Politics, Philosophy and Economics Preliminary Reading List

Here's a list of possible readings to browse ahead of your arrival - there is no expectation that you complete any reading in advance. All the degree course reading and set work is designed to be covered during the teaching terms.

Student browsing books in the Information Commons

Politics, Philosophy and Economics - Preliminary Reading List, compiled with guidance notes by PPE Course Director Dr Siobhan McAndrew.

For those of you who would like to sample some readings - perhaps if you’re entirely new to the three disciplines - the following can all be found online via the provided links. Feel free to sample according to your interests, rather than covering it all. Most of the suggested readings will be included in first-year core module reading lists, while some will be covered in optional modules.

Have a great summer and I look forward to meeting you soon!


Cross-Cutting Themes

Defining Questions and Problem-Solving

Intellectual diversity and using multiple methods in tandem to find things out, and think things through, helps us make better decisions. PPE students are often distinctive because they are interested in many subjects and in understanding problems in the round.

On the value of intellectual diversity and using multiple strategies to make decisions, look at P.J.H. Schoemaker and P.E. Tetlock, ‘Superforecasting: How to Upgrade Your Company’s Judgment’, Harvard Business Review (May 2016).

Can We Effect Change?

A recurring question across the social sciences is how much agency we have to change things - both individually and as part of broader social movements or established institutions.

The following essay by the historian Ada Palmer is excellent on this question. She is optimistic: structural forces bear heavily, but there is always the possibility of reform and progress. As she puts it, ‘the Great Forces always push the same way… [b]ut the details are always different’. See Ada Palmer, ‘On Progress and Historical Change’, 4 January 2017, Ex Urbe blog.

Philosophy Readings

Most of you will not have done philosophy at all before, while some of you may have done so at A-level, or via Religious Studies. In the core Principles in PPE module, you will be introduced to epistemology, philosophy of the social sciences and ethics within the first few weeks. Many of you will go on to do more work in these areas via your Philosophy optional modules.

Epistemology (Theory of Knowledge)

While David Hume’s work is nearly three hundred years old, it’s still very lively and readable. If you read Section 1, ‘Of the Different Species of Philosophy’ and Section 2, ‘Of the Origin of Ideas’, you will have made an excellent start.

D. Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748).

It’s generally useful to read original texts together with secondary texts, such as the Stanford Encyclopaedia piece suggested here. This will help you to spot the key themes in the original readings more efficiently.

W.E. Morris and C.R. Brown, ‘David Hume’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).


The Australian philosopher John Mackie wrote a famous book with an infamous opening sentence on the subjectivity of morality. Sample it here:

J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Penguin 1977), Chapter 1. 

You can read this alongside a summary piece in Prospect magazine: J. Garvey, ‘Ethics is invented, not encountered—why the philosophy of JL Mackie remains essential reading’, Prospect, 4 August 2017.


Our core first-year economics module Economics, Society, and Public Policy draws extensively from W. Carlin, S. Bowles, M. Stevens and E. Tipoe (CORE) Economy, Society, and Public Policy (2019).

About half of our PPE students have not previously studied economics. If you have not studied economics before, do not worry - some of our best performers in economics modules are completely new to the subject. The ESPP module and textbook in particular are ideal for those new to the discipline.

If you would like a further (and more traditional) introduction to core principles, ‘Marginal Revolution University’ has made the following lecture courses available:

Principles of Microeconomics

Principles of Macroeconomics

Politics and Policy Science

The politics part of PPE is very diverse, covering areas such as political philosophy, political history, the study of institutions, political economy, quantitative political science and game theory.

As a taster, we’ve selected three resources to represent political theory, political institutions, and the political science tradition.

Political Theory

J.S. Dryzek, B. Honig and A. Phillips, ‘Overview of Political Theory’, in R.E. Goodin (2013, online edition) Oxford Handbook of Political Science.

Political Institutions

Martin Stanley, a well-known former Senior Civil Servant, has published some highly-regarded resources online, much of them drawn from his successful books:



You can also register to read his excellent Substack: https://ukcivilservant.substack.com

Stanley’s website also includes the notable Rede Lecture by Sir Edward Bridges, ‘Portrait of a Profession’ (University of Cambridge 1950) on expert generalism and the ideal civil servant.

