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

In summary: Sociology. The problem is that economics is often sold as a science but it's not, and at some point students realize this - often after having completed their studies. It's not a science because it doesn't follow the scientific method and its models are not properly tested and updated based on empirical evidence.In summary, there are several books that could be useful for beginners in economics, such as "The History of Economic Thought" by Jin Xu and "Economics: An Analytical Introduction" by Witztum. However, it's important to understand that economics is not a science and should be approached with a critical mind, as it is heavily influenced by political and historical circumstances. It's also recommended to have a basic understanding of calculus before diving
  • #1
Leo Liu
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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.
 
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  • #2
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
 
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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.
 
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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 going to 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.
 
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  • #5
AndreasC said:
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 going to 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
Leo Liu said:
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?
 
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AndreasC said:
Oh I don't know for sure. What are you more interested in anyways? Political economy? Microeconomics? Macroeconomics?
Micro and macroeconomics.
 
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Leo Liu said:
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
econreader said:
Oh, and economics is certainly a (social) science. To claim otherwise means ignorance.

Sure, just like History, Anthropology or Law
 
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  • #10
Thanks for your reply.
econreader said:
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 learned is enough to study economics.
econreader said:
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.
econreader said:
for example McCloskey's The Applied Theory of Price (which is also free online)
 
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Leo Liu said:
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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  • #12
BWV said:
Sure, just like History, Anthropology or Law
History and law are very different from the social sciences. History is almost always grouped with the humanities. *Some* kinds of legal studies could be considered social sciences as well, but it usually falls under the humanities as well. If you're studying the law itself (like a lawyer would), that falls under the humanities.

As a rule of thumb: If it requires statistics, it's a social science. If it doesn't, it's in the humanities. Economics nowadays is predominantly mathematical and very empirically-minded; if you take a look at a journal, you'll find it's half differential equations and half analysis of data.

For the same reason, the *history* of economics is a completely different field from economics, and I don't recommend it if you want to learn economics itself. It'd be like trying to learn psychology by reading Freud, or physics by reading a book about different interpretations of quantum mechanics.
 
  • #13
Leo Liu said:
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.
Since it has 9 editions by now, it must be good. I didn't read it, but now I plan to. Not from cover to cover (it's not that I know nothing about economics), but some topics which I feel that I don't understand sufficiently well.
 
  • #14
Demystifier said:
Since it has 9 editions by now, it must be good. I didn't read it, but now I plan to. Not from cover to cover (it's not that I know nothing about economics), but some topics which I feel that I don't understand sufficiently well.
Or, more likely, it shows anticompetitive behavior in the market :wink: .
 
  • #15
Haborix said:
Or, more likely, it shows anticompetitive behavior in the market :wink: .
I don't understand this joke, which section of the book should I read to understand it? :wink:
 

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

Yes, Mankiw's Principles of Economics is widely considered to be a good textbook for beginners. It provides a clear and concise introduction to the fundamental concepts of economics, making it accessible for students with little to no prior knowledge of the subject.

2. What sets Mankiw's Principles of Economics apart from other introductory economics textbooks?

Mankiw's Principles of Economics stands out for its use of real-world examples and relatable scenarios to explain economic concepts. It also includes interactive online resources and supplementary materials, making it a comprehensive learning tool for beginners.

3. Is Mankiw's Principles of Economics suitable for both microeconomics and macroeconomics?

Yes, Mankiw's Principles of Economics covers both microeconomics and macroeconomics in depth, making it a suitable textbook for introductory courses in both areas. It also includes chapters that integrate the two fields, providing a holistic understanding of economics.

4. Can Mankiw's Principles of Economics be used for self-study?

Yes, Mankiw's Principles of Economics can be used for self-study. The textbook is written in a clear and engaging style, making it easy for beginners to follow along. Additionally, the online resources and practice questions allow for independent learning and self-assessment.

5. Is Mankiw's Principles of Economics regularly updated?

Yes, Mankiw's Principles of Economics is regularly updated to reflect current economic trends and events. The latest edition also includes new chapters on topics such as behavioral economics and income inequality, making it a relevant and up-to-date resource for beginners.

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