My Favorite Economics Books From 2023
These are a few of my favorite nonfiction books that were published over the past year or so.
You are reading Monday Morning Economist, a free weekly newsletter that explores the economics behind pop culture and current events. This newsletter lands in the inbox of thousands of subscribers every week! You can support this newsletter by sharing this free post or becoming a paid subscriber:
Hey there, fellow book lovers and curious readers! This year was a bit of a throwback adventure for me—I revisited the magical world of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a timeless classic that never gets old. I also read an oral history of the 9/11 attacks called The Only Plane in the Sky. If you can’t tell from just those two alone, I love balancing my reading list with a wide mix of fiction and non-fiction books.
As an economics educator and a self-proclaimed lifetime student, I tend to gravitate toward books that resonate with my profession and personal interests. You guessed it—most of my favorite books this year were written by economists. But, surprise! A history book managed to find its way into my favorites. For those of you who prefer fiction, Mitch Albom’s The Little Liar absolutely stole the show for me this year. Let me know the best book you read this year in the comments so that I can add it to my 2024 reading list!
I love a good challenge, especially when it comes to reading. Since 2016, I’ve set a goal for myself to read at least 52 books during the year. This year, though, life threw me a big curveball, and I will end up finishing the year with only 39 books completed. I could have read a bunch of short stories to finish out the year, but that didn’t feel authentic to the goal. While I didn’t reach my target, I’m still happy with how many I was able to finish!
If you’ve set a goal to read more in 2024, I’ve got just the thing for you—a post I wrote a while back. It’s all about leveraging economic principles to maximize your reading efficiency and finish more books at the end of the year.
Without further ado, let’s look at my favorite nonfiction titles that were published in the past 15 months. These are some page-turners you won’t want to miss!
1) How Economics Can Save the World by Erik Angner
One of my favorite things about teaching first-year students is the opportunity to talk about how economics isn’t just about charts, graphs, and “the economy.” It’s about real life and real problems. That is why’s book was my favorite nonfiction book this year. He doesn’t just summarize a bunch of concepts, he’s tackling some of the most pressing issues of our time. Think climate change, inequality, hunger, and, of course, the global pandemic that’s been the backdrop of our lives for the past 3 years.
Angner approaches these issues through an economist’s lens. He doesn’t just throw data and research at us; he’s weaving in stories, from the intimate scale of parenting decisions to the complex world of organ donations. Throughout the book, he paints a picture of economics not just as a discipline, but as a force for change. There’s this quote from the book jacket that resonates with me because it also describes Angner as a public intellectual: "Economics can be a powerful force for good, awakening the possibility of a happier, more just, and more sustainable world."
2) A Fever in the Heartland by Timothy Egan
You can consider this next book as a brief detour from the world of economics. If I’m not reading an economics book, I’ve likely got a book about a historical event instead. I have always been fascinated with economic history. Perhaps I would have chosen that field in another life. This year, a history book captured my attention and earned its spot as my second favorite nonfiction book: A Fever in the Heartland by Timothy Egan.
Egan takes us back to Indiana in the 1920s, a time marked by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan under the leadership of D.C. Stephenson. The author paints a detailed picture of the Klan’s operations at the time, but what really stands out is his focus on Stephenson’s influence in middle America. Stephenson was deeply connected with political leaders in Washington, D.C., and even wanted to run for political office. His reign was marked by constant violence—overseeing beatings, torture, and lynchings, all while organizing parades to celebrate the Klan’s ideology. The book eventually turns to focus on the story of Madge Oberholtzer. Her deathbed confession about Stephenson’s horrific abduction, rape, and assault of her led to his eventual downfall.
3) Mixed Signals by Uri Gneezy
For years, The Why Axis by Uri Gneezy and John List was a staple in my Principles of Microeconomics course at Penn State. Students loved it for its real-world applications of economic principles to major global issues. Gneezy’s back at it again with his latest work: a deep dive into the world of incentives.
Perhaps the first concept that first-year students learn in their economics courses is the power of incentives. They are both simple and complex at the same time. They are supposed to nudge people toward certain behaviors. But here’s the catch, there can often be a mismatch between the incentives we set and how people actually respond to them. It is this conflict that creates mixed signals.
The final line of the book captures the overall theme: "Incentives send a signal, and your objective is to make sure this signal is aligned with your goals." This book isn’t just about setting up incentives; it is about fine-tuning them in a way that ensures they're steering behavior in the direction you intended. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in understanding the sometimes unpredictable nature of human response to incentives.
4) Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
The last book deserves a couple of asterisks but is still worth including in my favorites from the past year. Soccernomics isn’t exactly a new title—it’s been around since 2009. But the 2022 edition is a whole new ball game (get it?). I read the first edition back in 2009 but read the latest edition at the start of this year. If you have ever wanted a better understanding of the economics of soccer, especially the European version, this is the perfect book for you. I assigned this book in my Sports Economics course earlier this year.
Kuper and Szymanski regularly update this book with fresh data and new revelations as major tournaments are played. What was particularly fascinating about the 2022 edition was their willingness to look back at their previous predictions and discuss where they hit the mark and where they faltered. This edition also looks at fresh issues like whether women’s soccer deserves reparations, the pandemic’s impact on soccer finances, and the whole fiasco of the proposed European Super League. Even if you have read the earlier versions of Soccernomics, the latest edition is worth your time.