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The author of the groundbreaking bestseller A Beautiful Mind takes the reader on a journey of discoveryhow the greatest invention of modern times, economics, has changed the lives of every single human being. In a sweeping narrative, the author of the megabestseller A Beautiful Mind takes us on a journey through modern history with the men and women who changed the lives of The author of the groundbreaking bestseller A Beautiful Mind takes the reader on a journey of discovery—how the greatest invention of modern times, economics, has changed the lives of every single human being. In a sweeping narrative, the author of the megabestseller A Beautiful Mind takes us on a journey through modern history with the men and women who changed the lives of every single person on the planet. It’s the epic story of the making of modern economics, and of how economics rescued mankind from squalor and deprivation by placing its material fate in its own hands rather than in Fate. Nasar’s account begins with Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew observing and publishing the condition of the poor majority in mid-nineteenth-century London, the richest and most glittering place in the world. This was a new pursuit. She describes the often heroic efforts of Marx, Engels, Alfred Marshall, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, and the American Irving Fisher to put those insights into action—with revolutionary consequences for the world. From the great John Maynard Keynes to Schumpeter, Hayek, Keynes’s disciple Joan Robinson, the influential American economists Paul Samuelson and Milton Freedman, and India’s Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, she shows how the insights of these activist thinkers transformed the world—from one city, London, to the developed nations in Europe and America, and now to the entire planet. In Nasar’s dramatic narrative of these discoverers we witness men and women responding to personal crises, world wars, revolutions, economic upheavals, and each other’s ideas to turn back Malthus and transform the dismal science into a triumph over mankind’s hitherto age-old destiny of misery and early death. This idea, unimaginable less than 200 years ago, is a story of trial and error, but ultimately transcendent, as it is rendered here in a stunning and moving narrative.


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The author of the groundbreaking bestseller A Beautiful Mind takes the reader on a journey of discoveryhow the greatest invention of modern times, economics, has changed the lives of every single human being. In a sweeping narrative, the author of the megabestseller A Beautiful Mind takes us on a journey through modern history with the men and women who changed the lives of The author of the groundbreaking bestseller A Beautiful Mind takes the reader on a journey of discovery—how the greatest invention of modern times, economics, has changed the lives of every single human being. In a sweeping narrative, the author of the megabestseller A Beautiful Mind takes us on a journey through modern history with the men and women who changed the lives of every single person on the planet. It’s the epic story of the making of modern economics, and of how economics rescued mankind from squalor and deprivation by placing its material fate in its own hands rather than in Fate. Nasar’s account begins with Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew observing and publishing the condition of the poor majority in mid-nineteenth-century London, the richest and most glittering place in the world. This was a new pursuit. She describes the often heroic efforts of Marx, Engels, Alfred Marshall, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, and the American Irving Fisher to put those insights into action—with revolutionary consequences for the world. From the great John Maynard Keynes to Schumpeter, Hayek, Keynes’s disciple Joan Robinson, the influential American economists Paul Samuelson and Milton Freedman, and India’s Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, she shows how the insights of these activist thinkers transformed the world—from one city, London, to the developed nations in Europe and America, and now to the entire planet. In Nasar’s dramatic narrative of these discoverers we witness men and women responding to personal crises, world wars, revolutions, economic upheavals, and each other’s ideas to turn back Malthus and transform the dismal science into a triumph over mankind’s hitherto age-old destiny of misery and early death. This idea, unimaginable less than 200 years ago, is a story of trial and error, but ultimately transcendent, as it is rendered here in a stunning and moving narrative.

