Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Read Human Action

At the Mises Circle event that I attended in San Francisco on Saturday, I talked for a bit with some Google employees who have formed a reading group. They are now working their way through, Ludwig von Mises' book, Human Action.

As I have said before, in my view, Human Action is the most important book ever written in the field of economics. If you master this book, you will have the equivalent of a black belt in economics. That said, Mises was a scholar in the old school tradition. Human Action is filled terminology, and with references to various historical events, that almost any student with simply a basic American college education is not going to be familiar with. That's why when the Google group told me they had not heard of Mises Made Easier by Percy Greaves, I realized it was time for this post.

You can not possibly get a full understanding of Human Action without Mises Made Easier by your side. Greaves explains all the references in Human Action that Mises makes from terminology to historical footnotes.

This is how I tell people to read Human Action:

First read through Mises Made Easier, so that you get a sense for the terminology and historical background that Mises references. Then get yourself a copy of Robert Murphy's Human Action Study Guide.

Read the first chapter of Murphy's study guide, then read the first chapter in Human Action, then go back and re-read Murphy's chapter. Do this for all the remaining chapters. Read a Murphy chapter, read the Human Action chapter and read the Murphy chapter again. Reading Murphy's guide will ensure that you won't miss anything, since Mises packs significant insights into every paragraph, if not sentence. Murphy catches most of them and explains them in easy to understand language.

5 comments:

  1. I've been meaning to do it for some time now, but your post got me to visit the Mises online store and order both Human Action and Murphy's guide. Thanks for the push.

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  2. Wenzel,

    Thanks for this. I actually started with George Reisman's Capitalism (a thoroughly unappreciated and unmarketed economic treatise in the Austrian library). I am now working my way through the scholar's edition of MES w/PM by Rothbard, following Murphy's study guide after each chapter. And once I finish those I have a shrink wrapped scholar's edition of Human Action + another Murphy guide to tackle.

    Current belt status: brown.

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  3. Read the first chapter of Murphy's study guide, then read the first chapter in Human Action, then go back and re-read Murphy's chapter. Do this for all the remaining chapters.

    You should also tell people to put $10 into a savings account before they start your recommended reading regimen, so that when they have finished they can buy a car to celebrate their mastery of Austrian economics.

    (Ha ha. Thanks for the kind words.)

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  4. Bob,

    I thought you were going to say "so the utter worthlessness of their account by the time they finish stands as a stark testament to the veracity of what they just learned about inflation and the erosion of purchasing power by centalized government and banking cartels."

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  5. Taylor - touche :)

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