Henry Hazlitt was not an economist by trade. He was, however, a very learned man who absorbed more economic knowledge than many professional economists do. And Hazlitt didn’t gain this knowledge by simply hanging around the likes of such brilliant individuals such as Ludwig von Mises (which he did). He not only read; he read a lot! He was as well versed in tomes like Keynes’s The General Theory (which Hazlitt tore apart almost line by line in The Failure of the “New Economics”) as he was in free-market books such as Mises’s Human Action, which he would become famous for popularizing. He was also well versed in other fields, such as ethics, as shown my his The Foundations of Morality.
Thus Hazlitt is a perfect individual to trust when it comes to advice on what individuals interested in economics and freedom should read. It is no surprise that throughout his life, as a writer for many prominent newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times and Newsweek, Hazlitt’s advice would be sought by eager readers. This prompted him to write The Free Man’s Library. Published by D. Van Nostrand Co. Inc. in 1956, the book contained 550 titles on the philosophy of liberty, covering a wide range of topics: from why free trade and free markets work to the evils of excessive State power. The Free Man’s Library, however, doesn’t simply list the books but also provides a critical description of each work.
Today’s document (sorry for the faded quality) is a short list of the best economics books in The Free Man’s Library. Hazlitt hoped “that it will answer most inquires by readers along these lines.” He presents his own Economics and One Lesson (no sense being modest with such an amazing book!) and Faustino Ballve’s Essentials of Economics as the best introductory books. Wilhelm Röpke’s Economics of the Free Society is listed as the best intermediate work. The best works critical of government intervention are Röpke’s A Humane Economy and F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. The dangers of inflation are explained in Gottfried Haberler’s Inflation: Its Causes and Cures and Hazlitt’s own What You Should Know About Inflation.
Finally, he presents four books he thinks are the best comprehensive and advanced works on the principles of economics. To anyone who knows Hazlitt’s work the first two should be no surprise: Human Action and Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State. A third is Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. The last is Philip Wicksteed’s 1910 book, The Common Sense of Political Economy.
All these books deserve to be read more than they are today, particularly Wicksteed’s, which developed a system of political economy from reflection on and careful study of the everyday conduct of human beings. Economics concerns all people whether they know it or not. Thus we need to understand the economy as a system. Understanding this is more likely to make us free.