Political Science

If you are more interested in contemporary politics as manifested in current affairs, you can follow the reports of the excellent think tank UK in a Changing Europe, led by Professor Anand Menon: https://ukandeu.ac.uk/research-papers/

Academic and Policy Writing

Part of your training will involve learning to cut through specialist jargon – both translating technical language in academic texts for your own understanding, and also translating it for ‘lay’ readers (non-specialists). This is hugely-valuable in the professional world. George Orwell is essential to read on the vital importance of clear writing:

G. Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’. First published Horizon (April 1946), available online via the Orwell Foundation

For a recent great example of social science communication which puts clarity at the heart, you can read the following recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation:

K. Schmuecker, P. Matejic, M. Bestwick and T. Clark, ‘Going Without: Deepening Poverty in the UK’ (July 2022), Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

PPE and the social sciences in popular culture

You can get a lot of exposure to social science ideas without reading academic works. Colleagues have suggested the following:

Film and TV

Deadwood (2004-6): a series which incorporates many themes from political philosophy. The literary critic Paul Cantor has written a book chapter on Deadwood and the state of nature, linking the programme to the thinkers Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.

The Wire (2002-8) features sociological themes and is also concerned with the use of data in police intelligence, institutional and political failure, and the economics of crime. 

Moneyball (2011): a movie describing the growth of sabermetrics (data analytics in baseball).

The Big Short (2015): on the US housing bubble and 2007-8 financial crisis, based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name.

The Good Place (2016-20): a central character is a moral philosopher and it includes many themes from moral philosophy. Read Andrew P. Street’s review after you have watched a few episodes: ‘The Good Place: How a Sitcom Made Philosophy Seem Cool’, The Guardian, 30 January 2018.

The Thick of It (2005-12) and Veep (2012-19): the earlier series may now seem a little dated, especially once real-life events outpaced them. Selina’s populist pivot in the final series of Veep still feels very current, and both are clever and politically-informed.

Borgen (2010-2022) is a Danish political drama. One colleague says: ‘I don't know of a better show that captures how politics (and not just in government) actually works - leadership, coalitions, compromise, accepting losses’.

Chernobyl (2019) concerns policy disaster and has been described as a masterpiece.

Succession (2018-) is about a media mogul and his family, set against the decline of traditional media and rising political volatility.

Brexit: The Uncivil War (2019) is a James Graham TV film about the 2016 EU Referendum Leave campaign.

I May Destroy You (2020) deals with themes of gender, race, sexuality, technology, work, autonomy and choice.

The Matrix (1999) – is our reality real, and how can we know?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – an introduction to existentialism.


Most good narratives maintain tension our through a mixture of cooperation and conflict. Some can even be interpreted using economic theory - Michael Suk-Young Chwe (2013), Jane Austen, Game Theorist (Princeton) is a great example.

Notable social scientific novels include: 

George Eliot (1871-2), Middlemarch. Read together with Rebecca Mead, ‘How George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” Resonates in the England of 2019’, New Yorker, 21 November 2019. 

Herman Hesse (1943), The Glass Bead Game. Read together with Anthony DiRenzo, ‘The Glass Bead Game’, Ithaca College (n.d.).

Hilary Mantel (2009-2020), the Wolf Hall trilogy. Mantel grew up in Hadfield in the Peak District, and read law at the LSE and then University of Sheffield. Her work is replete with social scientific understanding, ranging from economics to intellectual history.

Speculative fiction also provides a useful canvas for social scientists. Colleagues have recommended:

Ted Chiang (1991), Understand: A Novelette. A copy can be found online via the Wayback Machine. 

The Isaac Asimov Foundation series (first published 1942-50), recently adapted for Apple TV. 

The Frank Herbert Dune novels (1965-1985) and 2021 film.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future (2020) is excellent on how global institutions might solve the climate crisis.


Among Us is a very well-known strategy game. 

The BioShock series (2007-2020) is implicitly a critique of libertarianism and utopianism.

Papers Please (2013) is about migration control and is a well-known empathy game.

Portal (2007), a puzzle game, may seem short and dated now, but was acclaimed on release and set as required material for a freshman course, ‘Enduring Questions’, at Wabash College from 2010. 

The renowned Civilization series (1991-2016) concerns core PPE questions on institutional and economic development, and has also inspired a large academic literature. 

Using the Library

The Library has developed a range of online resources to help you make the most of our library services. A good place to begin exploring these resources is the 'Discovering' section of the Library web pages. This section explains basic skills that you'll use throughout your programme, including the use of resource lists and how to conduct a search using StarPlus. 

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