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Must-Read Economics

Listeners often write in asking for book tips. I polled the PM staff and a few econ and finance bloggers. Here are some suggestions, including a mix of classics and new releases.

What are your favorite econ books? Post your recs in the comments.

Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera’s All the Devils Are Here.Tyler Cowen, of the blog , says, "Some books offer you a blow-by-blow accounts of the events of the crisis, but this one takes you back to the roots of all the stupid tax, legal, and regulatory decisions we've made over the last thirty years or more."

Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money.Chana says, " The Ascent of Money is a good read if you want to know more about the bizarre history of money. It’s powerful to see world history as told through this one lens."

Michael Lewis’ The Big Short.Jacob says, "It's funny, and smart, and totally absorbing. From the vantage point of a handful of Wall Street outsiders, it shows you what was going on on the inside, before everything blew up." Chana adds, "Lewis is so good at digging up and describing the small human details that help explain the behavior of big interconnected actors. But as good as the book is I still love Lewis’ articles the best. His story about 15 year-old internet stock trader Jonathan Lebed is one of my all-time favorites." And Alex simply writes, " The Big Short was awesome."

Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom.Greg Mankiw, the Harvard econ professor and , says, "Milton Friedman is the most important economist of the second half of the twentieth century. This book succinctly presents his overall approach to economics and public policy."

Greg Ip’s The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World.Caitlin says, "It’s my favorite economics book I read last year. The book reinforced a lot of the topics we’ve talked about here on Planet Money. I started reading it on a plane and breezed through it really quickly, but it’s one of those books you want to keep on your shelf and refer back to. I have a ton of pages folded inside my copy and I’ll definitely be rereading parts of it."

Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance.Jacob says, " Lords of Finance describes how the mistakes of central bankers in the U.S. and Europe helped bring on the Great Depression. It's a well-told story full of interesting characters, and a great introduction to the global economy between World War I and the depression. It's striking how many of the big themes of the era are hugely important today, from sovereign debt, to stock-market bubbles, to global trade imbalances."

Todd G. Buchholz’ New Ideas from Dead Economists. Barry Ritholtz, who blogs at The Big Picture, writes, "Buchholz’s survey of the history of economic thought is lively and informative. He avoids politics and academic squabbling, resulting in an extremely enjoyable, informative book. That’s saying a lot for a subject that in the hands of a lesser writer would be dry and boring. Were I to recommend but one economics book for the layperson, this would be it." Read more recommendations from Ritholtz here and here.

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx.Alex says, "One of the best books I read about economics, is a book which on the surface has nothing to do with economics. It's the true story of two girls coming of age in the South Bronx. It's riveting and devastating, and lays out better than anything else I've seen or read how the circumstances into which you're born affect your economic future. I think about it all the time."

John McMillan's Reinventing the Bazaar. Adam says that the book, "may be my very favorite economic book. It is the first book that helped me understand just how much complex information is shared in the simple act of figuring out how much stuff should cost. And it also helped me understand how Middle Eastern bazaars work, which I was particularly grateful for. The author, McMillan, was an economist who helped design the insanely complex auctions for government bandwidth. He died—far too young—a few years ago."

Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail. Simon Johnson, of the blog , says, "[The book is] a Stephen Ambrose-type account of how the biggest and most powerful banks in the United States shook down the government and got away with financial murder in fall 2008."

Gary Stern and Ron Feldman’s Too Big To Fail. Simon says, "[It’s] the true warning, written a decade ago, regarding how out banks were becoming bigger and more powerful, and why this would lead to financial murder -- again and again, until we fix the underlying problem."

Pietra Rivoli’sThe Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy.Chana says, "The book was a huge inspiration for the t-shirt project but also for economic storytelling in general. It’s a completely honest, curious exploration of globalization carried along by a very specific search for the origin of our clothes."

Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist.David says, "It’s one of our favorite, friendly introductions to economics. Tim also writes a smart and funny column for The Financial Times.  I was looking through the book again this year because Tim told us he is rethinking the very first chapter, where he contemplates the incredibly complicated system that produces his morning cappuccino."

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Jess Jiang
Jess Jiang is the producer for NPR's international podcast, Rough Translation. Previously, Jess was a producer for Planet Money. In 2014, she won an Emmy for the team's T-shirt project. She followed the start of the t-shirt's journey, from cotton farms in Mississippi to factories in Indonesia. But her biggest prize has been getting to drive a forklift, back hoe, and a 35-ton digger for a story. Jess got her start in public radio at Studio 360—though, if you search hard enough, you can uncover a podcast she made back in college.