Book review: 50 Economics Classics

Tom Herbert
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Blurb: Your shortcut to the most important ideas on capitalism, finance and the global economy

Picking up '50 Economics Classics' for the first time it would be easy to dismiss it as a 'bluffer's guide', summarising the works of famous economists in six-page chunks and reducing the impact of their often radical and transformative ideas.

However, what author Tom Butler-Bowdon does well is to frame these ideas both in the context of the time they were written and from a modern perspective.

Economics giants such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Milton Friedman feature heavily, but one of the book's big plus points for me is that it has room for more contemporary authors and ideas.

One highlight was an introduction to Zambian writer Dambisa Moyo, whose criticism of the effects of first world aid programmes on African development has proved divisive in both her home continent and the developed world.

Another was Michael Lewis whose 2010 work 'The Big Short', an excoriating and highly detailed look at the factors behind the 2008 credit crunch, was recently turned into a hit film. As this is a book I read relatively recently I was curious to see how Butler-Bowdon’s slimmed down version compared. While I still can’t say I completely understand the subprime mortgage market and credit default swaps, the author does an excellent job of summarising the complex factors at play in the six pages allotted to the work.

From a personal perspective I felt was a shame that although it looked at the works of contemporary writers the book didn’t cover more modern multimedia mediums. For example ‘Freakonomics’, one of the books featured runs a highly successful podcast and several of the writers profiled also run YouTube channels.

50 economics classics cover

The book is intended to act as a gateway to the thinkers it introduces, and in that way it succeeds a lot more often than it fails. 

A minor quibble that intellectually curious, detail-hungry readers such as those found on AccountingWEB may have is that the chapters often feel too short. I found myself plunged into a topic that had often been the life's work of the writer concerned, began to make sense of the big ideas being raised, and before I knew it the chapter had ended.

While that may be the point of the book, I would argue that with the expertise of the author and the density of the subject matter a volume of the same length with 25 or 30 economics classics would have felt more comfortable.

Regardless, the book is a well-written affair by an author obviously in full control of his subject.

In today’s world of economic uncertainty, increasing protectionism and technological innovation those involved in advising businesses about the future could do a lot worse than to brush up on the past.


50 Economics Classics is available from today in all good bookshops and retailers

About Tom Herbert

Tom is editor at AccountingWEB, responsible for all editorial content on the site. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.


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