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John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics Hardcover – January 27, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (January 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281687
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,144,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

John Kenneth Galbraith has led an extraordinary life. The world's most famous living economist started teaching at Harvard when he was just 25 years old and has sold seven million copies of his four dozen books. One reviewer said Galbraith wrote "history that reads like a poem." During World War II, at age 32, he was named "tsar" of consumer-price controls in the United States, and he later advised three American presidents and served as ambassador to India. Now in his 90s, Galbraith is still active and has received 50 honorary degrees. All this was accomplished by a Canadian born in a tiny Ontario farming hamlet, whose major at an obscure agricultural college wasn't even economics but animal husbandry. Such an irony is typical of Galbraith's renowned iconoclasm, writes Richard Parker in his 820-page biography John Kenneth Galbraith.

Parker shows how Galbraith's irreverent views were shaped by the Depression, which helped turn him into a passionate advocate of Keynesian economics, the philosophy that inspired FDR's New Deal. Galbraith later became one of the architects of the expansion of federal social services after World War II. Because of his influence in successive administrations, readers get a fascinating fly-on-the-wall picture of debates and intrigue inside the White House during many of the major crises of the Cold War. Galbraith frequently played crucial behind-the-scenes roles that went beyond the duties of an economist: advising President Kennedy during the Cuba missile crisis, helping Lyndon Johnson write his first speech after Kennedy was assassinated, and opposing the Vietnam War, which became his most passionate cause. He later criticized the dismantling of government programs under Ronald Reagan and seemed to love clashing with conservative economists. Parker managed to sift through a mountain of material from Galbraith's long and lively years to distill an engaging narrative that, like Galbraith's own books, is easily accessible to non-economists. --Alex Roslin

From Publishers Weekly

Perhaps only an elephant of a book could cover the life and thinking of so influential a figure as John Kenneth Galbraith (b. 1908). But this one goes too far. While Parker, an economist, writes with fluency and expert knowledge, he thinks it essential to write short histories of everything Galbraith was involved in. And that was much, starting with New Deal Washington, then the post-WWII Strategic Bombing Survey, Harvard, JFK's administration and an ambassadorship to India—and, always, liberal Democratic politics. Through it all, Galbraith poured out torrents of never dull writings, of which The Affluent Society best embodies his combination of fresh thought, political acuity and polemical skill. He took on academic and political orthodoxies to transform the way informed people think about the economy, institutions and social justice. Despite its length, Parker's biography is a model of clarity on these matters. The author, who is altogether sympathetic to his subject, never shrinks from offering others' tough, and his own measured, judgments. Galbraith emerges as highly appealing, a man of sparkling wit liked by most of his intellectual opponents and deprecated chiefly by his hard-boiled fellow economists. While they'll long debate his contributions to economics, there's no denying, as this book makes indelibly clear, that Galbraith, has been one of the major American lives of the 20th century. (Feb.)
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Customer Reviews

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This book presents his case admirably.
A. Psychiatrist
As Parker writes, Galbraith's approach to economics is concerned above all with "the fundamental issue of how societies and civilizations work".
Amazon Customer
It is one terrific read on a truly remarkable intellectual.
Shawn S. Sullivan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Shawn S. Sullivan on August 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Parker's John Kenneth Galbraith is an exceedingly well written and assiduously researched biography. Perhaps most impressive it the ease with which Parker weaves JKB's life, economic theories and beliefs, the development of Keynesian economics and virtually all post-WWI US history. While there is little doubt this work is about JKB and his influence on economic theory and policy, his extraordinary busy life, and political connections made initially at Harvard as an instuctor (and, later, as a tenured professor) Parker does a superb job integrating a prodigous amount of US history and policy in a very well annoted fashion and with a marvelous economy of prose.

Galbraith, always a controversial scholar, never could be accused of hiding any political agenda. A true believer in the New Deal and a Great Society, he obviously believed in a coordinated, but not limitless, goverenment role in a capitalistic society. Those who have studied economics to any degree have the Latin phase drilled in their heads, ceterus paribus - other things equal. Galbraith thought this analysis and seemingly erudite and complex other mathematical formulas pure rubbish. As an undergrad in the late 70's I distinctly remember a terrific professor of mine "catching" me reading An Affluent Society. He teased me about my "leftist leanings". But Galbraith always challenged my assumptions, and, obviously millions of others. Parker perhaps should be accused of a positive bias toward his subject. That said, he makes his arguments quite cogent and exceeding well annoted.

