Common Sense Economics: Learning How Money Really Works

18.10.2023 |

Episode #5 of the course 100 Nonfiction Books Everyone Should Read by John Robin


Welcome back to our course on 100 Nonfiction books everyone should read!

Last lesson, we explored the self-help, relationships, and psychology category. Put together with the previous three categories, we now have expanded a lot more on the personal part of the historical, personal narratives, philosophical, and scientific aspects of nonfiction.

Where can we go next to expand the map? Welcome to lesson 5, where we’ll now explore another category which rounds out our world knowledge a bit more. Get ready to add 10 more great books to our must-read shelf!


Business and Economics

Top recommendation: Common Sense Economics by James D. Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup, and Dwight R. Lee.

This next category includes all books that focus on another aspect of world knowledge missed by just the historical or scientific treatment: that of business and economics.

Understanding how money works is a complex topic and it’s difficult to find one book that can cover every angle. For this reason, Common Sense Economics by James D. Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup, and Dwight R. Lee is a clear winner for this category.

There are many great books on economics, but many of them are nuanced or explore the topic with the assumption that you already know a great deal about it. Common Sense Economics is your starting point if you are determined to get the full picture of how money works, from all valid angles such as trade, profit and loss, microeconomics and macroeconomics, government and corporate spending, how the stock market works, and how investing works, and more.

Whether you’re just wanting to understand a bit more about the economy, or if you’re wanting to get involved in business or investing, this book is your cornerstone. It sure changed my perspective on understanding debt, investing strategies, and business financing. In fact, it was my go-to for understanding the many savvy strategies of the world’s top billionaires in my course 10 Billionaires and their Lessons on Success.

Runners up:

Money is important, but understanding business is another vital aspect of this category. For this reason, I picked Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss as my second-place runner-up for this category. Yet again, it served as my main reference for another popular Highbrow course—Productivity Hacks: Lesson from Top Leaders and Billionaires. Tim Ferriss is brilliant, clear, and concise in the way he analyzes the common traits found in many of the leading successful people in this world, and ways we can try to learn from them.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is another must-read in this category. In the business and economics category, this book serves to flesh out another important area: the psychology of the thought that underlies successful entrepreneurs and innovators. Whereas many books explore the what of business or economic success, this explores the how underlying the ways great leaders become more deliberate, slower, and thus more logical in their decision-making. While it feels a bit indulgent to keep plugging my Highbrow courses, the fact remains that most of what I have written for this platform has come from a foundation of excellent nonfiction sources, and so it’s no wonder this book was the main source for yet another great course, Mental Models: How to Make Better Decisions.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber is an interesting take on economics. This book blends a bit of the history category with our business and economics category, as it tells the story of how our economy has developed around the concept of debt, going all the way back to its sources in ancient agricultural societies keeping track of who owes what during trade negotiations, then continues forward to the establishment of banks by the Bardi and Peruzzi families in the 1400s, arriving finally at to our current world of nations and volatile stock market trends.

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt is another helpful resource on economics. A bit of a more nuanced read, this book picks about 24 key problems, and in the process of doing so, reveals a great deal about how economic principles work. It is a hands-on case study that will get you thinking like an economist.

Honorable mentions:

Here are five honorable mentions to round out our list of 10:

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters, a detailed analysis of the trends seen in successful startups, as well as painful but important lessons learned from failures.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, a bit of a fresh take on many economic principles, by way of studying how organized crime and cheating can teach us just as much as white-collar business anecdotes.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, a more recent analysis of economics and business based on important trends that shaped the last hundred years.

The Armchair Economist by Steven E. Landsburg, a down-to-earth crash course on ways to understand economic principles, without requiring too much jargon and expertise.

Rework by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried, a radical new take on how to be successful as an entrepreneur, by way of simplifying and focusing your approach—this book was one of my go-tos when I laid the foundations for how I run my business, a real game-changer on how to focus harder and get more done with less wasted effort.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll see what top 10 books await in the next category!


Recommended movie

The Big Short (2015), with Christian Bale


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