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Big Ideas in Macroeconomics: A Nontechnical View Hardcover – December 27, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


This fine book succeeds very nicely at its stated task: to explain the standard macroeconomic theory used by central banks around the world without equations. This book is complex and sophisticated, yet clearly and transparently written. The author is honest concerning the weaknesses of this model, but confident that most can be overcome in the future. If you have heard the chorus of critics since the financial crisis of 2008, and if you are serious about understanding the issues, this is a good place to start.

(Herbert Gintis, Santa Fe Institute)

Using only the English language, Kartik Athreya conveys to a nonspecialist audience what modern macroeconomists do, why we do it using specific rules of engagement, and why we end up thinking what we think. Big Ideas in Macroeconomics is to my knowledge the only book of its kind.

(Mark Huggett, Professor of Economics, Georgetown University)

About the Author

Kartik B. Athreya is an economist in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and an Associate Editor of the Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (December 27, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262019736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262019736
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #287,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on January 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
It is easy to find excellent, accurate, accessible, and entertaining books that present the current theories and ideas in many fields, including law, physics, and biology. It is virtually impossible to find such books in economics. Sadly, when someone writes a book about economics, it almost always is an attempt to convince the reader that some politically motivated partial truth is the whole truth.

There are some books that present basic economic theory in an unbiased manner, and I review the ones I have found in an entry on my web site ([...] Click on You Must Read This! and look for "Books on Economics for Serious Beginners: Very Introductory Readings."

But for the sort of advanced macroeconomic that guided policy makers and central bankers leading up to the financial meltdown of 2008, there has been virtually no serious accessible exposition without a political bone to pick. I love this book because it treats the reader as intelligent and discerning, presents the theory ably and in great detail, but avoids the mathematical detail that makes the material quite impenetrable to all but the expert who spends the bulk of his time devoted to the subject.

The reader who even cursorily inspects this book might consider me a biased observer because I contributed a blurb to the book jacket and the author graciously thanks me for my support in the introductory pages. The fact is that I consider this an exemplary exposition of modern macroeconomics, and I think his defense of the theory is as good as one can find anywhere, the theory is in fact so weak that nothing can save it. People continue doing it not because it is good theory, but because it is the only game in town.
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Format: Hardcover
On the one hand, this book does deliver what it promises - a non-technical description of the core methodology of mainstream macroeconomics - and does so reasonably well, given the difficulty of translating mathematics and game theory into English. Athreya's prose is lucid, if not sparkling.

On the other, it is long, boring, full of jargon, and far more concerned with the internal consistency and logic of the models rather than their ability to explain economic events. The final chapter on financial crises feels tacked on, and mainly serves to underline how little use this style of economics has been in emergencies.

This the mostly the subject's fault, not the author's. However, the author chose the subject, not just for one book but for his life's work. And the book is not just a description but a defense of the subject. So . . . what the hell, I'll blame him anyway.

Big Ideas in Macroeconomics could be useful for intending or current graduate students to use as introductory or companion material. Anybody else? I doubt it. It is far too long and dense for the average reader (think Piketty's Capital minus the graphs and literary references). And it offers nothing to reassure those of us who fear that optimising microfoundations and rational expectations hit diminishing returns long ago.
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