Read-on-a-bus books to get the basics of core topics & theoriesPublished by Mark Bodnar
Many (many!) years ago, I survived a class on Milton's Paradise Lost by signing out this annotated version of the epic poem — a version that featured wonderful commentary by the famous Isaac Asimov on the subtext and context of Milton's dense work.
Why am I talking about English literature in a blog about business & economics resources? Because it's a great example of how we all sometimes need a little help with complex topics. Perhaps we aren't quite following what's discussed in a lecture... or maybe we want to get a good overview of major concepts outside of our courses?
Building a foundation of broad knowledge is important... and often frustrating. In many cases it's far simpler to bootstrap your learning by reading a book about a theory before you tackle the theory itself. (Even, to be frank, as a substitute for tackling some particularly difficult theories!)
Fortunately, there are shortcuts! Sometimes you can avoid falling asleep on piles of convoluted texts and instead get a good sense of a topic in the time it takes to ride a bus to school.
Buried among its millions of books, the SFU Library has many read-on-a-bus gems designed to save you time when you need to learn the basics of a complex new topic. With the help of a few of my colleagues, I've dug up a few of our best "shortcut" book series to share with you all...
Long-time readers of the BUEC Buzz (hi Mom!) will know that I'm a fan of Oxford's Very Short Introduction series... affectionately called the VSIs by, well, me. See my earlier post about them, or just dive in and start reading some of the 700+ VSI titles we now own online, plus the hundreds of print copies on our shelves. The VSI series includes 19 titles specifically on Business & Management topics and 34 titles in Economics (although everything is ultimately about economics, no?).
I've also posted about the Macat Library — a series that focuses on foundational works by key thinkers in many subject areas, from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations to Karl Marx's Capital; and from William Whyte's The Organization Man to John Maynard Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Each short (~100 pg) Macat Library analysis outlines the content, context, and consequences of a theory... exactly what you need to get a good grasp of the basics.
The For Beginners series eventually morphed into the Introducing... series, but both versions cover their complex topics in a comic book (graphic guide) format. They can be tricky to find in our collection due to their very generic series titles, but here's a search of our catalogue that should cover most of the copies we own at SFU. Sadly, they don't touch on many business/economics topics, but you've come to SFU to learn about so much more than what's covered in your courses... right?
Or how about a Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About...? (That's the series title, in case you missed it.) Most of the titles in this series are about business topics and are only available in print format in our collection, but all promise "an informal and accessible overview of the field which challenges the traditional literature." They are generally around 150 pages long, so you might need to read both on your way to school and on your way home to get through a single title.
The Basics is a multidisciplinary series "of accessible guidebooks which provide an overview of the fundamental principles of a subject area in a jargon-free and undaunting format. Intended for students approaching a subject for the first time, the books both introduce the essentials of a subject and provide an ideal springboard for further study." Unfortunately, this is yet another series with a very generic name, so it can be tricky to create an exhaustive search. Here are the many online editions that we have at SFU, and here are the ones we have in print format.
Elgar Advanced Introductions offer "introductions to major fields in the social sciences, business and law..." Don't let the word Advanced scare you away: you're in university... you can handle any of the books in this useful series! We have a mix of print and online copies available for you here at the SFU Library. "Designed to be accessible yet rigorous, they offer concise and lucid surveys of the substantive and policy issues associated with discrete subject areas."
The Cambridge Elements series might be a bit of a stretch for this post given that they "consist of original, succinct, authoritative, and peer-reviewed scholarly and scientific research" rather than simply summarizing major theories and concepts, but they are short enough for a bus ride (generally 50-100 pages). In addition, they offer "comprehensive coverage of the key topics in disciplines spanning the arts and sciences" and dozens of SFU's 600+ titles in the series deal with economics & business topics.
The links in the descriptions above will get you to lists of all the books we have in each series, but many of those titles cross into areas far beyond business and economics. I'm sure they are all super interesting... but here is a subset of some of the more business/economics-focused titles. Just a sample to get you started...
What have I missed? Are there other "shortcut" book series that you regularly read while busing to school? Please share! Send me a note...
Economics & Business Librarian
Updates: I'll add other series that I come across or that you all tell me about... watch this space!
21 April 2022: I totally forgot a relatively new series from Routledge: Absolute Essentials of Business & Economics. The series title pretty much sums it up -- each book in the series is very much focused on delivering core info in 80-120 pages on major bus/econ concepts such as environmental economics and strategic marketing. We have 12 titles from the series so far, all from 2020 onward, and I'm hoping to see more! I've added a few to the rotating list of samples above.