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Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius Hardcover – Abridged, September 13, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Nasar brilliantly brings to life game-changing economists from Marx to Hayek and from Sidney Webb to Milton Friedman, tracing the evolution of modern economic thinking through the richly detailed stories of the men and woman who reshaped how we think of life’s possibilities. . . . This is an utterly fascinating book on many levels. . . . A Beautiful Mind, Nasar’s previous book, was about an economist named John Nash, but Nasar’s mind is pretty good, too. No lesser mind could have written a book so rich, so compelling, so important, and so much fun.”
--Mickey Edwards, The Boston Globe

“A fascinating excursion into the economic ideas and personalities that have deposited most of us at a standard of living unparalleled in human history…engrossing…Nasar, who wrote A Beautiful Mind, …is drawn to intellectual giants. They stomp across the idiosyncratic and readable pages of Grand Pursuit, which unfurls with a David McCullough-like knack for telling popular history….On these pages, the dismal science shines.”--Karen R. Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Grand Pursuit is a worthy successor to Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers. . . . Nasar’s aim is to put the reader into the lives of the characters of a sweeping historical drama that extends from Victorian England to modern-day India. That she largely succeeds reflects the depth and breadth of her research but also the elegance of her prose.”
--Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post

“Nasar is a superb writer. . . . The book is a kind of portrait gallery of economic thinkers, each artfully set down in his or her time and place. . . . You can’t help becoming engrossed in their lives.”
--James Grant, The Wall Street Journal

“[This] is the story of the evolution of a radical, planet-reshaping idea…The canvas is epic…The details are fresh, at times startling…At the same time, gnarly but critical concepts…shine through in all their richness and complexity. If only Econ 101 had been this interesting!” Fortune

“Grand Pursuit is a history of economics which is full of flesh, bloom and warmth. The author demonstrates that there is far more to economics than Thomas Carlyle’s “dismal science”. And she does so with all the style and panache that you would expect from the author of the 1998 bestseller, A Beautiful Mind. . . . A wonderful book. Grand Pursuit deserves a place not only in every economist’s study but also on every serious reader’s bedside table.”
--The Economist

“One of the many wonderful things about Nasar’s book is that in it, economic genius isn’t limited to the usual suspects….Even when exploring famous economic minds, Nasar brings out the humanity in the dismal science by showing their ideas are nearly always rooted in formative experiences.”
-- TIME Magazine

“Nasar has written a compelling history of modern economics, a story of the theorists as well as of their theories. . . . Grand Pursuit is artfully rendered and a delight to read. . . . One suspects that future economics textbooks will warrant some revisions. All the same, their authors would profit from consulting Grand Pursuit.”
-- Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s **FIVE STAR** Review

“A timely reminder of the importance of the so-called dismal science. . . . Written almost as a novel and aimed at those without a background in economics, the book charts capitalism's evolution through the eyes of the people who invented it. . . . It is compellingly written, full of detail and vivid anecdotes, and with a refreshing focus on people rather than prices.”
--Gregor Hunter, The Nation

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

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684872986
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684872988
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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