30 review for Grand Pursuit: A History of Economic Genius

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alex MacMillan

    "No. The master narrative of High Liberalism is mistaken factually. ... A political philosophy based on fairy tales about what happened in history or what humans are like is going to be less than useless. It is going to be mischievous. ... Anyone who after the 20th century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, "No. The master narrative of High Liberalism is mistaken factually. ... A political philosophy based on fairy tales about what happened in history or what humans are like is going to be less than useless. It is going to be mischievous. ... Anyone who after the 20th century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other 19th-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention." - Deirdre McCloskey, "Factual Free-Market Fairness." The defining feature of this book is its insufferability. The author strung together hundreds of pages of run on sentences and stuffy prose about the arbitrarily selected "geniuses" who supposedly should be credited with "ending poverty." All thanks for this accomplishment, caused at its heart by deregulation of a global bourgeoisie granted liberty and dignity are instead lavished upon contributors to the two deadening hands of the state, the welfare and regulatory bureaucracies. Including Fisher, Shumpeter, and Friedman to the mix was a welcome change of pace, but Nasar fails to explain how "escaping Malthus' trap" would have halted in the absence of their academic discoveries, which remain obscure and irrelevant to all outside the economics-nerd blogosphere. For a book appearing to promise a weighty and illuminating discussion of a "Grand Pursuit," I was surprised that 90% of this book consisted of gossip about the private lives of each intellectual, with experiences sometimes tangentially related to their observations, sometimes not. Unlike a book which could mingle abstract ideas with a practical historical survey of the recent past's many anachronisms, like Banquet at Delmonico's, Nasar cannot maintain a coherent narrative or keep unbearable boredom at bay. Q: "Would you rather: Rewatch Fast & Furious 6, or read another chapter of this book?" A: Tough question. As Keynes said, "In the long run we are all dead." At least F&F 6 would have a modicum of entertainment, in the "so bad it's good" sense.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    In her preface, Nasar describes Grand Pursuit as the story of an idea that was born in the Golden Age before World War I, the grand pursuit of turning economics into an instrument of mastery that could drive prosperity, rather than the dismal science that cautioned against government or even voluntary social intervention. Although she gives a glimmer of the ideas of such founders of classical economics as Adam Smith, Thomas Robert Malthus, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, the focus is on their In her preface, Nasar describes Grand Pursuit as “the story of an idea that was born in the Golden Age before World War I,” the grand pursuit of “turning economics into an instrument of mastery” that could drive prosperity, rather than the “dismal science” that cautioned against government or even voluntary social intervention. Although she gives a glimmer of the ideas of such founders of classical economics as Adam Smith, Thomas Robert Malthus, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, the focus is on their successors from the Victorian Age to present: Marx-Engels, Alfred Marshall, John Maynard Keynes, Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek. Milton Friedman gets little space, and the great critic of centralized planning seminal in the free-market movement, Ludwig Von Mises, has some scattered mentions. The blurbs of praise inside the cover run the gamut from the far-left Mother Jones and more moderate left The Nation to center-right publications such as the Economist and the Wall Street Journal, promising a balanced view of modern economics. I’d say more “middle-of-the-road.” Nasar tips her hand to her own biases fairly early on, when for instance she claimed that Mother-of-the-Welfare-State Beatrice Webb “showed” that the welfare state could cure poverty and was “more likely to raise than be a drag to economic growth.” (Not claimed or argued but showed.) Nasar’s no fan of the free market, but no fan of Soviet-style central planning either. Her triumphalist narrative and blue skies epilogue can sometimes sound downright Candide-like, and certainly marks her as a champion of the status quo--from reviews seemingly the cause of annoyance to both socialists and libertarians alike who’d challenge her assumptions. I’ve also read complaints in the (few) negative reviews about this being a popular economics book, one not deep enough to merit the attention of an economics major. Well, except how many of us can say that? I took one course in Macroeconomics in college, and have read some books, and some excerpts of the works, of some of the thinkers listed above. As a general reader interested in history, economics and politics, I found the book valuable and fascinating. Especially given Nasar wasn’t shy about giving us the sweep of history as a whole, including literary figures from Jane Austen to Virginia Woof when they tied into the story. Certainly I’d heard of Marx, Keynes and Hayek, and knew something of their lives and ideas, but I’d never known about Beatrice Webb, for instance, who Nasar credits as tremendously important in creating the modern Welfare State. Nobel-prize winner in Economics Robert Solow called Grand Pursuit a “colorful, even exciting series of vignettes involving important protagonists in the history of economic thought.” Well, economic thought between 1850 and 1950, primarily, but I do think the book enormously entertaining and well worth the read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a popularly oriented book on economic history - in particular by way of a historical look at economists and their times. The premise is to look at the thinkers who developed our ways of thinking about how economic thinking can be used to improve the lots of people through intentional activity -- through intentional economics policies. The immediate mode of discussion is to focus on particular thinkers and their times and from that construct a larger narrative of the story of economic This is a popularly oriented book on economic history - in particular by way of a historical look at economists and their times. The premise is to look at the thinkers who developed our ways of thinking about how economic thinking can be used to improve the lots of people through intentional activity -- through intentional economics policies. The immediate mode of discussion is to focus on particular thinkers and their times and from that construct a larger narrative of the story of economic policy. Chapters focus on Marx, Marshall, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Keynes, Hayek, Robinson, and Schumpeter. The author is the author of "A Beautiful Mind" about John Nash and his madness. She is a terrific writer. I read that book too and enjoyed it (I'll add a review here shortly). I also liked the movie, although it was quite different and not as good as the book. While I enjoyed the book, I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would because I have already read quite a bit concerning most of these people. There was little new about Marx. The chapter on Alfred Marshall was very good. I really enjoyed the chapter on the Webb and learned much from them. The role of Keynes was well presented, but without much new material. The material on Hayek was very good and I learned much about his development during and after the war. There are numerous tidbits to enjoy and large bunches of memorable stories - such as how Milton Friedman developed the US government's payroll tax scheme -- which is at odds with his later positions on the role of government in the economy. The material on Schumpeter was interesting concerning his pre-economist days but is not as informative about his classic works. The Samuelson chapter was also good, especially in how he came to write his famous introductory economics text. If you have not read much about 19th and 20th century economic history and economists, this is a good volume to start with. It had less materials than I had hoped to engage readers with more background in this material. Compared with Justin Fox's "Myth of the Rational Market", which is also a more popularly oriented book, it comes across as a bit too general. It was a quick read and I did not feel I had wasted my time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Economics Through the Lens of Personality: An Accessible History Its well known that Thomas Carlyle, a 19th century British historian, is credited with first calling economics the dismal science. Whats much less widely appreciated is that this derogatory label was well justified when he set the phrase down on paper in 1849. Until well into the 19th century, as Sylvia Nasar shows so clearly in Grand Pursuit, economics was, indeed, dismal. The gloomy predictions of Thomas Malthus dominated Economics Through the Lens of Personality: An Accessible History It’s well known that Thomas Carlyle, a 19th century British historian, is credited with first calling economics “the dismal science.” What’s much less widely appreciated is that this derogatory label was well justified when he set the phrase down on paper in 1849. Until well into the 19th century, as Sylvia Nasar shows so clearly in Grand Pursuit, economics was, indeed, dismal. The gloomy predictions of Thomas Malthus dominated discussions about the economy, and then Charles Dickens and other social reformers got into the act in mid-century, decrying the deplorable conditions of the poor and the heartless assumption that their lot could never improve. Karl Marx, writing in the same era, differed only in that he asserted their lives would be better only after a revolution because capitalism would never refrain from rank exploitation. It was only in the 1880s that economics, gradually coming into its own as a field of study, came to view the economy not as static but as a dynamic process that evolved as the productivity of labor increased. An English economist named Alfred Marshall set out to understand the field in this new way but never succeeded in his quest. He “discovered that an ingenious mechanism of competition encouraged business owners to make constant, incremental improvements in productivity that accumulated over time and, simultaneously, compelled them to spread the gains in the form of higher wages or lower prices.” Marshall’s thinking held sway for many years. Then, in the following decade, there emerged a remarkable figure who moved the center of gravity in the discussion far to the left: a woman named Beatrice Webb. Of all the brilliant men and women Nasar portrays in Grand Pursuit, Beatrice Webb is clearly her favorite. Born Beatrice Potter, one of nine sisters, she was brilliant, beautiful, and wealthy. She joined the Fabian Socialist circle whose stars were Sidney Webb and H.G. Wells, eventually marrying Sidney, a gnomish little man who seems to have taken his place in her shadow. Working from a Marxist perspective, Beatrice invented the concept of the welfare state, Marx’s own disdain for the idea notwithstanding. She “showed that destitution was preventable and that providing education, sanitation, food, medical, and other forms of in-kind assistance would increase private sector productivity and wages more than taxing would decrease it.” The Webbs and Wells also cofounded the London School of Economics. The next major figure in Nasar’s account was Irving Fisher, an American economist who held forth at Yale for decades, lionized by his peers and the public alike. Fisher “was the first to realize how powerfully money affected the real economy and to make the case that government could increase economic stability by managing money better. By pinpointing a single common cause for the seemingly opposite ills of inflation and deflation, he identified a potential instrument — control of the money supply — that government could use to moderate or even avoid inflationary booms or deflationary depressions.” However, brilliant though Fisher undoubtedly was, it was he who famously proclaimed, just three days before the crash in October 1929, “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” Fisher lost a fortune he’d blithely invested on margin in stocks. Nasar focuses next on the Austrian school, dwelling largely on the ups and downs of Joseph Schumpeter’s career. Friedrich Hayek, the darling of the Right, receives less attention. His views remained only briefly in vogue and have apparently been greatly misunderstood by the latter-day “conservatives” who profess to sit at his feet (and whom Hayek himself despised). Schumpeter was more influential, serving for a time as Minister of Finance in the post-World War I Austrian government and occupying key academic positions in Great Britain and the United States. He “focused on the human element. For him, development depended primarily on entrepreneurship . . . In contrast to Marx’s automaton capitalist . . ., the entrepreneur distinguished himself by a willingness to ‘destroy old patterns of thought and action’ and redeploy existing resources in new ways.” Echoes of Schumpeter’s thinking continue to feature prominently in contemporary economic discussions. Nasar devotes considerable attention to John Maynard Keynes, who was by all accounts the dominant figure in world economics for decades. She dismisses the notion that Keynes’ contribution was to advnace the concept of deficit spending. “Beatrice Webb, Winston Churchill, and Herbert Hoover had all embraced deficit spending before Keynes,” she writes. In fact, the principal reason why his General Theory of Economics represented such a major advance for the field ”was Keynes’ proof that it was possible for a free market economy to settle into states in which workers and machines remained idle for prolonged periods of time — that there were depressions that, unlike the garden-variety ones, were not brief and didn’t end of their own accord as a result of falling prices and interest rates.” Keynes argued that monetary policy — increasing or decreasing the money supply — wasn’t sufficient. Fiscal policy changes were required: “cutting taxes and letting bsinesses and individuals keep more of their income so that they could spend it. Or, better yet, having the government spend more money directly, since that would guarantee that 100 percent of it would be spent rather than saved.” More recent economic icons such as Joan Robinson (Keynes’ Communist protege) and Milton Friedman figure in Nasar’s account of developments in the field after Keynes. However, she reserves her most respectful treatment for the brilliant Indian economic thinker, Amartya Sen. Born in Dhaka in 1933 in what is today Bangladesh, Sen holds an endowed chair at Harvard. Much of his work — and a major reason why he won the Nobel in economics in 1998 — concerns the technical concept of “social choice,” which I find abstract, confusing, and purely of academic interest. But Sen’s widely quoted studies of the causes of famine are anything but abstract, and his concern for the poor distinguishes his ethical approach to economics. Of all those described at length in Grand Pursuit, Sen is the only one still living. Sylvia Nasar, an econ0mist herself, previously wrote A Beautiful Mind, a biography of the extraordinary mathematician John Nash. Grand Pusuit is a worthy successor to A Beautiful Mind, as it is to Robert Heilbroner’s similar effort, The Worldly Philosophers, now a classic which I recall reading as a teenager. (From www.malwarwickonbooks.com)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tam

