A student in Robert Murphy’s Mises Academy course Principles of Economics asked which great Austrian economics treatise to start with first: Human Action by Ludwig von Mises or Man, Economy, and State (MES) by Murray Rothbard. I’m posting my response below, in case anyone else considering the same question finds it useful. Also, if you’ve read both, and have your own opinion on the matter, post it in a comment!
The two books (Human Action and MES) present their own distinctive challenges. It just depends on what kind of challenges you are more up for.
With Human Action, you have to be willing to look unfamiliar things up, because Mises assumes the reader is familiar with certain things that hardly anybody is familiar with these days. This is usually as simple as typing the unfamiliar term or phrase along with site:mises.org into Google, and reading what you find.
With MES, you have to be willing to sit with diagrams and the complicated thought experiments they represent, and study them until they make sense.
With MES, you don’t need to look things up, but with Human Action, the thought experiments presented don’t take nearly as much processing.
Human Action spends a lot more time on epistemology, but it assumes the reader is already familiar with production theory. MES goes into production theory in depth, but takes the epistemological underpinnings for granted.
Human Action is more… almost “poetic”. Rothbard’s style, even in his treatise, can be somewhat brash for my taste (responding to opposing arguments with phrases like “So what?”).
Both require their own kind of concentration. In Human Action you need to concentrate on the beautiful, but “old world” prose In MES you need to concentrate to decipher the tables and graphs,
For both, Dr. Murphy’s study guides would be of great help.
Hope that helps.