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Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street Hardcover – July 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199767203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199767205
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Sedlacek takes mainstream economics as his clay, digging both his arms in up to the elbows in an attempt to explain the beliefs and ethical values underlying modern economics." - The New York Times

"There has long been a profound moral drive in Czech culture, seeking an ever larger view of the human, and trying to break through conceptual barriers to do so. In this sinewy and marvelous voyage of discovery, Tomas Sedlacek calls us all to think more imaginatively, more fully, and more concretely about economics than we have done for many generations. Many thinkers, including not a few economists, will be stimulated to new explorations by this book." -Michael Novak, author of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

"Economics of Good and Evil is an enchanting tour de force, offering the general public an unusual, erudite, and riveting view of the world. Scientists and scholars can choose how to read this book: either condemn it for its lack of a rigidly and traditionally scientific approach, or accept it as an invigorating elixir providing inspiration and vision for further study. I take it as the latter and I am certain the public will too." - Jan Svejnar, Professor of Business, Economics and Public Policy, University of Michigan

"A widely admired economist who sits on the National Economic Council in Prague radically rethinks his field, challenging assumptions about the business world in this work, a bestseller in the Czech Republic."-Publishers Weekly

"Tomas Sedlacek proposes no less than a 'humanomics,' a view of our fate in this world of scarcity that takes account of human stories and philosophies. Economists have crippled themselves by their lack of scholarly breadth, and their 'scientific' disdain for human words. Sedlacek, who ranges from the epic of Gilgamesh to the movie The Matrix, cannot be accused of lack of breadth. What is most impressive, though, is his depth, drilling down into the soul of economics." -Deirdre McCloskey, author of Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce and The Cult of Statistical Significance

About the Author

Tomas Sedlacek lectures at Charles University and is a member of the National Economic Council in Prague, where the original version of this book was a national bestseller and was also adapted as a popular theater-piece. He worked as an advisor of Vaclav Havel, the first Czech president after the fall of communism, and is a regular columnist and popular radio and TV commentator.

More About the Author

Tomas Sedlacek (1977) was an economic advisor to President Václav Havel, latter to the Finance Minister and now serves as a Chief Macroeconomic Strategist at one of the largest banks. He is one of 15 members of National Economic Council, advisory body to the Prime Minister.
He is a Yale University World Fellow and PhD student at Charles University, where he lectures Philosophy and Economics. Yale economic Review (2006) has ranked him among Five hot shots in economics. He is a regular columnist and a sought-after media commentator.
He has (2009) published a book on philosophy, ethics and history of economic thought "Economy of Good and Evil: from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Financial Crisis", which has unexpectedly become a national bestseller, selling more than 50 000 copies. The book has also been turned into a theatre play, which was performed over 80 times last year and sold out four times the National Theatre in Prague.

More info in English, tour of the book, endorsements, reviews and video from the Economics of Good and Evil theatre play can be seen at

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Customer Reviews

I picked up Economics of Good and Evil, by Tomas Sedlacek, because the title intrigued me.
Kindle Customer
Nevertheless, the book is a welcome read not only because he writes well but because he causes you to reconsider your own economic biases.
Stephen M. Vantassel
Honestly, this is one of the most insightful and challenging books on economics I have read.
Adam Shields

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Adam Shields VINE VOICE on April 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Very few book do I read that just surprise my by their originality. The Economics of God and Evil is one. Sedlacek is a Czech Economist, journalist and Economic Advisor to the first Czech President after the fall of communism. This book was originally written and published in Europe (and was adapted as a theater piece) before being reworked and now published in the US.

Few really well documented books (footnotes are about a third of almost every page) also clearly explain fairly academic subjects as well as this book does.

The concept is that Sedlacek traces several texts that show how we have thought of economics in history. These include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Old Testament, Ancient Greece Philosophy, Christianity and New Testament, Descartes, Mandeville (who I had no concept of) and Adam Smith. He showed how the concepts of economics were different under each of these worldviews and how they influenced the rise of Western Thought about economics. Throughout he gives hints about places where he thinks that modern economics may have ventured away from what might be a better explanation.