    My friend is absolutely right on many problems of this book - the lack of real analysis, pretty obvious and horrible biases, etc. "...the author just skims through the whole thing, telling us what the general population chose to remember about each economist." But I guess her complaint here is exactly the point of the book. It simply wants to introduce what the author thinks we (general pop) would want to know about these men and women. And I decide to continue reading because of the same My friend is absolutely right on many problems of this book - the lack of real analysis, pretty obvious and horrible biases, etc. "...the author just skims through the whole thing, telling us what the general population chose to remember about each economist." But I guess her complaint here is exactly the point of the book. It simply wants to introduce what the author thinks we (general pop) would want to know about these men and women. And I decide to continue reading because of the same reason. One thing that initially held my interest is the "big argument" put forward by the author. I guess she tries to show the transition from the age of helplessness, of fate and predetermination, to the age of self-improvement, control of one's circumstances (thus "Grand Pursuit"). Still, she completely 'forgets' to examine the former period, keeps talking superficially about the latter, and thus making the comparison-argument very disappointing. Connections and development of different ideas, schools of thoughts are no where to be found. I don't see how the world is built up and up but only its fragments. And sometimes I get irritated by how wordy the book is. If you want deeper knowledge of these economic thoughts, it is important to find another book. I am already looking at other materials to complete my understanding. Still Grand Pursuit, for me, is an ok glimpse of these economists. There are certain little details of these economists' lives that I appreciate, especially in the first half of the book. And... I cannot help imagining that society of intellectuals... That time period sounds more exciting than ever. [I have personal issues, just like in Midnight in Paris if anyone knows this film] 2 stars

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    Sylvia Nasar has written a brilliant and very interesting book about economic history from Marx to the present. A Grand Pursuit is about two concerns (1) what do we do with the poor? and (2) how do we deal with the ups and downs of the economy that cause such disruption in the world? Both topics are front and center in our present situation. Nasar deals with these questions by telling about people, like Marx, Beatrice (NOT Beatrix) Potter Webb, Schumpeter, Hayek, and most especially Maynard Sylvia Nasar has written a brilliant and very interesting book about economic history from Marx to the present. A Grand Pursuit is about two concerns (1) what do we do with the poor? and (2) how do we deal with the ups and downs of the economy that cause such disruption in the world? Both topics are front and center in our present situation. Nasar deals with these questions by telling about people, like Marx, Beatrice (NOT Beatrix) Potter Webb, Schumpeter, Hayek, and most especially Maynard Keynes. She tells about their lives and how they worked to find answers to these questions. It's a tribute to the book that Nasar keeps things pretty even between liberal and conservative ideas, except that she can't help expressing her disdain for Karl Marx. Beatrice Potter was particularly interesting; I didn't realize she and her husband Sidney were the "inventors" (for lack of a better word) of the modern "cradle to grave" welfare state which is in evidence in Britain, indeed most of Europe, today. I can find only minor points to disagree with. She didn't spend as much time on Milton Friedman (one of my favorites) as I would like, and she spent too much time Joan Robinson and a chapter on Amyarta Sen, mostly, I suspect, as a nod to "diversity." I've done quite a bit of reading in economic history and I have never found a history so compelling. If you want to understand how we got to our present economic situation, and the differences between the two ways of thinking about how to solve our current economic mess, this book will be enlightening. Yes, and interesting.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    This is hands down the finest book on the actual study of economics that I have ever read. It is a layperson's book. It puts things in perspective. It lays the groundwork to understand when people go on about Keynesianism and Milton Friedman and Monetism and explains who thought up what and who's done what in whose name and lays out the basic principles of everyone and does a wonderful jo of justifying the actual study of economics - important, since there are a lot of haters and Economists have This is hands down the finest book on the actual study of economics that I have ever read. It is a layperson's book. It puts things in perspective. It lays the groundwork to understand when people go on about Keynesianism and Milton Friedman and Monetism and explains who thought up what and who's done what in whose name and lays out the basic principles of everyone and does a wonderful jo of justifying the actual study of economics - important, since there are a lot of haters and Economists have made a lot of mistakes in the past. It's a daunting book, not short, and sometimes goes too far into who was raised where and went to what school and has lots of color that is mildly interesting but often irrelevant, but it spins a damn fine yarn, and taught me more about economics than I have learned in the past 20 years since I got my undergrad econ degree. It's a book for the curious, patient, interested layperson. If you want to hold your own in a dinner conversation about Schumpeter, Hakek or Marshall, or not sound like a complete tool when you talk about economic policy and politics, read this book. Please.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Beale Stainton

