In Universal Man , noted biographer and historian Richard Davenport-Hines revives our understanding of John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), the twentieth century's most charismatic and revolutionary economist. Keynes helped FDR launch the New Deal, saved Britain from financial crisis twice over the course of two World Wars, and instructed Western nations on how to protect themselves from revolutionary unrest, economic instability, high unemployment, and social dissolution. Read more...
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In Universal Man, noted biographer and historian Richard Davenport-Hines revives our understanding of John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), the twentieth century's most charismatic and revolutionary economist. Keynes helped FDR launch the New Deal, saved Britain from financial crisis twice over the course of two World Wars, and instructed Western nations on how to protect themselves from revolutionary unrest, economic instability, high unemployment, and social dissolution. Isaiah Berlin called Keynes "the cleverest man I ever knew"--both "superior and intellectually awe-inspiring." Eric Hobsbawm, the twentieth century's preeminent historian, considered him as influential as Lenin, Stalin, Roosevelt, Hitler, Churchill, Gandhi, and Mao. Keynes was nothing less than the Adam Smith of his time: his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, became the most important economics book of the twentieth century, as important as Smith's Wealth of Nations in inaugurating an economic era. Keynes's brilliant ideas made possible 35 years of prosperity after the Second World War, the most sustained period of rapid expansion in history. And now, and in the wake of the 2008 global economic collapse, he is once again shaping our world. Every day, we are likely to hear about "Keynesian economics" or the "Keynesian Revolution," terms that testify to his continuing influence on both economic theory and government policies. Indeed, with the thorough discrediting of his opponents--Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, and other supporters of the notion that capitalism is self-regulating, and needs no government intervention--nations across the world are turning to Keynes's signature innovations: above all that governments must involve themselves in their economies to stave off financial collapse. Previous biographies have explored Keynes economic thought at great length and often in the jargon of the discipline. Universal Man is the first accessible biography of Keynes, and reveals Keynes as much more than an economist. Like many Englishmen of his class and era, Keynes compartmentalized his life. Accordingly, Davenport-Hines views Keynes through multiple windows, as a youthful prodigy, a powerful government official, an influential public man, a bisexual living in the shadow of Oscar Wilde's persecution, a devotee of the arts, and an international statesman of great renown. Delving into Keynes's experiences and thought, Davenport-Hines shows us a man who was equally at ease socialising with the Bloomsbury Group as he was persuading heads of state to adopt his policies. Exploring the desires and experiences that compelled Keynes to innovate, Davenport-Hines is the first to argue that Keynesian economics has an aesthetic basis. In this book we come to understand not just the most enduringly influential economist of the modern era, but one of the most gifted and vital men of our times: a disciplined logician with a capacity for glee who persuaded people, seduced them, subverted old ideas, and installed new ones; a man whose high brilliance did not give people vertigo, but clarified and lengthened their perspectives. Engaging, learned, and sparkling with wit and insight, Universal Man is the perfect match for its subject.
- ISBN-13: 9780465060672
- ISBN-10: 0465060676
- Publisher: Basic Books
- Publish Date: May 2015
- Page Count: 432
- Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-03-09
- Reviewer: Staff
With Keynes once again in ascendance thanks to the Great Recession, this gracefully written biography gives lay readers a chance to reacquaint themselves with the man whose theories were behind TARP and quantitative easing. Davenport-Hines (An English Affair) divides the book into seven personality aspects or “snapshots,” capturing Keynes’s complexity but making it more difficult to appreciate him in the whole. Keynes’s economic theories receive particularly short shrift. On the other hand, fascinating personal details emerge, such as Keynes’s abhorrence of bitten fingernails, which for him sullied even such an eminence as the poet W.H. Auden: “All other impressions so favourable, but those horrid fingers cannot lie.” Readers familiar with Keynes’s marriage to a Russian ballerina may be surprised to learn that he originally, and predominantly, favored men, cataloguing his casual pickups on long lists. Indirectly, Davenport-Hines’s focus on Keynes as a human being offers some insight into Keynes as an economist, suggesting that his universality, as well as personal warmth and humanism, informed his belief that both government and the free market had economic roles to play, and that the love of money was, in itself, “a somewhat disgusting morbidity.” This is a delightful, detailed portrait, rich in interesting anecdote and encompassing the entire roster of Keynes’s accomplishments. (May)