It's probably more than coincidence that two of the books I enjoyed most lately were (a) written by women who (b) used to work as British journalists and (c) went on to get fancy degrees and (d) write sprightly, non-shallow, non-technical introductions to interesting topics.
I'll save one of the two for later but for the moment, allow me to showcase Diane Coyle's The Soulful Science, where she tries to show that economists are not as crude, vulgar and unfeeling as they're cracked up to be. While I'm not quite persuaded that she achieved her mission, still I'd say she's done a remarkable job of surveying the discipline's current agenda.
Along the way, she covers three (or maybe two and a half) broad topics. Her first and perhaps most important item is the problem of poverty, and here, she showcases something that the purists in the first-class lounge might not regard as quite economics at all: it's the grungy and onerous task of data-gathering to find out just how many and who are the poor. Coyle doesn't mention it, but she is here attempting to respond to a recurrent jape of Robert Heilbroner--that economics, begun as an enquiry as to why so many were poor, had pretty much left the whole problem of poverty in the ditch. Her principal exhibit here is the work of Angus Maddison who may have done more than anyone alive to collect and organize the data on poverty. It's a prodigious effort and an awesome work product, but it probably says a lot about economics as a whole that I don't think he is on anybody's shortlist for an economics Nobel.
From Middleton and his ilk Coyle moves on to a somewhat more conventional presentation of recent developments in growth theory and trade theory--including some admirable insights into the issue of why Paul Krugman was important even before he had a column in the New York Times. From there she proceeds to two--or is it just one?--topic(s) that concern the relationship between economics and other disciplines--chiefly psychology, but also evolutionary biology. Her narrative of the uneasy encounter between econ and psychology is good fun although so many people have been trying to write sprightly and readable expositions of this topic that you'll find plenty of worthy competitors. The stuff on evolutionary biology is perhaps necessarily a bit more diffuse.
Still, it is here in this latter portion of the book that you find a remarkable kind of meta-story that Coyle herself probably did not intend. Specifically: she begins to kick holes in her own major premise. She acknowledges--almost incidentally, but still tellingly--that the interesting econ/psych stuff is still at a level not much above anecdote. She remarks that it isn't likely to go far without some overarching theory. And she mentions that almost none of this new stuff has yet made it into the textbooks. She pretty much concedes that basic econ--below, say, grad school level, is still pretty much rooted in static equilibrium models that go right back to Jevons and Walras (for an interesting counterexample, look here).
So she teeters on the edge of, but does not quite explore, some larger issues about the shape of economics as a whole: the place and shape of theory, the nature of model-making, the role of models in the world (for a fascinating foray along these lines, look here). Maybe that is her next book. Meanwhile, this is as instructive and entertaining overview of the current state of the profession as you are likely to find.