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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-07-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Nasar's A Beautiful Mind mined a rich dramatic vein in the story of a solitary mathematical genius. Her new work looks to a broad sweep of modern economic history for similar magic—with mixed results. While the author rightly sees a vital and indeed dramatic core to the "dismal science," the narrative can feel desultory at times. Tracing the accompanying rise of economic theory in the development of global capitalism, Nasar's cast of (mostly) famous men and women seeks to tackle the increasingly disconcerting problem of widespread want in the midst of enormous concentrations of wealth. Her chronological narrative emphasizes a key tension between antistatist laissez faire ideas and the logic of the modern welfare state. A final chapter on Indian economist Amartya Sen takes us beyond the West briefly, but the book concentrates overwhelmingly on the centers of capitalist power up through WWII. The attempt to squeeze a good story from her subjects can encourage a lopsided accounting, where Marx, for example, becomes a clownish personal figure whose economic ideas are all the easier to dismiss while the contributions of Alfred Marshall are arguably overemphasized. Historiographically thin, the book serves best as a curiosity-piquing introduction to figures and basic themes in modern economic history rather than a definitive study. (Sept.)