The real economy is based on natural resource extraction and industrial production. As such, I find it important to read about commodities (petrol, natural gas, bananas, cereals, coal, iron ore, etc.) and how they've shaped civilizations through the ages. To this I add books about effective management of water, topsoil, rangeland, and forest resources.
A short list of books related to these subjects:
1) Nature's Metropolis by William Cronin
Cronin tells the story of Chicago's development during the 19th century by tracking the flows of various commodities to and from the city, its hinterlands, and other urban centers. The chapters on how improvements in transportation networks and grain storage facilities led to futures trading are a must-read.
2) The Economic Growth Engine: How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity by Robert Ayres and Ben Warr
Ayres (a physicist and economist) has argued for decades that the real growth of the economy is strongly based on how effective civilizations can convert energy resources (especially from fossil fuels) into useful work. In this slightly esoteric work, Ayres and colleague Warr flesh out this idea (the "useful work growth theory") and challenge the Solow model of economic growth and its exogenous variable representing "technological progress" favored by many neoclassical economists. They also discuss topics such as how best to measure energy quality (net energy vs. exergy) and the interplay between thermodynamics and economics.
3) The Rice Economies: Technology and Development in Asian Societies by Francesca Bray
Rice is one of the most important cereals in the world; this book explains how its cultivation has shaped Asian societies. If you're interested in how Asian societies have managed soil fertility and high crop yields over the ages, I also recommend Farmers of Forty Centuries by American agronomist F.H. King.
4) Merchants of Grain by Dan Morgan
About the global grain trade and the titans who control it.
5) Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed The World by Dan Koeppel
Covers banana republics, banana cultivation methods, and the virtual extinction of the Big Mike varietal in the mid-twentieth century. The Big Mike was superior to today's Cavendish banana in taste and durability.
6) A Forest Journey: The Story of Wood and Civilization by John Perlin