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Books to Study Before Going to Graduate School in Economics

Must Read Books for Pre-Ph.D Economics Students


You do not need to study up on more esoteric topics such as Game Theory or International Trade before you enter a Ph.D. program, although it never hurts to do so. You are not usually require to have a background in those subject areas when you take a Ph.D. course in them. I will recommend a couple of books I greatly enjoy, as they may convince you to study these subjects. If you're at all interested in Public Choice Theory or Virginia style Political Economy, first you should read my article "The Logic of Collective Action". After doing so, you may want to read the book Public Choice II by Dennis C. Mueller. It is very academic in nature, but it is probably the book that has influenced me most as an economist. If the movie A Beautiful Mind didn't make you frightened of the work of John Nash you may be interested in A Course in Game Theory by Martin Osborne and Ariel Rubinstein. It is an absolutely fabulous resource and, unlike most books in economics, it's well written.

If I haven't scared you off completely from studying economics, there's one last thing you'll want to look into. Most schools require you to take one or two tests as part of your application requirements. Here's a few resources on those tests:

Get familiar with the GRE General and GRE Economics Tests

The Graduate Record Examination or GRE General test is one of the application requirements at most North American schools. The GRE General test covers three areas: Verbal, Analytical, and Math. I've created a page called "Test aids for the GRE and GRE Economics" that has quite a few useful links on the GRE General Test. The Graduate School Guide also has some useful links on the GRE. I would suggest buying one of the books on taking the GRE. I can't really recommend any one of them as they all seem equally good.

It is absolutely vital that you score at least 750 (out of 800) on the math section of the GRE in order to get into a quality Ph.D. program. The analytical section is important as well, but the verbal not as much. A great GRE score will also help you get into schools if you have only a modest academic record.

There are a lot fewer online resources for the GRE Economics test. There are a couple of books that have practice questions that you may want to look at. I thought the book The Best Test Preparation for the GRE Economics was quite useful, but it's gotten absolutely horrid reviews. You may want to see if you can borrow it before committing to buying it. There is also a book called Practicing to Take the GRE Economics Test but I've never used it so I'm not sure how good it is. It is important to study for the test, as it may cover some material that you did not study as an undergraduate. The test is very heavily Keynesian, so if you did your undergraduate work at a school heavily influenced by the University of Chicago such as the University of Western Ontario, there will be quite a bit of "new" macroeconomics you'll need to learn.


Economics can be a great field in which to do your Ph.D., but you need to be properly prepared before you enter into a graduate program. I haven't even discussed all the great books available in subjects such as Public Finance and Industrial Organization. I'm sure I've also left out more great resources than I've included, so if you know of a useful book in economics, or you would like to ask me a question, please e-mail me using the feedback form.

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