Then he traces modern economic thought. The rise of desire, the change of economics from a philosophical science to a mathematical predictive science, the movement of 'invisible hand', the rise of the rational human, the dependence on progress and the eventual bloat of economies due to debt.

There is a real argument here and I am not going to trace it all, but I would encourage anyone that is really interested in economics, especially if you are a Christian (because I think Sedlacek best work is his exposition of the Old and New Testaments), to pick this up and really read it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By W. A. Carpenter VINE VOICE on May 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Economics of Good and Evil" by Economist Tom Sedlacek is a collection of self-contained essays on a general theme. That theme, that modern economics has been overrun by "quants" - those economists that emphasize mathematical models and analyses that ignore the fact that economics is fundamentally about individuals making decisions.

The first part of the book "Ancient Economic" is a collection of essays about the economic world views of various ancient civilizations up through Adam Smith. I particularly enjoyed his essay on the Greek Epicurean and Stoic views.

The second part of the book "Blasphemous Thoughts" is a collection of essays on meta-economics, i.e. it looks at economic ideas and examines them in a philosophical way. I especially liked his discussions of the rather surprising role of myth and religion in economic thought.

This book was originally published in the Czech Republic in 2009 where it became a best seller and was turned, somehow, into a popular play! I admit that I can't imagine how this was done. This translation is well worth reading for the author's fascinating ideas and analysis, but I will say that the translation seems a bit awkward, even ragged, at places and makes reading the book a not unalloyed joy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Petur O. Jonsson on April 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a very ambitious book. It weaves together a variety of seemingly disparate ideas and comes up with an imaginative and coherent tapestry. In a nutshell, one might say that it is about meta-economics and the history of economic ideas. Sedlacek argues that the concerns of economics are also the concerns of myths, of theology, and of philosophy. Here, one of Selacek's points is that the rigorous structure and formal logic of modern day economics obscure the fact that it represents a narrative and that this narrative supports a particular normative world view.

Definitions of economics usually boil down to it being a social science that focuses on the choices that people make. Thus economics encompasses most human concerns. Certainly it overlaps the other social sciences and we can even think of it as applied ethics (in that economics has a set of normative criteria for judging choices). It is in this context that Sedlacek suggests that key arguments of economics ultimately tend to be about good and evil. Yet, economists strive to deny this and our notion of positive economics is all about avoiding judment. As Sedlacek points out, there is great irony in the fact that economics sees itself as a science of values and yet it pretends to eschew value judgment.

Sedlacek's tour de force narrative is not easily summarized. Suffice it to say that he is a fantastic writer. One might even refer to him as a seductive storyteller. I have seen elements of his arguments before, but I have never seen them put together this persuasively. And, while I did not necessarily agree with all of his arguments, I still enjoyed this book tremendously.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Wesley Vander Lugt on September 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am no economist, but as student of theological ethics, I know a thing or two about good and evil, which is why I was interested to see how Tomas Sedlacek would tell this story. And I also know Tomas, or at least had the privilege of spending a week with him last summer, and find his voracious appetite for ideas and vigor for living infectious, which I had no doubt would leave its mark on this book. Plus, as the Chief Macro-Economist of the largest Czech bank, the former advisor of former Czech president Václav Havel, and one of the "five hot minds in economics" according to the Yale Economic Review, I knew this would be an important book to digest.

As a warning to enthusiastic readers, however, make sure you leave plenty of time for digestion, because this is a dense book. There is more philosophy and theology in this book than economics, which illustrates Sedlacek's overall thesis that what economics needs most is more meta-economics. We live in the Debt Age, drugged on consumption and obsessed with progress, and part of the problem is that we have ignored the stories that undergird current economic theory and practice. As an attempt to provide a corrective to the current malaise, therefore, Sedlacek interacts with major stories and ideas from Western culture and relates them to economics, including the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Old Testament, ancient Greek philosophy, Christianity, Enlightenment rationalism, and the thought of significant figures such as Bernard Mandeville and Adam Smith.

The breadth of material Sedlacek deals with is jaw-dropping, but it is not always cleanly organized or well-written, which makes for a fascinating yet frequently dizzying read.
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