Book review--"Basic Economics" by Thomas Sowell

The blog Ace of Spades is often potty-mouthed and borderline-smutty, and has as its motto a quote by the patron saint of curmudgeons, H.L. Mencken: "Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." As a collection of bloggers, they're always interesting; I really like them. One of the writers, Monty, runs a regular feature called the Sunday Night Book Thread.  In tonight's thread he steals my thunder by doing what I had hoped to do myself, i.e. review Basic Economics:

I carry around in my head a list of "essential books" -- books that profoundly influenced me or changed the way I think about things. These are books that I push on friends, give away as gifts, and read over and over again.

One of these books is Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics, now recently updated to the 4th edition. Along with Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, it forms the bedrock upon which most of my economics knowledge is built. I remember how amazed I was when I first read it: Sowell had produced a primer on economics that was somehow concise and accurate without resorting to jargon and dense pseudo-mathematical formulae.

One of Sowell's strengths as a writer is that he has a wonderful simplicity of style. He has a good ear for the plainsong of American speech, but he doesn't dumb down his prose or make lame attempts at being "folksy". He also has a great ability with metaphor, analogism, and simile, which stands him in good stead in books like Basic Economics. Sowell is a great teacher, in other words: he doesn't just tell you things; he shows you, and in such a way that you find yourself nodding in agreement as Sowell wraps up a Q.E.D.

Basic Economics is also written to a general audience, which means it's suitable for high-school-age people onwards. It's not only a good read for adults, but if you home-school (or have the ability to jawbone your kid into reading a book on his or her own time), I highly recommend this book. Innumeracy and ignorance of economic principles is one of the main reasons we're in the fiscal mess we're in right now -- there are many people in government and industry right now who could have benefited from reading Sowell's book.

As Monty says, QED. The first edition of Basic Economics as well as three other books by Sowell are available via interlibrary loan at Southworth Library.

Bonus clip: a video of Sowell being interviewed concerning another of his books, The Housing Boom and Bust: