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Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius Paperback – July 31, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for 'A Beautiful Mind' 'Tells a moving story and offers a remarkable look into the arcane world of mathematics and the tragedy of madness'. The New York Times Book Review 'Might be compared to a Rembrandt portrait, filled with somber shadows and radiant light effects!superbly written and eminently fascinating!simply a beautiful book.' The Boston Globe --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Sylvia Nasar is the author of the bestselling A Beautiful Mind, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. She is the John S. and James. L Knight Professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (July 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684872994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684872995
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #381,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

153 of 162 people found the following review helpful By Tiger CK on September 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In the Grand Pursuit, Sylvia Nasar, the widely acclaimed author of A Beautiful Mind, writes a sweeping history of the evolution of modern economics through the lens of the discipline's most famous scholars and theorists. It is ambitious in scope, based on some very solid research and often a compelling read. But at the same time it is overly broad and, ultimately, does not yield many new insights into its subject matter.

The author argues, rightly, that the idea that human prosperity could be created and managed is a relatively new one. Before the mid-nineteenth century most assumed that the vast bulk of humanity was destined to live in poverty and squalor and that there was not much that could be done about this. But during this era, a group of scholars including Marx, Engels, and Schumpeter emerged and contended that the lives of human beings could be improved through the proper management of the economy. Nasar retells how difficult economic circumstances have been at certain points in world history and looks at the efforts of leading economists to contribute to prosperity during their respective eras. In Nasar's broad survey we encounter many of the best-known economists of the past 150 years and learn about their personal lives, their contributions to the discipline, and how they tried to influence policy. Throughout her skillfully constructed narrative, Nasar demonstrates a remarkable grasp of the major ideas of almost every major economist that readers could think of. She describes the importance of John Maynard Keynes, Beatrice Potter Webb (the inventor of the idea of the welfare state), Milton Friedman and Amartya Sen among others both to the discipline of economics and to policy making. In this sense, the book is probably the most comprehensive history of its kind.
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78 of 87 people found the following review helpful By DRDR on September 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I liked the concept behind "The Grand Pursuit." Economic science has been increasingly under attack in recent years, so I'm pleased that Sylvia Nasar provided a mass-marketed perspective on the value of economic thought from the mid-19th century onwards. This book, or one like it, should be read by anyone who takes for granted modern economic growth and the ideas that helped make it possible. Yet the book is too much hodgepodge. Nasar's choices of which economists to portray and what aspects of their lives to profile seems arbitrary. She spices up the material by grouping it together in three acts - Hope, Fear, and Confidence - but such framing is no substitute for deeper care in the selection and organization of the material.

The organization is more like a sandwich than a 3-act play: the first five and last three chapters profile individual economists, while the meat of the story is the middle 10 chapters, portraying the interaction between economists like Fisher, Keynes and Hayek both between the World Wars and in the aftermath. The heroes of the early chapters like Marshall had less direct role in policy, but their ideas were crucial to shaping our understanding of the world.

Nasar observes that throughout history, there have been powerful people who looked at the world purely in zero-sum terms. Her heroes understood that the future need not be so bleak. I wish this book made a more coherent and convincing case for such an important truth.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By K. Kehler on October 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a fine book, something that makes this review hard to write, because I don't wish to appear callous or nitpicking. While I like the book I also feel slightly let down, for while it has genuine merit -- It's a pretty quick read, it's very informative (on certain topics), and it is entertaining and interesting -- it really isn't what the title says it is. Specifically, as others have pointed out, it isn't a history of economic thought or economic theories. It is a series of quite interesting biographical snapshots of various important economic thinkers, warts and all. At its best, this book is good intellectual history: or more accurately, good intellectual historical contextualizing, and so it is definitely worth acquiring, if this interests you. But for a history of economic theorizing, look elsewhere.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By GDR on July 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By opening the tale of economics with Charles Dickens, Prof. Nassar immediately sets the tone of this unorthodox history. Indeed, Charles Dickens, who most of us do not think is an economist, replaces Adam Smith, widely considered the first economist. Rather than stick merely to the economic theories, this book explores the environment in which those theories grew as well as how personal events shaped the economists. For instance, Sen was greatly affected by witnessing the famines of India as a child and Schumpeter by the suffering in Austria post WWI. For Irving Fisher, his own bout with tuberculosis transformed him into fanatical personal health advocate. I was further surprised by how often the works on socialism were written by people (Webb, Marx, Engels) who really had little common background with the common worker. Webb spent a mere 3 days attempting to live the common life (instead of her advertised 3 weeks) while Marx, the father of Communism, never bothered to visit factories despite being in the heart of the industrial revolution. Marx, perhaps unjustifiably, is portrayed as a bum constantly living on someone else's dime. While these moments are relevant to explain (or question) a person's views, Sylvia spends a significant amount of effort describing the various affairs / love conquests of Schumpeter, Robinson, and Keynes. I can understand that this gossip gives a sense of their personalities, but I think these moments are far less interesting and informative.

While this storytelling style offers insight, it unfortunately can be very confusing since a lot of names are introduced to the reader. If you are not already familiar with the major economic players and vaguely what they are known for it is very easy to get lost. Also Prof.
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