How to be Human*

*Though an Economist
Deirdre N. McCloskey
A witty and thoughtful romp through the profession and practice of economics


In this thoroughly engaging book Deirdre McCloskey puts the "dismal science" under the microscope. She offers advice to young economists, offering models from the old; and she lambastes the middle-aged who have allowed economics to become, as she puts it with characteristic verve, "a boys' game in a sandbox." McCloskey deploys her wit and style to serious purpose: to bring economics back to science.

Anyone can learn about the field of economics from How to Be Human. She can learn how economics works as a discipline and as a piece of sociology, who the heroes are and the villains, how a career in economics relates to matters of ethics and epistemology. She can learn what it is like to be a new woman in a boys' subject, a subject that avoids at all costs the word "love."

During the 1990s Deirdre McCloskey established herself as the main internal critic of the economic mainstream. Her quarterly columns in the Eastern Economic Journal, many of which are collected here, have become a handbook for reform. Trained in economics herself, she knows the normal science of the field from the inside: she has done it as a distinguished economic historian; and has watched it work from the faculties of Chicago (for twelve years) and Iowa (for nineteen), and now at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Her criticism from the inside is that the two methods on which economics has depended since the 1940s—existence-theorem mathematics and significance-testing statistics—are nonsense. They have, she claims, nothing to do with economic science, and have massively diverted economists from finding out how the economy works.

McCloskey's book is written for anyone interested in economics, whether trained in it or not—anyone who cares about the economy but is not taken in by the boys' game.

Deirdre McCloskey is University Professor of the Human Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago. Visit McCloskey's website at:

Praise / Awards

  • "By turns wise, generous, and deep—and always beautifully written—this book celebrates Deirdre McCloskey's love for economics and her (perhaps irrational, but never mind) optimism for its future."
    —James K. Galbraith, University of Texas at Austin
  • "Ed Arno once published a New Yorker cartoon depicting a woman introducing a man to a friend, saying "I'd like you to meet Marty Thorndecker. He's an economist, but he's really very nice." If How to Be Human had been on economists' reading lists all along, no one would have gotten Arno's joke."
    —Robert Frank, Cornell University
  • "You probably won't agree with everything McCloskey says. It would be strange if you did. But think hard about the questions she asks, and argue your answers against hers. You will be a better economist for it."
    —Robert M. Solow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • "McCloskey has been publishing opinionated essays about economics and economists she has known; here they are. She has heroes and villains, mostly heroes, methodological approvals and condemnations, mostly condemnations. Her style is candid, immodest, terse. She can anger you but will never bore you."
    —Thomas C. Schelling, University of Maryland, College Park
  • "If you have only one McCloskey book to read, read How to be Human* *Though an Economist. And while you might not want to follow all of the advice in it, the editorializing will certainly engage you---even if you're not of the Econ crowd."
    —Davis W. Houck, Florida State University, Argumentation and Advocacy, Fall 2002
  • "How To Be Human offers insight into the life and thinking of one of the most fascinating economists in America. Even if you do not agree with her, Deirdre McCloskey will make you think."
    —Frances Woolley, Feminist Economics, Volume 7, No. 2 (2001)
  • "Her book offers advice to a young student who wonders whether to continue in a subject so dry, so seemingly irrelevant to the realities of life. Her message . . . tells the young economist to discard fashionable but transient theories, eschew illogical statistical tests, get out into the real world, look at history, consider what other scientists say, have fun, and rediscover the profession's humanity, a quality that she says was lost some time towards the end of the nineteenth century. . . . She is scathing in her sarcasm, but behind the whimsicality of this enjoyable book there is a serious message: economists can become less like the mechanical robots at the centre of their beloved theories of rational choice, and more like real human beings, if only they have the courage to do so. Deirdre McCloskey's own life, as glimpsed in these pages, can be read as a testament to the truth of this proposition."
    —David Throsby, Times Literary Supplement, March 22, 2002

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 304pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-09744-9

Add to Cart
  • $104.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06744-2

Add to Cart
  • $26.95 U.S.