I am a first-year undergrad econ student and was interested in reading Keynes' book. in the preface, Keynes pointed out that the text deals in the abstract and is meant for his fellow economists. After reading a few chapters its become quite clear that he wasn't kidding. there so many theories and ideas that I am not familiar with and most of the ideas are criticised more than they are explained.

So my question is: what prior knowledge do I need to possess to understand the book? Any books you can recommend to acquire said Prior knowledge? and lastly is the book even worth reading?

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    $\begingroup$ It is little read, even by economists. As Paul Krugman once wrote, "It’s probably safe to assume that the 'conservative scholars and policy leaders' who pronounced The General Theory one of the most dangerous books of the past two centuries haven’t read it." I would instead recommend Keynes: Useful Economics for the World Economy (2014) by Peter Temin and David Vines. $\endgroup$
    – user18
    Sep 13, 2018 at 3:44
  • $\begingroup$ @KennyLJ: Perhaps post your comment as an answer? $\endgroup$
    – Herr K.
    Sep 13, 2018 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @HerrK.: I am not qualified to answer this question. One would have to be an expert in macroeconomics, the history of economic thought, and undergraduate pedagogy to do so. (Hence I merely posted a comment with some of my thoughts.) $\endgroup$
    – user18
    Sep 14, 2018 at 5:46

1 Answer 1


I don't think you should read it at any point in your carrer, honestly. It is severily outdated, ambiguous and overall not worth the time and effort put into reading it.

Try Screpanti & Zamagni's An Outline of the History of Economic Thought. Undergraduates do better when studying the works of economists who have been dead for decades as what they are, historical curiosities.

If you are really bent on reading the General Theory and/ or pretend to research history of economic thought, then I'd say after you go through an intermediate macroeconomic theory course you're good to go.

  • $\begingroup$ "I don't think you should read it at any point in your carrer" - You disagree with Paul Krugman and many others then. $\endgroup$
    – user18
    Sep 14, 2018 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed I do. Smith, Keynes, Ricardo... These guys are too outdated and the opportunity cost is just too high to be worth reading them - unless one's research is in history of thought. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2018 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ Just to be clear: I'd think twice before being a person who disagrees with Krugman on international trade theory, just not on undergraduates reading the General Theory. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2018 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ Just lol at the people downvoting my answer. Is it safe to assume you all read Marshall, Walras, Hicks and Leontief in the original then? Good god, anything worthwhile in Keynes' work is contained in any reasonable intermediate macro textbook. I studied in a university where there were four obligatory courses on the history of economic thought, read all of these dead economists' works and can safely say there's little value added in that. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2018 at 22:55

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