October 10th is the 40th anniversary of the death of Ludwig von Mises. He was one of the most notable economists and social philosophers of the twentieth century who created an integrated, deductive science of economics. He based system on the fundamental axiom that human beings act purposely to achieve their desired goals. Mises left a legacy of books and articles that continue to teach and inspire people in a method and science that makes an undeniable case for a society based on freedom and peace.
Many have tried and failed to grasp the enormity of Mises’s contributions. I have been asked many times about “how to read Mises.” For a long time my only answer was “don’t start with Human Action, Mises’s magnum opus. Then, a few years ago, I set out to produce The Quotable Mises where I collected quotes from all his books. This book gives readers quick access to Mises’s contributions and viewpoints. It also serves as a handy tool for researchers and journalists.
It also gave me some insight into the question of how to read Mises. My suggestion now is to begin reading his shorter, popular articles, as well as audio and video lectures on Mises.org. Then proceed to his shorter books like Bureaucracy and Planned Chaos before moving to longer treatments such as Liberalism, A Critique of Interventionism, Omnipotent Government, and Nation, State, and Economy. Next take on the big four Theory of Money and Credit, Socialism, Epistemological Problems, and Theory and History. Finally, you are ready for the centerpiece of Mises’s system of economics, Human Action.
I believe that this approach to reading Mises works because Mises system was comprehensive and cohesive, but his writings represent a building process in which economics is constructed and where concepts are repeated in finer and more elaborate detail. What you might not understand at one level becomes increasingly clear, coherent, and relevant for understanding his overall system.