    This is a book that has sat on my shelf for the last year or so and only comes down whenever I cant think of anything else to do, so to say, Ill dip into any one of these sumptuously written details of the most influential economic theorists at the point of reckoning for each in their brilliant careers. This is how this book should be read. Dont attempt it from beginning to end, like trying to eat a box of chocolate in one sitting. Instead take your time with each chapter. Three things about the This is a book that has sat on my shelf for the last year or so and only comes down whenever I can’t think of anything else to do, so to say, I’ll dip into any one of these sumptuously written details of the most influential economic theorists at the point of reckoning for each in their brilliant careers. This is how this book should be read. Don’t attempt it from beginning to end, like trying to eat a box of chocolate in one sitting. Instead take your time with each chapter. Three things about the author that amaze me. 1. Research - how did she know Hoover was walking down a Paris street and bumped into Keynes (just endless details like these that fill every paragraph). How did she depict the character of Schumpeter so exactly? I feel as if I know the guy now. 2. Writing - for a book that could appear to be a dry neoliberal argument and nothing more, it’s actually a very finely crafted piece of writing in its own right. I obviously need to read more of what Sylvia Nasar has written. I almost felt, in parts, especially the descriptions of luxurious European buildings and enviously cultured elites, that I could have been listening to the meticulous literary voice of Ian MacEwan. 3. Biography - obviously, she excels at the fine art of biography. Economists and mathematicians. Creative individual genius. Flawlessly detailed writing. Like Ayn Rand. But in pursuit of biography rather than fiction - but then again, where do you draw the line?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    At it best, this book offers illuminating explanations of a wide variety of economic ideas. At its worst it dives into the most boring trivialities. Nasar thinks it's more important or interesting to describe Beatrice Potters love life than to engage with her ideas. Half of all the quotations Nasar picks are utterly irrelevant for the overarching storyline. One could say that Nasar gives convincing sketches of the contexts from which these thinkers arise, but I don't agree with this. There are At it best, this book offers illuminating explanations of a wide variety of economic ideas. At its worst it dives into the most boring trivialities. Nasar thinks it's more important or interesting to describe Beatrice Potters love life than to engage with her ideas. Half of all the quotations Nasar picks are utterly irrelevant for the overarching storyline. One could say that Nasar gives convincing sketches of the contexts from which these thinkers arise, but I don't agree with this. There are exceptions to this rule. Nasar manages to explain the economic doctrines of the better-known theorists, such as Keynes (unemployment/inflation), Schumpeter (the business cycle and innovation) and Sen (critique on the utilitaristic premises of economics), and has to say some interesting thing or two about the more forgotten figures such as Joan Robinson ('Stalins trophy intellectual') and Richard Kahn (came up with the idea of the so-called 'Keynesian multiplier'). Some chapters read as downright character assassinations and the references to literary passages, undoubtly intended as mere illustrations, are so artificially written that they only annoy the reader. This book could have been great, but instead the author decided to 'impress' her readers with Victorian intrigues and an overload of uninteresting biographical details. However: the research is sound. The main thesis of the book is that by having applied clever macro-economic policies, by adjusting refined instruments, the general material well-being of humankind has been improved. This stands in contrast with the Malthusian view of cyclical death and despair, caused by overpopulation and the treatment of economics as 'the dismal science'. Real wages can be raised by education, crusades against unemployment, monetary management, advancing human rights, etc. The other side of the medal is that radical ideas and policies are excluded from Nasars framework, following the arguments from Fukuyama and his followers. The Fukuyama-influence is tangible in this work, although he's never mentioned. According to Nasar, the capitalistic modes of production are the only ones that can improve the conditions of living. We know this, according to the subtext of this book, since alternative systems, such as in communistic China and the Soviet-Union, have failed and didn't deliver. Forced collectivisations under Mao led to the atrocious famines, planning in the Soviet-Union led to a sharp decrease in productivity in the agricultural sector and scarcity among some classes. Nasar writes with a scientifical mindset: if economic theories prove to be incorrect, incomplete or vague, then they have to be shaped to the new surrounding realities. Marx, for example, is dismissed with the observation that real wages don't necessary have to fall under the reign of the bourgeoisie that strives to minimize costs (rent, labour, materials) and maximize gains (profits). In this regard it becomes clear why she chose for this set of thinkers: they all have written about favourable climates for investments, entrepeneurship and businesses. The question remains whether Nasar succeeds in her mission. Is thinking about alternative systems not necessary to keep capitalism vital and limit the unwanted social effects? A lot of authors she hails as 'economic geniuses' are themselves influenced by more radical theories. In my opinion, Nasars mind is a bit too closed. We need to come up with new models and new ideas and in unconventional times like these, unconventional approaches maybe can open new perspectives on the seemingly universal themes, such as scarcity, trade and production.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christian Dibblee

    This is a tough book to review. On the one hand, I immensely enjoyed learning about the various thinkers that Nasar brings to that table. I had vague recollections of Alfred Marshall and Paul Samuelson from my college classes, but truly knew nothing about Joseph Schumpeter coming in. Nasar certainly helps provide an accessible entry into the economic history world. That said, this is a book that was almost doomed to meet its expectations or thesis. The economic thinkers, while all important This is a tough book to review. On the one hand, I immensely enjoyed learning about the various thinkers that Nasar brings to that table. I had vague recollections of Alfred Marshall and Paul Samuelson from my college classes, but truly knew nothing about Joseph Schumpeter coming in. Nasar certainly helps provide an accessible entry into the economic history world. That said, this is a book that was almost doomed to meet its expectations or thesis. The economic thinkers, while all important (though Joan Robinson makes no sense to include), were picked arbitrarily. A true popular book about economic history cannot ignore Adam Smith or Malthus in the way Nasar does. Similarly, the premise is that a collection of intellectuals through the years were able to determine that man could escape what seemed like an inevitable condition. Nasar makes it a point of human pride that these thinkers have gotten us this far. They certainly have, but there is plenty more to be done, and in the end Nasar ties to end on a point of hope but it all turns into muddle. I found myself thinking more about Joan Robinson's strange embrace of Communism than Sen's emphasis on "well-being" as having some non-economic factors. In that sense too, Nasar's unwillingness to be hemmed in chronologically hurts the book a little bit, since I found myself struggling to remember economic conditions (like post-WWI) that were mentioned in a previous chapter, even though those conditions apply to the current thinker's chapter. In the end, each economist here deserves their own biography. And that's where Nasar excels: her discussion of their personal stories is well told, even if occasionally she places more emphasis there than on the actual economics. A good book, but one I think could be replaced on the bookshelf for economic history.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    In the era of huge national deficits and concerns over a balanced budget, Ms. Nasars book couldnt be more timely. Grand Pursuit, is the story of the science of economics and how the human race has benefited (and suffered) as a result of the beliefs concerning government actions and its effects. The book opens in the year 1842 in Charles Dickens London. Dickens himself set out to awaken mens souls to the hardships of the working class in the hopes that something would be done to ease their In the era of huge national deficits and concerns over a balanced budget, Ms. Nasar’s book couldn’t be more timely. Grand Pursuit, is the story of the science of economics – and how the human race has benefited (and suffered) as a result of the beliefs concerning government actions and its effects. The book opens in the year 1842 in Charles Dickens’ London. Dickens himself set out to awaken men’s souls to the hardships of the working class in the hopes that something would be done to ease their plight. Nasar shows us how two schools of thought (socialism and capitalism) emerged and how, over time, they were tweaked and molded to serve various countries’ interests. Nasar’s writing style is simply wonderful. She takes on the history of a science and makes a fascinating story out of it. Not only does she have a mastery of the subject, her research on the time periods she covers is so thorough, it enables her to connect people. places and events in a compelling and readable manner. One thing that came across in Grand Pursuit was how reactionary the application of the science has been throughout history. In my opinion, the problem with this is that our system is so complex, those that seek to influence the direction of an economy must be aware of all the variables in place (a virtual impossibility) before taking action. At best, we can hope that our lawmakers and fiscal policy setters have a real understanding of economics before they fiddle with anything. Seeing our legislators appeal to the public for approval on budget cuts or tax increases, makes me doubtful that they have such an understanding (because the public, certainly does not). Perhaps Grand Pursuit will become required reading in high school. One can only hope…

