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Econlib QuickPicks- Why Read the Classics?


"There are works in the past from which we can still learn important ideas which are useful for addressing the problems we find pressing today."

In one of the earliest Econlib Articles, Peter Boettke offers some timeless advice for the student of economics. Like many of us, Pete loves old books. Boettke suggests an instrumental approach to reading the classics for some very good reasons. One might discover past errors of earlier thinkers, but one might also add to the construction of new theory. 

As a new academic year is unfolding, we thought it an opportune time to point to some of our own favorites, along with some pieces that might help you craft your own exploration of the classics. 

We hope you find this month's collection useful. We'd love to get your feedback. Stories, photos, and anecdotes are always welcome. Please share with us on social media or via

(By the way, we'd love to know what future QuickPicks topics you'd like to see. Drop us a line with your suggestions today.)

The Secret History of the Dismal Science
“The characterization of markets and those who participate in market transactions as parasites has a long and unappreciated history.” Explore the tawdry tales in this five-part historical series from David Levy and Sandra Peart.
The Role of the Economist in a Free Society
"Economics in the hands of its masters is an expert critique of rule by expertise. And even among its masters, there are many differing visions of the role of economics."
How do we retain what we read?
This EconTalk Extra complements an episode in which it's claimed that "book don't matter." The questions may help you (and your students!) think about why we read, strategies for retention, and your favorite books!
Econlib Economics Guides
Sometimes you just need a little help with a given concept. And that's what we designed our Economics Guide for. Peruse a big list of topics presented in major college introductory textbooks and concepts from the voluntary national content standards for high schools.
I, Pencil: My Family Tree as Told to Leonard E. Read
"I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing."
Bastiat's Petition of the Candle Makers
In this classic and comedic chapter from Economic Sophisms, in which the candle makers of France petition for relief from the “ruinous competition of a foreign rival who works under conditions so far superior to our own..." The rival? The sun. The remedy requested? The mandatory shuttering of all windows. The result promised? The encouragement of not only of the candle industry, but also of all industries that supply it.
Virtual Reading Groups: Read with Others!
Virtual Reading Groups are designed to gather interested individuals interested in serious and civil discussion. 
Each VRG will focus on a  a common set of readings which will form the basis for each discussion. Each group is facilitated by a professional moderator and is conducted via the Zoom online platform. Starting September 18, David Hume's Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary will be featured.
The Smith-Hayek Economist: From Character to Identity

In this article from Dan Klein, we see that there is no ‘character-free’ economist, and that the idea of being without character is nonsensical. The discipline is populated by economists of different character types.

Podcast: Boudreaux on Reading Hayek
Don Boudreaux of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the work of F. A. Hayek, particularly his writings on philosophy and political economy. Boudreaux provides an audio annotated bibliography of Hayek's most important books and essays and gives suggestions on where to start and how to proceed through Hayek's works if you are a beginner.
Video: An Animal That Trades
This video series from AdamSmithWorks features five short clips- The Invisible Hand, The Free Market, Division of Labor, Sympathy, and The Role of Authority, each with accompanying questions for further thought and discussion.
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