While I think this book is a must read for those interested in 20th century economic thought, policy or history I would certainly encourage ALL to read the antepenultimate chapter, Joy Fades.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David J. Loftus on April 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
John Kenneth Galbraith has been the most famous and widely read economist in the world. An engaging writer and drily quotable, he published four dozen books and countless articles, served as adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and regularly blasted subsequent Republican administrations. Galbraith served on a post-war commission that studied strategic bombing of Germany (and concluded that despite its tremendous moral cost, it had had little or no effect on the Nazi war machine-much to our military's embarrassment), had a successful two-year stint as ambassador to India, was an early and vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, and even published three novels.

Richard Parker presents the first substantial biography of this six-foot-eight-inch, Canadian-born Harvard professor who refused to hide in academia. As co-founding editor and publisher of "Mother Jones" magazine, consultant and fundraiser for Democratic candidates and Greenpeace, and finally Harvard professor of economics and public policy himself, Parker was almost uniquely situated to draw a richly sympathetic portrait. Galbraith is not an inherently interesting man, nor do his life and theories present an especially compelling read. What makes the book worthwhile is its mosaic of the many worlds through which Galbraith moved: It offers an excellent review of recent political and economic history, though the slant is decidedly liberal.

It's good to be reminded that different political parties have repeatedly been thought dead (the Democrats in 1955 and 1985, Republicans in 1941 and 1965), only to rise again, and that the nation handled dire economic crises (inflation in 1971, the first oil crisis in 1973, the Depression itself), if uneasily and temporarily.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Zerges on July 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Paul Samuelson was one third correct about JKG. As Samuelson notes, Galbraith was an "economist for non-economists". But as an economist myself, JKG was also an economist for economists and for thinking people everywhere. He revolutionised and demystified economics within its political and social contexts for millions. Parker does an excellent job in capturing the genius of his thought and impact. Teaching economics, as I do, is so much more a pleasure now that Galbraith's perspectives can be added to the conventional wisdom. I'm afraid most of his critics have lacked the ability to generate an original thought, so Galbraith provides an easy target since he has produced so many of them.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John Beasley on August 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I have long been an admirer of Ken Galbraith, and on occasion, have labored in the same vineyard. We are indeed fortunate to have the talented Mr. Parker present us with this well documented, well scripted review of Ken Galbraith's life. The fact that Parker is himself well steeped in economics and shares with Galbraith the capacity to translate what can be viewed as arcane aspects of that science in language that lay persons can cope with makes this book even better than a simple retelling of aspects of a fascinating life, Galbraiths's intellectual growth and his towering role in public events make for an exciting story, and Parker tells it very well. Every "liberal" should love it; every conservative could benefit from it.
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50 of 64 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on February 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This colorful and anecdotal biography of Galbraith stretches across almost the whole of the twentieth century and in the telling leaves behind a cogent history of economics and American government, stretching from the Keynsian revolution to the breaking up of the classic liberalism of the Roosevelt era beginning with Nixon. Galbraith's life puts a lens to the fine grain of virtually all the significant developments since the decade of the thirties and the Depression and leaves behind a lot of insightful asides about the interaction of economists with politicians. The record of clear-headed advice given, but not always taken, has some grimmer moments, such as the repeated cautions and warnings from Galbraith about Vietnam, even as Kennedy was overtaken by events. The picture of the high-tide of Keynesianism is refreshing after two decades of economic sophistry from the post-Reagan generation. You would think that Republicans could manage economies, but the record shows a great fall, as the crackpots with their fancy models and the rest of the looters took over. We could use some the common sense and economic basics that Galbraith once provided (and he wasn't a kneejerk Keynsian). Instead we may be undone by the voodoo artists and their laffer curves, nothing to laugh at anymore as the American public gets swindled one more time. Superb double history, the man, and the American scene.
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