  12. 4 out of 5

    Austin Larson

    This history of economics takes the structure of serial and overlapping biographies of the most important thinkers since the mid-1800s. She starts with Dickens' descriptions of Victorian London, including the Malthusian view that 9/10ths of the population would indefinitely live in abject poverty. The book is broken into three sections - leading up to world war one, the two world wars and the period since world war 2. The strongest section of the book, by far, is the middle one. She focuses on This history of economics takes the structure of serial and overlapping biographies of the most important thinkers since the mid-1800s. She starts with Dickens' descriptions of Victorian London, including the Malthusian view that 9/10ths of the population would indefinitely live in abject poverty. The book is broken into three sections - leading up to world war one, the two world wars and the period since world war 2. The strongest section of the book, by far, is the middle one. She focuses on Keynes and Hayek. Surprisingly for me, their disagreements were relatively minor and they had significant respect for each other's ideas. With the recent debate over the role of stimulus in the Great Recession - with Democrats backing Keynesian principles and Republicans backing Hayekian ideas - it's easy to lose sight of the fact that, taking the long view, they were both strong proponents of the free market, social freedoms and economic progress. One of the values of this book for me was realizing how little disagreement there is on the basic principles of economics presently as compared to the past.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kritajnya Raghunathan

    Quite an interesting read. The title misleads one into thinking that this book is purely about economic history but in actuality, it provides a rich account of the lives of various economists and the circumstances which led them to invent the various theories which they did. Rather than being a black and white account which most economic narratives tend to be, the book triumphantly elucidates on the importance which political circumstances had on economists and on how politics has played a major Quite an interesting read. The title misleads one into thinking that this book is purely about economic history but in actuality, it provides a rich account of the lives of various economists and the circumstances which led them to invent the various theories which they did. Rather than being a black and white account which most economic narratives tend to be, the book triumphantly elucidates on the importance which political circumstances had on economists and on how politics has played a major role in shaping economic thought.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Annita

    A book on economics which begins with Jane Austen and Charles Dickens has this reader's attention. Page 64 and I'm already engrossed in familiar characters' perspectives as each views economic and political issues from withing the historical time and environment each lived. At page 64, the reader is introduced to the influences and circumstances of Dickens and Carlyle, Engel and Marx,Malthus, Kant, Mayhew, John Stewart Mill, Sidgwick, Keynes and Marshall.

  15. 5 out of 5

    alana Semuels

    I reviewed this book for the LA Times. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    I had shelved this recently but decided to bump it up to the top of the list because I was looking for a history of economic thought that put Marx in context. The first chapter did that fairly well, and also was just so well written, layering biography, economic and cultural context, and economic theory so elegantly that I was drawn to finish the whole book. Starting with Marx, it tracks the history of macroeconomics in Europe and the United States from shortly after the beginning of the I had shelved this recently but decided to bump it up to the top of the list because I was looking for a history of economic thought that put Marx in context. The first chapter did that fairly well, and also was just so well written, layering biography, economic and cultural context, and economic theory so elegantly that I was drawn to finish the whole book. Starting with Marx, it tracks the history of macroeconomics in Europe and the United States from shortly after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to aftermath of World War II. Rather than telling the story directly, though, Nasar shows it through its effects on major economic thinkers, both intellectually and personally. As someone who has learned economics through a few theory courses, a lot of the intellectual history here was totally new to me. I knew of the thinkers in the Austrian school by their tainted association with contemporary libertarians, for instance, but didn't really know anything about their lives or ideas. At least a quarter of the characters featured I had never heard of at all. The combination of economic and intellectual biography was generally very interesting; it isn't anything so simple as to say that people who lived through certain calamities were motivated to learn how they can be counteracted, though that is certainly a part of it. What was more interesting to me was just to get the perspective of someone who doesn't have modern concepts looking at unpredicted developments as they unfolded. Economics is a unique science, far more theoretically quantitative and richly supplied with data than most historical (ie, non-experimental) sciences, but undermined by political bias and the changing of the ground beneath its feet. The economic genius of the title produced a few theorems that read like they almost go without saying to modern readers and a whole raft of mutually contradictory ideas that haven't been resolved to this day. This trait of the subject matter makes it somewhat difficult to stay on top of the thread. Nasar does an admirable job trying to explain the theories her protagonists propose as well as placing them in a larger context, but her inability to pass judgment on a lot of them, or the sense that her judgment is very much not conclusive, can be slightly confusing. Once again, this is probably a book I would have learned more from if I had done a good review of macroeconomics first. It made me wish for a companion piece that treated the debates themselves over time. Starting with Marx signals the book's unsurprising preoccupation with the debate between capitalism and socialism or communism. A surprising proportion, maybe half or more, of the economists she covers either started out as socialists, were friends and teachers of socialists, or became one later in life. There is a strange, unaddressed dichotomy in how the book treats socialism and poverty. Nasar makes no secret of her support of the notion that economic development was the key to eliminating extreme poverty. And many of especially the earlier thinkers in Industrial Revolution era Britain, are discussed in early in light of their application of economic theory to eliminating poverty. But that concern fades into the background during the early 20th century, as macroeconomic factors like depressions and monetary policy and foreign-exchange take the fore. During those chapters, it seems everyone chiefly focused on eliminating poverty becomes a socialist or a communist. Not that macroeconomics doesn't affect poverty, of course, but it kind of feels like everyone else left the field of economic inquiry. The conclusion of the book comes down strong in favor of government intervention in the economy, lionizing the early founders of the welfare state as well as advocating ongoing management to prevent the worst depressions and failures of growth. My question I guess is just whether the clear implication that socialist and communist economists didn't contribute to our understanding of economies is a matter of definition or ideology. It really seems like Marx put leftist economic policy on a permanently bad footing, and no amount of brilliant converts from market economics were able to rescue it. I understand the question is controversial, and she is certainly unstinting in her disdain for Stalin's economic policies, but I would have appreciated Nasar just coming out and saying that socialism doesn't have a coherent alternative understanding of economic science and in her terms all of the government interventions we now consider socialist are only meaningfully understood (to the extent anything in econ is) by market economics.

