Philosophy, Politics and Economics Reading List

The list is divided into three parts covering Philosophy, Politics and Economics.


It is certainly not suggested that you attempt to read all of the books mentioned, but you should aim to read at least something from each section. Note that Philosophy books should be read slowly. It is a good idea to pause after every ten or twenty pages, and to make notes on the course of the argument (together with any queries or criticisms that have occurred to you).


You will study logic in your first and second terms (Michaelmas and Hilary) of your first year. Halbach is the official course text – you’ll need a copy of it in October, so you may as well pick one up now. Hodges is an introductory text which covers roughly speaking the material of the course; it is more elementary than Halbach and differs from it in a few points, but it is less abstract and may help you to understand informally what logic is about. The other two provide some more general background about logic and logical ways of thinking.

V. Halbach

The Logic Manual (Oxford University Press)

W. Hodges

Logic (Penguin)

D. Dennett

Douglas Hofstadter

Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking (Penguin)

Gödel, Escher, Bach (Penguin)

General Philosophy

You will study general philosophy in the second term (Hilary) of your first year. There are eight topics to choose from, which cover between them the central questions of epistemology and metaphysics. The Nagel and Conee and Sider books are good contemporary introductions; Descartes and Hume are Early Modern classics which feature prominently in the General Philosophy reading lists. You’d be very well placed if you read one of each.

J. Nagel

Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press)

E, Conee and T. Sider

Riddles of Existence: a guided tour of Metaphysics (Oxford University Press)

R. Descartes

Meditations on First Philosophy

D. Hume

An Enquiry Converning Human Understanding

B. Russell

The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford University Press)

Moral Philosophy

You will study Moral Philosophy in the third term (Trinity) of your first year. Mill is the set text; try to get the edition with Roger Crisp’s commentary. West provides a good introduction to Mill’s ethics. The other two books are more general introductions to ethics.

J. S. Mill

Utilitarianism (ed. R. Crisp, Oxford University Press

H. West

An Introduction to Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics (Cambridge University Press)

J. Driver

B. Williams

Ethics: The Fundamentals (Wiley-Blackwell)

Morality (Penguin)

Writing Philosophy Essays

There are a number of helpful guides to writing philosophical essays. Those that previous students have found most helpful are listed here.

C. Benn, C. Cameron, A. Cawston and S. Siriwardena

Tackling the Philosophy Essay

P. Lipton

Writing Philosophy

J. Pryor

Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper


Politics is divided into two parts: Theorizing the Democratic State and Introduction to the Practice of Politics. At Balliol, we do not sedulously define these into different sequences of tutorials. But most of your tutorials in Michaelmas will be in Introduction to the Practice of Politics.

The following books are *required* and will be discussed in your early tutorials, and Lijphart’s book is the core of a series of lectures and labs that you will have, which are focused on using political science methods. You should be sure to read it carefully.

  • Lijphart, Arend. Patterns of Democracy : Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. 2nd ed.  New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 2012.
  • Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail : The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty.  London: Profile, 2012.
  • Sartori, Giovanni. Comparative Constitutional Engineering : An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes. 2nd ed.  Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002.
  • Tsebelis, George. Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work.  New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002, chapters 1-4.

For political theory, we suggest that you first read an introductory book or two on general political theory, and then look specifically at some of the texts you’ll be studying in the first year. For introductory reading, you might look at the following:

  • Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy (3rd ed, 2015)
  • Adam Swift Political Philosophy: A Beginners’ Guide for Students and Politicians (3rd ed, 2013)    

The focus of these books is different (Wolff spends more time on historical texts, Swift on contemporary theories), so both could fruitfully be read together. In terms of historical texts, you might look at the following (all widely available in cheap editions and can also be found online):


The first-year economics course at Balliol does not assume any prior knowledge of the subject, but does move fairly fast and is quite technical in its character. The principal books used in the first year are J.M. Perloff, Microeconomics (which requires some knowledge of calculus), R. Frank and E. Cartwright Microeconomics and Behaviour, and C.I. Jones Macroeconomics. Starting to read either of the first two will help with the beginning of the course. Jones will be used after Christmas. Older editions of these books are fine and can often be found at second hand prices online.

Nearly everyone will also need to learn some mathematics. Again, knowledge of A-level material or its equivalent is not assumed, but starting with some of the work before term is a good idea. There are many books with titles like ‘Mathematics for economists’ and so long as they start at a level which is appropriate for you, there is little to choose between them. However, some examples would be:

Timbrell, M. Mathematics for Economists
Kennedy, G. Mathematics for Innumerate Economists
Anthony, M., and Biggs, N. Mathematics for Economics and Finance
Black, J., and Bradley Essential Mathematics for Economists
Holden, K., and Pearson, A.W. Introductory Mathematics for Economists
Dowling, E. Mathematical Methods for Business and Economics, from the Schaum’s Outlines series. (Students with no background in Mathematics have found this book particularly useful).
Chiang, A.C. Fundamental Methods of Mathematical Economics (starts at a similar level to the other texts on this list. but takes many ideas a bit further)

For more general reading in economics, any of the following should be interesting:

Alan Blinder After the Music Stopped
Paul Krugman The return of Depression Economics
James Forder A beginner’s guide to economics
William Easterly The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good
Paul Collier The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
Jeffrey Sachs The End of Poverty
Roger Backhouse & Steven Medema

Retrospectives: On the Definition of Economics‘ 

See also the Paul Krugman Archive website.

June 2020