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eReading Room

20 of the Most Important Books for Economics before 1940


...and where you can read (most of) them without leaving your computer screen.

Carl Schleicher, Der Bücherwurm

Lists of 'the best' or 'the most important' are meant to be controversial. This list has the added feature that there is some dispute about whether one can even talk about 'economics' much before Adam Smith. But I get to flout that discussion in the hope of starting another. Let the arguments begin:

1. Aristotle, Politics (250 BCE?)

Among many possibilities try this 1853 collection: Politics and Economcs of Aristotle (start at pg. 2)

2. Corpus Juris Canonici (354 - 1505)

Successive prohibitions on usury, not always strictly biblical, challenged economic thought for a millennium.

3. Luca Pacioli, Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni & proportionalita ... (1494)

Includes what is regarded as the foundation of double-entry bookkeeping, at Section IX, Treatise XI apparently. Try this 1588 English translation onsite, thanks to our subscription to Early English Books Online. Or also onsite, see this later reproduction and translation.

4. Thomas Mun, England's Treasure by Forraign Trade (1664)

Onsite read the first edition in Early English Books Online, or at home read our 1755 edition thanks to our partner the Hathi Trust.

5. William Petty, Verbum Sapienti (1691)

At home use this 1899 collection from HathiTrust, starting at pg. 99 of vol. I.

6.Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, or, private vices publick benefits (1714).

Onsite you can read the first edition via Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). Or you can read at home our copy of a 1795 edition from HathiTrust.

7. David Hume, Political Discourses (1752)

Often vol. II of the Essays. You can read this second edition onsite due to our subscription to ECCO, or you can read our own copy of the 1753-56 edition of the Essays, starting at Vol. 2.

8. Adam Smith, An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (1776)

You can read the first edition onsite with our subscription to ECCO. You can read this second edition from our collection at home via the Hathi Trust.

9. Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (2nd ed. 1803)

Greatly expanded from the first edition, responding to critics. You can read a copy of this edition via the Internet Archive. The first edition is available onsite from ECCO.

10. David Ricardo, On the principles of political economy, and taxation (1817)

You can read our copy of the first edition at home via HathiTrust.

Theresa Bernstein, The Readers, 1914

11. John Stuart Mill, Principles of political economy: with some of their applications to social philosophy (1848)

You can read our copy of the second edition at home via the HathiTrust.

12. Karl Marx, Das Kapital (1867 --)

You can read at home this 1903 translation edited by Engels, via HathiTrust.

13. W. Stanley Jevons, Theory of Political Economy (1871)

At home you can read a first edition from our partners at the HathiTrust.

14. Leon Walras, Eléments d'économie politique pure (1874)

If your French isn't up to the first edition, you can read onsite our reprint of the 1954 translation.

15. Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics (1890)

At home you can read the first edition via HathiTrust.

16. Thorstein Veblen, Theory of Business Enterprise (1904)

At home you can read a 1912 edition from the University of Minnesota.

17. Joseph Schumpeter, Theorie der wirtschaftlichen entwicklung (1912)

If you don't beat the rush for our one circulating copy of the 1934 English translation, you can always exercise your German on the first edition in HathiTrust.

18. Wesley Clair Mitchell, Business Cycles (1913)

We have a print copy for onsite reading, or you can read at home this one, thanks to our friends at the Federal Reserve Bank.

19. John Maynard Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936)

You can join the queue for one of the circulating copies of a later edition, or you can read the first edition onsite. We wouldn't want to interfere with the incentive for Keynes to create more work. Oh wait.

20. John Hicks, Value and Capital (1939)

The first edition can be read onsite.



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