  17. 4 out of 5

    adam

    This Grand Economic Puzzle is Incomplete Silvia Nasar embarked on an ambitious journey to capture 160 years of economic history -- it's leading men and women, it's major successes, setbacks, influences, and impacts -- into a compelling set of standalone stories. She succeeds in assembling a meticulously researched book spanning Marx's days toiling in London's libraries to Keynes and Schumpeter trying to revive Europe's economy after WW I to Keynes trying to save the world's economy after WW II to This Grand Economic Puzzle is Incomplete Silvia Nasar embarked on an ambitious journey to capture 160 years of economic history -- it's leading men and women, it's major successes, setbacks, influences, and impacts -- into a compelling set of standalone stories. She succeeds in assembling a meticulously researched book spanning Marx's days toiling in London's libraries to Keynes and Schumpeter trying to revive Europe's economy after WW I to Keynes trying to save the world's economy after WW II to Fischer, Webb, Hayek, and a handful of modern figures. Nasar delved into the deepend, reading just about everything she could about these men and women -- their academic papers, biographies, coorespondances -- to reconstruct what they were doing and thinking at pivotal times in their lives as economists. With such first-hand sources and a keen eye for pulling out the most revealing stories, quotes, passages, Nasar could have put together a brilliant history of modern economics that could enlighten us all about the choices our governments and industries make. Instead, this book comes off as an incomplete puzzle: many of the important peices are presented, but they're not put together -- the synthesis of making the whole greater than the sum of the parts fails. The connections between the stories, the meaning and themes, are left for the reader to discover. This is unfortunate because Nasar brings us so far, but then she stops. For example, there's a fantastically rich introduction on the rise of modern economics in terms of fictional accounts that sets the stage, but by the end, the conclusion falls flat -- no stories, no themes, no morals, no resolutions. This book progresses from detail and stories -- long-winded asides abound when learning about Marx, Engels, and Marshall -- and, by the end, it gets sloppier and more abrupt. This book needed a middle ground: great, colorful, succinct prose with clear, purpose-driven synthesis. In summary, I enjoyed much of this book, but I was left wanting for much more in some places and much less on others.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brien

    Nasar explores economic notions and the personalities behind them. Her selection of personalities is somewhat eclectic, leading some critics to complain that she missed elements of the story. What she did instead was convert dismal science into compelling biography, and I say hooray! Her overarching themes--Hope, Fear and Confidence now cry out for a sequel: Hubris, which could be exemplified by contemporary folks like Robert Rubin, Tim Geitner, Paul Ryan, Steve Mnuchin, and many other Nasar explores economic notions and the personalities behind them. Her selection of personalities is somewhat eclectic, leading some critics to complain that she missed elements of the story. What she did instead was convert dismal science into compelling biography, and I say hooray! Her overarching themes--Hope, Fear and Confidence now cry out for a sequel: Hubris, which could be exemplified by contemporary folks like Robert Rubin, Tim Geitner, Paul Ryan, Steve Mnuchin, and many other plutocrats, although these politician/financiers are not serious economists so much as greedy plutocrats. Sorry for the tangent. This book holds up well to Robert Heilbroner's masterpiece of economic biography, The Worldly Philosophers.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chris Bartholomew

    Possibly mistitled this book did not seem to be so much about a grand idea but rather the stories of leading economists in the era following the Great Depression. I enjoyed it while at the same time have little interest in economics itself. The big idea that I walked away with was the ways that economists viewed statistics to create new and better economic models that are used to steer economies from the wild swings that great booms and busts. That seemed to fit into my own ideas of ways of Possibly mistitled this book did not seem to be so much about a grand idea but rather the stories of leading economists in the era following the Great Depression. I enjoyed it while at the same time have little interest in economics itself. The big idea that I walked away with was the ways that economists viewed statistics to create new and better economic models that are used to steer economies from the wild swings that great booms and busts. That seemed to fit into my own ideas of ways of viewing what is important in life both financial and otherwise.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Praveen Kishore

    A superb book about modern economist and economics. Sylvia not only tells stories of Marx and Marshall, Beatrice and Joan, Schumpeter and Keynes, Hayek and Fisher, and Friedman and Sen, but also illuminates various historical and theoretical development in an engaging style, flowing prose and elegant style. A must read!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Willis

    Really a history of the last couple hundred years from the perspective of the individuals who had different competing ideas. It will help you understand what Keynesian economics really is in comparison to other economic theories.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy Daher

    Solid economic history. Interesting and entertaining.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gustavo

    Great book. It contains lots of details regarding the lives of men and women that had an enormous impact on modern Economics.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Guifré B.

    In short: One of the best economic books ever read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Converse

    Sylvia Nasar starts her history of economic thought unconventionally, with British author Charles Dickens and his story A Christmas Carol. Her point is that Britain in the 1840s is one of the earliest times and places in which the extreme poverty of the majority no longer seemed to be permanent. Earlier economists, such as Thomas Malthus, thought that the poverty of the majority was inevitable, as birth rates adjusted to economic circumstances to keep the majority very poor. Nasar is to be Sylvia Nasar starts her history of economic thought unconventionally, with British author Charles Dickens and his story A Christmas Carol. Her point is that Britain in the 1840s is one of the earliest times and places in which the extreme poverty of the majority no longer seemed to be permanent. Earlier economists, such as Thomas Malthus, thought that the poverty of the majority was inevitable, as birth rates adjusted to economic circumstances to keep the majority very poor. Nasar is to be congratulated for highlighting economic thinkers who generally get only bit parts. She covers both their thought and their lives. True, the usual suspects, Karl Marx and the early twentieth century British economist John Maynard Keynes, get a good deal of space. But such less celebrated figures such as Keynes' American contemporary, Irving Fisher, the British Fabian socialist Beatrice Webb, and Keynes' British contemporary Joan Robinson also get substantial coverage. Other figures that are usually discussed, such as Keynes' teacher Alfred Marshall and his Austrian contemporaries Friedrich Hayek and Joseph Schumpeter are discussed in greater depth than is usual. The Americans Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson get some coverage with regard to their government roles during the Second World War. Nasar ends with a discussion of Amartya Sen, a present day economist from India, who has written extensively on the relationship between human rights and economic welfare. What all of these figures have in common is a belief that mass poverty was not necessary. They differed on what caused economic growth and what needed to be done to distribute the wealth. Karl Marx thought that economic growth under capitalism resulted from appropriating the "surplus value" of labor, but conceded that capitalism was excellent for production but untenable with regard to the distribution of wealth. Joan Robinson, once she adopted Marxish views, thought that central planning was needed for economic growth in the third world and that human rights had to be sacrificed for growth. Alfred Marshall believed that competition under capitalism resulted in increased productivity. Schumpeter emphasized that economic growth required the destruction of some firms in order to free up resources for more productive enterprises. Consequently, recessions were inevitable. Like Irving Fisher, he pointed out that the gains during the booms outweighed the losses during the busts. Hayek and especially Fisher emphasized the importance of monetary policy in causing depressions and bubbles, a view Keynes first shared and then largely abandoned in his emphasis on consumer demand as the main factor in controlling the level of business activity. During the Second World War, both Friedman and Samuelson were disciples of Keynes, a view Friedman later abandoned in favor of views more similar to those of Fisher's on monetary policy and Hayek's on the need for limited government. The book could have benefited from more editing and some fact checking. As an example of the unclear prose sometimes seen, on page 358, in reference to Keynes role in the British Treasury during the Second World War, Nasar writes that "Neither middle age, celebrity status,nor bad heart had dimmed his impatience with the inefficency of the King's College freshmen or the fury expressed in The Economic Consequences of the Peace." I don't think Keynes was much concerned at the time with efficiency of first-year students at his alma mater; probably what is meant is that Keynes was just as impatient with inefficiency during his old age as he had been when starting college. With regard to factual errors, one example is that on page 384, with reference to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's State of the Union address during 1944, Nasar says that "Congress had a Republican majority, and the president's references to joblessness and hunger did not seem to resonate with millions of Americans gathered around the radio." I checked on Wikipedia, and during the 78th Congress from 1943 to 1945, there were Democratic majorities in both the House (222 Democrats to 209 Republicans, plus 4 Representatives with other affiliations) and Senate (57 Democrats to 38 Republicans and one Senator with a different affiliation). Perhaps what Nasar meant was that there was a bipartisan majority of conservatives, which I have read was the case. The editiorial problems can make the text hard to follow, while the factual mistakes may undermine a reader's faith in the author's conclusions. Despite these problems, I emjoyed the book and thought I learned something.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Vishaka Datta

