Is Mankiw's Principles of Economics a good textbook for beginners?

  • Thread starter Leo Liu
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  • #1
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I want to teach myself the basics of economics and see that many people recommend this book to absolute beginners. What's your take on it, and is it a book suitable for noobs? If not, what are some decent alternatives of it?

Thanks in advance.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
BWV
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I would recommend starting with a book on the history of economic thought, perhaps
https://www.amazon.com/dp/068486214X/?tag=pfamazon01-20

Economics is not a science, its ideas and debates occur within specific political and historical circumstances. Newton's situation when he wrote Principia adds nothing to understanding mechanics as he was describing phenomena identical to we experience today. Adam Smith, on the other hand, described a world with many similarities but important differences - championing free markets was in opposition to elites handing out business monopolies to their cronies or pursuing policies that optimized the sovereign's ability to hoard precious metals.

The problem with econ textbooks is they have formulas but not history, when in reality, if the math is worthless without the history. Math in economics is a metaphor or a framework for trying to understand systems far too complex to model with the precision of the physical sciences
 
  • #3
BWV
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950
also, noticing you are from Beijing - am currently reading this, which provides a context to why finance and banking failed in China- despite some promising starts like the first paper currency.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08SYHRQTR/?tag=pfamazon01-20

This revelatory account of the ways silver shaped Chinese history shows how an obsession with “white metal” held China back from financial modernization. First used as currency during the Song dynasty in around 900 CE, silver gradually became central to China’s economic framework and was officially monetized in the middle of the Ming dynasty during the 16th century. However, due to the early adoption of paper money in China, silver was not formed into coins but became a cumbersome “weighing currency”, for which ingots had to be constantly examined for weight and purity - an unwieldy practice that lasted for centuries.

While China’s interest in silver spurred new avenues of trade and helped increase the country’s global economic footprint, Jin Xu argues that, in the long run, silver played a key role in the struggles and entanglements that led to the decline of the Chinese empire.
 
  • #4
AndreasC
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I actually don't think these kinds of books are very useful as a first step for similar reasons as BWV described. Economics isn't really a science, so these sorts of books are gonna teach you the theory some school of economics has produced but it isn't properly understood unless you look at how they are situated within history and politics and how they are opposed by other schools. So they will get you through a class but the story you will be getting will be misleadingly partial.
 
  • #5
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I actually don't think these kinds of books are very useful as a first step for similar reasons as BWV described. Economics isn't really a science, so these sorts of books are gonna teach you the theory some school of economics has produced but it isn't properly understood unless you look at how they are situated within history and politics and how they are opposed by other schools. So they will get you through a class but the story you will be getting will be misleadingly partial.
Can you pls. suggest some books that I should read? Thanks!
 
  • #6
AndreasC
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Can you pls. suggest some books that I should read? Thanks!
Oh I don't know for sure. What are you more interested in anyways? Political economy? Microeconomics? Macroeconomics?
 
  • #7
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Oh I don't know for sure. What are you more interested in anyways? Political economy? Microeconomics? Macroeconomics?
Micro and macroeconomics.
 
  • #8
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I want to teach myself the basics of economics and see that many people recommend this book to absolute beginners. What's your take on it, and is it a book suitable for noobs? If not, what are some decent alternatives of it?

Do you know calculus? Mankiw's is an OK entry-level book although I personally didn't like it too much. I liked his book on macroeconomics when I was a student though. I prefer Witztum's Economics: An Analytical Introduction because it emphasizes logical thinking applied to social problems, although it may be a bit idiosyncratic for many. Some older books are quite good, for example McCloskey's The Applied Theory of Price (which is also free online). However, economics can only be properly understood when taught using calculus, which is done in upper-level books. If you don't have a basic technical background yet then sticking to historic/econ history books may be worthwhile. Once you are prepared, you may tackle the real stuff.

Oh, and economics is certainly a (social) science. To claim otherwise means ignorance.
 
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  • #9
BWV
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Oh, and economics is certainly a (social) science. To claim otherwise means ignorance.

Sure, just like History, Anthropology or Law
 
  • #10
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Thanks for your reply.
Do you know calculus?
Yes I do know a bit calculus. Although my level of understanding of calculus is not comparable to a math student's level, I believe what I have learnt is enough to study economics.
I prefer Witztum's Economics: An Analytical Introduction because it emphasizes logical thinking applied to social problems
Which one do you like better, the book above and the book below? I'd like to know the answer since I don't have enough time for two books.
for example McCloskey's The Applied Theory of Price (which is also free online)
 
  • #11
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Which one do you like better, the book above and the book below?
I prefer Witztum but you have to try and decide for yourself (book choice is a bit intimate). Besides, McCloskey is available for free in electronic format so you can check it first and if you find it too chatty then go for more analytical treatments. Hal Varian has an intermediate microeconomics text which is standard for an undergraduate level. It's another reasonably good text at a marginally higher level.
 

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