Thanks again to all who gave me suggestions for economics books that would "expand the universe" of some interns at a conservative think tank. I sent my own list, as well as a link to this blog post, on to my economist friend at that think tank.
A number of people have asked me which I chose. I chose 10. Here they are, in no particular order, with comments on some of them:
Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. This, of course, is about the dangers of centralized economic planning. So it's not about economics in the way most of the other books are. For what I think is still relevant about it, see my review here (scroll down).
Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose. One reason this book is so readable is that Milton and Rose wrote it based on the scripts for the PBS TV series of the same name. I remember Milton telling me, in the spring of 1980, that it was the number #1 non-fiction book--in Japan!
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson. Another classic. Here's my review.
David R. Henderson, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist's Odyssey. My friend Less Antman once described this as an economics book disguised as an autobiography. I really did mean it to be semi-autobiographical. Here's what Milton Friedman said: "The Joy of Freedom is a quasi-autobiographical clarion call for a free society. It is passionate and eloquent, yet at the same time, thoughtful, informed, and profound. A splendid statement of the moral case for a free society, at the same time it is an informed and comprehensive survey of its practical virtues and of the harm done by widespread government intervention."
Steven Landsburg, The Armchair Economist. Here are highlights from my review, including one criticism that, as far as I know, Steven has not answered.
David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom. This book is more about libertarianism than just straight economics, but since it's written by an incredibly good economist who writes really well, I'm putting it on the list.
Paul Heyne, The Economic Way of Thinking. (The earlier the edition, the better.) In the early 2000s, Armen Alchian told me that when Paul Heyne was thinking about writing the first edition, in the 1970s, I believe, he contacted Armen and asked him if "it would be alright" if he wrote a text that took the insights from University Economics, Armen Alchian's and William Allen's classic, and simplified. Armen chuckled as he told me that story: he had reassured Paul that, yes, people are free to write their own books. I tried teaching economics to undergrads using University Economics, but it was too subtle for most. Paul Heyne succeeded in writing a book that had many of the same insights but did so in a way that was easier to grasp. The modern editions, co-authored by Peter Boettke and David Prychitko, are still quite good and I get good responses from students when I use them in my distance learning class, but they are not as good as some of the earlier editions by Heyne alone. My friend Jeff Hummel maintains that the best version is the 5th edition. That's hard to find at a low price, although I found one and have ordered it.
Steven E. Rhoads, The Economist's View of the World. I used to use this as a text in an economics course in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Man, did the students ever get marginalism, incentives, and opportunity cost. The lightbulbs went on like crazy.