Study Guide to Human Action
by Bob Murphy
by Bob Murphy
It has been a work years in the making, but finally the Study Guide to the Scholar's Edition of Ludwig von Mises's Human Action, is available. You can order the handsome volume here, and — as we've come to expect — the Mises Institute is generously providing the entire book free for download here.
We hope that this new guide makes Mises's magnum opus less intimidating. Each chapter of the guide starts with a summary of the chapter from Human Action, broken down not just by section but also down to the italicized subheadings in Mises's text. Then, the study guide has a section on Why It Matters, in which the chapter is placed in context, either historical or even within the book itself. (While writing the guide, I discovered that the progression of the chapters in Human Action, as well as their arrangement into Parts, was much more methodical than I had realized during previous readings.)
Once you realize that Mises has a definite plan for the book — it is certainly not a Joycean stream-of-consciousness riff — then its 881 pages are not as daunting. You realize with each chapter, "Yes, now I see why Mises couldn't really get on to Important Topic X until he first dealt with the material he just covered."
After placing the chapter in context, the study guide then offers Technical Notes. Often, these relate the chapter's content to the mainstream approach, to help the graduate student or professor digest the Misesian framework. This section also points out possible problems with the material in the chapter, such as an objection raised by later Austrians, or even a possible contradiction with other parts of Human Action. The purpose here, of course, is to encourage critical reflection on Mises's great work. It is simply not true that Austrians "worship" Mises and refuse to criticize him, though critics often employ this straw man.
Finally, each study-guide chapter comes with a list of questions (the bulk of which were prepared by Amadeus Gabriel). In contrast to the Technical Notes, the purpose of the questions is to ensure that the reader has grasped the essential points in each section of the chapter.
Since I discovered it in high school, I have now read Human Action at least three times cover to cover, and each time it was different. I am confident that it is one of the most important books (let alone economics books) written in the 20th century. For those who have dabbled with it, I strongly encourage you — with the help of the study guide — to pick it back up and start reading from the beginning. If you would just decide to suck it up and start reading from page 1, you may find that "the boring part where I get stuck" never comes.
December 18, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Ludwig von Mises Institute