose or make lame attempts at being "folksy". He also has a great ability with metaphor, analogism, and simile, which stands him in good stead in books like Basic Economics. Sowell is a great teacher, in other words: he doesn't just tell you things; he shows you, and in such a way that you find yourself nodding in agreement as Sowell wraps up a Q.E.D.

Basic Economics is also written to a general audience, which means it's suitable for high-school-age people onwards. It's not only a good read for adults, but if you home-school (or have the ability to jawbone your kid into reading a book on his or her own time), I highly recommend this book. Innumeracy and ignorance of economic principles is one of the main reasons we're in the fiscal mess we're in right now -- there are many people in government and industry right now who could have benefited from reading Sowell's book.

[UPDATED: Another great economics primer for young people is Peter Schiff's How An Economy Grows and Why It Crashes. It's a little cartoon-book that explains what the econ teachers sometimes call a "Crusoe economy" -- i.e., a small, self-contained, simplistic economic system that nevertheless illustrates the basic precepts of economic principles. Schiff's book is a light-hearted, simple, and fun read. And you don't get to use "fun" in the context of an economics book very often!]

On the ficitonal side of things, I re-read James Hogan's Code of the Lifemaker. This is a longtime favorite of mine, a story of sentient robots on the Saturnian moon Titan. It's a classic sci-fi story of first contact, religion versus science, and what it means to be "alive". (As a side-benefit, the first chapter is about the best explanation of evolution by natural selection that I've ever read.) It's a great book, stuffed with interesting characters and situations.

There is a sequel to Code of the Lifemaker called The Immortality Option, but I'm not as fond of it as I am of the first book.

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posted by Monty at 09:19 AM

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