Lessons for the Young Economist Hardcover – 1792
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However, it is not clear if anyone has actually done sufficient assessments of the book to determine what the proper age and pre-preparation status of a potential reader ought be. That really would be helpful.
As an economic theory, the Austrian school's principles and thought processes seem very coherent and applicable to much of the current financial soup we are in. I recommend this book highly.
I'm a graduate of political science and law, but have independently studied economics for several years. Nevertheless, most of the books I read were by mainstream Keynesian economists (since that's currently the dominant school of thought in the economics profession) and I had little understanding of real economics (that is, economics which depends for its validity on sound logical reasoning rather than reams of statistics) until I read this book.
Previously I had read Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics" but this is a much more timeless book because it really gets to the heart of the principles underlying the economy. It shows through analysis of the individual's incentives a variety of concepts such as productivity, investment, capital, consumption, free trade and many more.
It is a great introduction to free markets (more specifically Austrian economics). This isn't a grand treatise or some great piece of intellectual work, it is a stepping stone. Once you have read this work you will be more prepared to dive into more complex works. You could move to economics in one lesson, then perhaps economics for real people and you may even be able to move to Rothbard's book on the great depression (which has a great section in the beginning on the business cycle).
So, like I said pick it up, see what you think and use it as a tool to move towards more complex works!
For those of you who are in college and have had your basic principles courses I wouldn't spend the money on this, I would say you can move right to Man, economy and state!