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I have just finished teaching a course at the School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University on long-run economic development. Not the recent trend toward micro-development that focuses on questions such as “will giving away free bed-nets help malaria prevention?” but macro-development that focuses on questions of why some nations that got left behind after the industrial revolution remain poor while some others have caught up (or on their way to doing so). 

At the urging of some of my CGD colleagues, I have put together a reading list that should be of interest to a broader development audience because it includes, in addition to the normal academic readings, a large number of fictional and nonfictional books and articles that have enhanced my understanding of economic development. 

All such lists are subjective, selective, and idiosyncratic. But echoing the great Marxist historian and sportswriter's (C.L.R James) point, “what do they know of cricket who only cricket know,” I would hazard, even insist, that development cannot be understood without wider reading beyond the academic. For example, if I were forced to select one book that captures the richness of economic development, I would unhesitatingly pick Joseph Conrad's Nostromo.

Some of the picks might seem odd (Keynes’ Economic Consequences of the Peace or David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet or a novel on Sri Lankan cricket, Chinaman) and may have been picked for the writing with only tenuous connections to development, and that too with connections to my narrow take on development. This list is also a work in progress because there is a lot more that I want to add, and really to find excuses to add: for example, The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn or Moby Dick or Middlemarch.

The list is offered in the spirit of sharing (what I have learned from and enjoyed) and in the hope of provoking others to do the same. Violent objections and further suggestions would be greatly appreciated in the comments below, not just from economists and development-wallahs but others as well. This list can evolve by crowd-sourcing.

The full list is organized in two ways: first by topic, with non-academic selections marked by asterisks under each and second by type of reading, (non-academic non-fiction, non-academic fiction, and academic) and under each selection the broad topic covered is indicated as well.

Despite my wanting to add more to it, the list is already long. For an abbreviated version, here’s a selection of ten of my favorite non-academic readings. Enjoy, react if possible, and ignore if you wish.

1. Joseph Conrad, Nostromo, A Tale of the Seaboard. 1904. (336 pages)
Understanding Development

2. Giusepe de Lampedusa, The Leopard, transl. by Archibald Colquhoun, 1958
Understanding economic development

3. Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, 1997.
Geography and Development

4. Philip Gourevitch, “Alms Dealers: Can you provide humanitarian aid without facilitating conflicts?The New Yorker, 2010. 
Manna and Economic Development: Foreign Aid

5. Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition: And the Men Who Made It, 1948
Formative histories and development

6. Ryszard Kapuściński, The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, 1983
[Formative histories and development Ethiopia]

7. Ian Morris. Why the West Rules-for Now: The Patterns of History and what They Reveal about the Future. Picador, 2010.
Broad Facts on Economic Development

8. V.S. Naipaul, The Writer and The World: Essays, 2003
Formative Histories and Development [Argentina, Mauritius, Guyana, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire]

9. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the twenty-first century, Harvard University Press, 2014.
Inequality and Development

10. Michela Wrong, I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation, 2006
Manna and Economic Development [Eritrea]

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.