Non-Economics Majors Need to Read This


Economics is important.  No one argues about that.  But do consular and management officers — the backbone of the Foreign Service —  need to have a deep, nuts-and-bolts understanding of the Laffer Curve and Econometrics?  I don’t think so, yet the subject shows up all over the place on the Foreign Service Exam.

Be Prepared!

If you’re picking Management, Consular, even Public Diplomacy career tracks, don’t get caught with a weak understanding of Econ.

In earlier posts, I said that you don’t have to do a deep dive to prepare for the test.  For many liberal arts majors (and yes, you guys rock!), the test should be tough, but one you can pass by reading a good daily newspaper and the weekly Economist. But for everyone else or even liberal arts graduates who missed Econ 101 in college, it’s time to play catch-up.

Only Three Weeks to Go

Okay, lucky you, there is an excellent, very basic econ book that will help prepare you for the test.  If you’re serious about passing the exam, especially the niggling questions on economics, I recommend you pick up a copy and read it before October.  It’s available at Amazon:

The author, Thomas Sowell, gives a frank, straightforward account of many economics principles.  Admittedly his efforts to keep the economics free of technical jargon are too basic — “opportunity cost” is nowhere to be found — but it is an excellent primer.



N.B. I recommend only books that I have read or have heard good things about from trusted colleagues. In this case, I’ve read it 





  1. Hi, I was wondering if reading the older 3rd edition would be acceptable for the test? I am working on a budget and looking at my university library for the books you recommend. Thanks!

  2. Fitz Townsend says

    Thanks for your posts, as always. I bought Basic Economics at your suggestion, and I have to say (with all due respect), it was suited for needs very different than mine! (can’t please ’em all, I know…)

    I’m a doctoral level arts student, so heavy on the liberal arts side, weak on economics to say the least.

    I think I was expecting a intro to macro/micro econ type of book, in very layman’s terms. But I found Basic Economics to be a congenial, ideological text. Very shallow on terms, theories, history — all the sorts of things that a newbie like myself needs.

    Just another $0.02 about the FSOT from another random test taker on the internet…

    • Fitz–
      Thanks for the feedback. I’ll strike it off the list and find a better one. I hope the Wikipedia articles helped.

      When are you taking the test?

      Best, Bill

      • Fitz Townsend says


        I took Feb 4 and passed (only just the test, so far…).

        BTW, Your PNQ-post is immensely helpful, and illustrates the wonderful elegance and functionality of publicly available information. 🙂

        I ended up using a lot of “Dummies” and “AP Crash Course” books which helped for the FSOT this round. I will be looking for books to flesh out these skeletal overviews — which I am realizing is very hard to do! It seems once you get past the very basic overviews of a topic field, you inevitably enter the realm of author’s opinions, as I encountered in the Sowell book above – and many other books, quite frankly.

        • Fitz–
          Again, that’s great news. Congratulations. I’m working on a piece about preparing for the Oral Assessment. I hope to post it early next week, if not sooner.

          Bill Fitzgerald

  3. Hi! Are there other books that you can suggest? How about McEachern’s Economics: A Contemporary Introduction? I’m interested in pursuing a career in the Foreign Service but I’m also looking into other related options as well.

    Thank you so much!

    • Anna–

      It’s an important question because economics plays such a big role in the FSOT. I think McEachern’s economics text is fine, but I still prefer Paul Samuelson’s epic econ text. The hard part with Samuelson’s Economics is finding an early version, circa 1970, when Samuelson still had the pen and before his co-author rewrote important sections and rendered them muddy and unclear.
      Good luck,


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