    Sylvia Nasar takes you through the "long run" history of economics, most notably the men and women who made great strides in it, stretching from the days of Marx in 1840s Europe and concluding with Amartya Sen in modern day India. I felt that the book begins to really meander and turns a tad incoherent with the post WWII history, and hence the three stars. But it really does start with a bang. All the economics debates today, no matter how polarised their opponents may be, all agree on one basic Sylvia Nasar takes you through the "long run" history of economics, most notably the men and women who made great strides in it, stretching from the days of Marx in 1840s Europe and concluding with Amartya Sen in modern day India. I felt that the book begins to really meander and turns a tad incoherent with the post WWII history, and hence the three stars. But it really does start with a bang. All the economics debates today, no matter how polarised their opponents may be, all agree on one basic premise - that we are masters of our own economic fate. Nasar does a fantastic job reminding us of a time in the not-so-distant past (pre 1840s) when political thinkers believed that the wages and living standards of the masses are products of fate and forces beyond our control. In her pre 1840s account, she does skip out a few major economic and political thinkers, most notably Adam Smith. But perhaps, one could argue that Smith's Invisible Hand idea can be shoe-horned into the notion of the existence of an economic force beyond human invervention. The first part of the book, or first act as Nasar calls it, covers the evolution of economic thought from Marx to pre-WWI. In the process, Nasar goes over the life and work of Marx, Marshall, the Webbs, Fisher and Keynes. This part of the book is the most beautifully written. Not overburdened with facts, Nasar consistently adds more frames to the movie of economic evolution at a perfect pace. The gradual wresting of economic destiny from higher powers to the hands of mankind is dramatically and poignantly portrayed. Fisher and Keynes are introduced quite wonderfully into this picture. I personally admire both these men for the sheer volume of writings and ideas they spun out during their careers. Both men led colourful lives, and Nasar captures those colours in all their glory. While Marshall and earlier thinkers reminded us of our control over our economic fates, Keynes and Fisher played a huge role in shaping our understanding of how to work the economic machine. The detailed descriptions of Keynes and Fisher's economic thought is in contrast to the descriptions of Schumpeter and Hayek. While their life histories are charted out quite well, along with the academic, political and personal struggles, I felt much of their economic ideology didn't gain as much of the writer's spotlight. It's a shame really, considering that Schumpeter's notion of a country's development not being beholden to it's natural endowment of resources is a particularly powerful one that deserves far more harping upon than it gets. I was hoping to learn more about the Austrian economic school. While they have been decidedly out of the mainstream school, and arguably didn't influence much of the economics that is taught today, they were certainly spot on about certain things. For instance, the idea that central bank intervention distorts investment decisions in a negative way is certainly borne out by historical evidence of "easy money" blowing speculative asset bubbles. But of course, the Austrian schoolers go much further with their libertarian urges than this idea. Post WWII is where the book begins to lose steam. I can certainly understand the shorter amount of space dedicated to this section since it's been covered at length by many other authors. But nonetheless, the organization of chapters and timelines is rather confusing. It often becomes hard to place people and their opinions alongside the major historical events unfolding in each chapter. I was excited to learn about Joan Robinson, but the split of her life history between the pre and post WWII sections meant that I couldn't keep track of who her acquaintances and allies were over time. Most of all, the coverage of the British politicians' stance on economic policy immediately post WWII is compressed into about a page and half, and makes for very confusing reading. It's a shame that Nasar skips out the stagflation of the 1970s and the rise of the neo-liberal era. She certainly is very well equipped to place the rise of these ideas perfectly into her grand portrait of economic evolution. The collapse of Bretton woods, the rise of state-led intervention in Asian economies, the new debates on the nature of the welfare state would have been great to read from Nasar. All in all, I'd still highly recommend this book for the clarity and prose of the first two sections of the book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paul Frandano

    Uneven but agreeable reading, a kind of disjointed one-thing-I-thought-to-mention-after-another narrative that nevertheless focuses on the big shots, Marshall, Fisher, Schumpeter, and Keynes - sometimes in a very forced way - as a structural spine, with several species of "seven dwarfs" to flesh out the diversity profile. The inclusion of Joan Robinson and Amartya Sen didn't do much for me and weakened the final quarter of the story in a kind of gradual, needless dissipation of the book's Uneven but agreeable reading, a kind of disjointed one-thing-I-thought-to-mention-after-another narrative that nevertheless focuses on the big shots, Marshall, Fisher, Schumpeter, and Keynes - sometimes in a very forced way - as a structural spine, with several species of "seven dwarfs" to flesh out the diversity profile. The inclusion of Joan Robinson and Amartya Sen didn't do much for me and weakened the final quarter of the story in a kind of gradual, needless dissipation of the book's eponymous journey: it's as though Nasar, feeling the ground shift under her feet, didn't have a fitting way to wrap up and simply packed the whole thing off to Penguin to let the publisher sort it all out. Not what I'd have expected from a prof at the high-powered Journalism School at Columbia. Even as I recognize each time must inevitably write its own histories, I felt Nasar's point of view was simply too heavily redundantly, however implicitly, contemporary in its intent to expose the hypocrisies of contemporary economic ideologues, particularly on the right (which, admittedly, very profoundly need to be exposed), by pointing out every instance in which, upon reflection, a Milton Friedman or a Friedrich Hayek behaved in a manner that might appall present-day conservatives--e.g., Friedman as one of the fathers of the US social safety net during a short stint at Treasury in the 1940s, or Hayek as despising the moneyed conservatives who vaunted his principles and as observing, at several points in his life, that he "agreed with everything you" - that is, Maynard Keynes - "have written" and remained his friend until MK's untimely death. (Keynes reciprocated by endorsing The Road to Serfdom and nominating Hayek for membership in the British Academy.) She lays this kind of thing on with a trowel, in evident delight, and it leads me to wonder if everything she says is there...is actually there, and not some footnote into which she stuck a pressurized air hose. I'd feel a lot more comfortable with her use of sources had she written this book a decade ago (but of course she could not have, and I cannot/will not track all her sources down to the ground). I nevertheless enjoyed the essay-like chapters on the major figures and appreciated learning that Joseph Schumpeter (whose work I cite all too often in some of my own work) was as close to a perfect shit as has ever strode the earth. Keynes we know from Skidelsky, who is quoted so often she should have granted him coauthorship of the Keynes chapters. Fisher and Marshall, however, were before Nasar only names to me (apart from Marshall's famous account of the salutary externalities associated with urban agglomeration), and I'm consequently grateful for her bringing these men to life for me and for relatively clear, albeit sometimes too brief, descriptions of their contributions. Now I'm going to return to Heilbroner, last read as an undergraduate, to see if he remains as enjoyable as he was way, way back then. (And, should you have noticed - and, more important, should you actually give a damn - neither Nasar's title nor her subtitle contains an indefinite article. GoodReads screwed this up twice: it's "Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius.")

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anne Payne

    Ever wonder how the personalities, lives and loves of economists influenced modern economic theory and practice? Me either, but reading Sylvia Nasar's "Grand Pursuit" lets me enjoy some very human life stories while upping my economic savvy. The narrative scaffolding is ambitious: the economic history of the industrial world into which Nasar weaves mini-biographies of influential economists. The underlying thesis is that modern economic understanding is a means to get and keep humanity out of Ever wonder how the personalities, lives and loves of economists influenced modern economic theory and practice? Me either, but reading Sylvia Nasar's "Grand Pursuit" lets me enjoy some very human life stories while upping my economic savvy. The narrative scaffolding is ambitious: the economic history of the industrial world into which Nasar weaves mini-biographies of influential economists. The underlying thesis is that modern economic understanding is a means to get and keep humanity out of grinding poverty, hence the grandeur of the pursuit. Of course, there was pre-industrial economic theory, think Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. However, those ideas were formed when agriculture was the basis of wealth, and steadily improved conditions for the overall population didn't appear possible. The industrial revolution threw out the old rules and set generations to figuring out how the ever-evolving new rules might work. From roughly 1840, wealth in England, where the first part of "Pursuit" is set, increased at unprecedented rates until 1867 - the year industrial capitalism had its first international bust. In a now-familiar story, speculative greed fed borrowing for ever-more-dubious investments until ... oops. Whether boom-and-bust should be embraced or outwitted, government planning, regulation of international trade, the role of entrepreneurs, mass education, linkage between individual rights and economic success, how economic success relates to war, peace and colonialism are among the subjects economists took on in succeeding decades. Profiles include John Maynard Keynes, Alfred Marshall, Beatrice Webb, Joseph Schumpeter, Joan Robinson, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Some names still resonate and all were famous in their time. Their backgrounds and the complexity of their love lives varied wildly, but passion to understand how the world creates wealth united them. While their prescriptions for economic well-being were as divergent as their personalities, all shaped today's ideas, if only by providing theses to be refuted. With each life rendered, Nasar summarizes the content and the subject's work and its influence. Would Schumpeter not have championed entrepreneurship if he hadn't been a flashy ladies' man? Would Friedman have loved free markets less if he hadn't met and married an opinionated economic conservative of similar short stature? "Pursuit's" variations in pacing and narrative density are distracting, but not enough to devalue an entertaining and thought-provoking read. This review first appeared under this reviewer’s byline in the October 16, 2011 issue of the Florida Times-Union/jacksonville.com.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    Sylvia Nasar has written this book as a PBS series with lots of personal details over intellectual backbone. Smooth writing but no prizes for not taking on the tough issues and ideas. You would think Marx made no contribution whatever to the discussion, quoting Keynes' blunt (and unfair) dismissal as a final judgment. However, there are some good things. She does a good job of conveying Alfred Marshall's claim to fame, having to do with discrediting some of the extreme socialist ridicule of Sylvia Nasar has written this book as a PBS series with lots of personal details over intellectual backbone. Smooth writing but no prizes for not taking on the tough issues and ideas. You would think Marx made no contribution whatever to the discussion, quoting Keynes' blunt (and unfair) dismissal as a final judgment. However, there are some good things. She does a good job of conveying Alfred Marshall's claim to fame, having to do with discrediting some of the extreme socialist ridicule of business productivity and wages while at the same time demolishing Ricardo's so-called Iron Law of Wages. I still think he is wrong, especially today, that business exists for the sake of productivity gains and results in higher wages because more skilled workers are needed. Not true when productivity gains go to the top 10% of business owners without raising wages at all. Not true when businesses become inefficient monopolies. It's not automatic that wages will rise with skills and productivity AT ALL. But the facts then were on his side and not with Marx. Maybe that's because the lowest rung was bare subsistence, and anything in comparison with that was bound to look like progress. Story of Beatrice Potter, aka Mrs. Webb is outlandish and fantastic. I really want to read The Minority Report now that I know that's not just a Philip K Dick title. Keynes was almost a quarter of the book, again focusing more on his life and personality. In all, however, this book has a strong bias against the left and socialism. Continually their views are scorned and treated as naive. There was little about anything post world war two, just a few sketches but no in depth treatment of the post-war recovery, or the stagflation of the 70s, or the most recent financial crises in the 90s and 08. No discussion of Greenspan and his clones and the damage they have wrought. No discussion of the damage Reagan and his disciples did. I think you could write a whole chapter on how politics and ideology has poisoned economics today. Her "blue sky" ending really pissed me off. It is anything but obvious that the system is eternal and she seems blind to objections about growing wealth inequality, falling real wages, and other issues. The crisis of 2008 gets two sentences at the end. So things are better than when Dickens wrote a Christmas Carol...so what????

  30. 5 out of 5

    Saharsha

    Sylvia Nasar has produced an excellent summation of economic thought in the last 200-or-so years. The book's thesis is irredeemably optimistic. Dispelling any notion that economics is a "dismal science," and employing a distinctly Schumpeterian world-view, Nasar argues that economic thought has provided governments with the "instruments of mastery" needed to elevate human welfare. Grand Pursuit is by no means a dry tome. Nasar illuminates the development of new economic ideas by placing them in Sylvia Nasar has produced an excellent summation of economic thought in the last 200-or-so years. The book's thesis is irredeemably optimistic. Dispelling any notion that economics is a "dismal science," and employing a distinctly Schumpeterian world-view, Nasar argues that economic thought has provided governments with the "instruments of mastery" needed to elevate human welfare. Grand Pursuit is by no means a dry tome. Nasar illuminates the development of new economic ideas by placing them in the context of their creator's lives. The work is as much a primer on the history of economic thought as it is a collection of biographies that shed light on the diverse backgrounds and personalities that belonged to great economic minds. Yes, along with a crash course in macroeconomics, you get to read about Joan Robinson's nervous breakdowns, Beatrice Webb's inconceivable level of political clout (which she exercises through her think tank), and Joseph Schumpeter's somewhat sad life. And we haven't even mentioned John Maynard Keynes yet. It's well written, and engrossing–to the point where you sometimes feel like you're reading a scandalous tabloid (Marx was a serial procrastinator! Keynes used public funds to buy art!) in that delicious, conniving sort of way. I would've liked to see Nasar tackle some of the later debates in economics, namely the resurgence of monetarism in the 70s, under the auspices of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. I also feel that Nasar could've taken the work further by cross-applying some of the theoretical debates she mentions (e.g. Keynes vs. Hayek) to contemporary economic circumstances, although I suppose we're expected to do that anyway as we read along. A more detailed discussion of international economics and trade on the macro level also would've been nice. These of course, all would "would haves," and I can still respect the book for what it presents–a neatly packaged, fun introduction to the economist's mission. I will say, however, that occasionally Nasar does not clearly establish the contributions of some of the personalities she writes about. I'm not, for example, exactly sure what Paul Samuelson contributed to the field, aside from a vaguely worded simplification of economic theory. Maybe there's another book (textbook?) for me to read.

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