- 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: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 80 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius Hardcover – September 13, 2011
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“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.”
“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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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. Nassar has a bad habit of sometimes introducing a person without giving you their names. Two examples of this are the first mention of Hayek and Bela Kun. The first time Hayek is mentioned is in relation to his grandmother; my reaction to his name was "well, if I didn't know Hayek would be talked about later I would be confused why emphasis was placed on his name." Bela Kun is introduced without a name and then you are expected to make the connection when all of a sudden this guy named Bela Kun is discussed at length. I had to google him to make sure I was right about his identity. However, often these side tangents to minor players such as Dr. Harvey Kellogg and Herbert George Wells add cultural insight and are entertaining. If you are unwilling to cope with a lot of characters, then you will dislike the writing style.
The book is organized into three main Acts: Hope, Fear, and Confidence. This choice is succinct and emphasizes the evolution of thought. The first section, Hope, is all about how economics developed as the hope to improve daily life. This feeling is a sharp contrast to the dismal conditions of Malthus. The second, Fear, is strongly tied to the disaster caused by the First World War. Many economists believed this war could not happen due to the interconnectedness of the economies. War was viewed as economic suicide. The war and the following depressions created a fear that life couldn't / wouldn't get better. The last section, Confidence, is about how we finally felt like we knew what we were doing with the economy post WWII. Economists had confidence that they could eliminate great depressions. This conclusion, however, may be more debatable given the current economic events since 2009.
Since familiarity with the economists greatly enhances the readability of the text, a list of the major players is given below with a brief statement about their views/ contributions. These statements are purely based on my understanding from the text. Even though they are placed in the act they are introduced, many of them span several acts and are entangled with each other.
Act I: Hope
K. Marx (German): Father of Communism. No means existed to convert production increases into higher wages and living standards.
A. Marshall (English): Productivity. As opposed to the views of Malthus where humanity would forever be trapped in poverty, the cure to economic woes and higher living standards was to increase productivity.
B. Webb (English): Government safety net. Destitution is preventable in a population and public services (like education) are overall beneficial for the economy despite taxation to pay for it.
I. Fischer (American): Everything is interconnected in the economy and money greatly affects the real economy. He is perhaps best known in American history texts as an opponent of William Jennings Bryant and "the cross of gold."
Act II: Fear
J. Schumpeter (Austrian): Austrian finance minister tasked with fixing the economy post WWI. Unlike the traditional economic viewpoint that a nation's economic health depended on its resources, he believed what matters was what a country did with what it had. Innovation, entrepreneurs, and credit are necessary to drive progress.
F. Hayek (Austrian): Anti-Communist. He is perhaps best known for his book "The Road to Serfdom." This piece was an attack on the Soviet system and a defense of free markets. He believed that central planning was incompatible with freedom.
M. Keynes (English): Arguably the best known name in economics. Instability, not inequality, was the greatest threat to capitalism. While the traditional cure to stabilizing the economy was balancing the books to restore investor confidence, he believed the real solution was easier money. This approach avoided the liquidity trap and got money to those who could spend it: the government needed to be prepared to be the spender of last resort. His theories were the rational behind FDR's New Deal.
J. Robinson (English): Communist. The free market economy would tend to long-run unemployment, excess industrial capacity, and stagnation. Supposedly, she had a huge disdain for mathematics. I do not understand how this is possible for an economist.
M. Friedman (American): Permanent income hypothesis. During WWII, he constructed a huge database of consumers and their purchases. This put him in a unique position to analyze spending patterns. He believed taxation could be used to stabilize the economy.
Act III: Confidence
P. Samuelson (American): Unemployment. He emphasized the importance of preventing unemployment, particularly after the demobilization of WWII.
A. Sen (Indian): Freedom. The expansion of freedom is viewed both as the primary end and the principal means of development.
The test is full of pure facts; Prof. Nassar stays away from any topic where there is not a clear-cut conclusion and she would need to offer her opinion. For instance, she goes into great depth describing the economic fallout following WWI. No one will dispute this mistake since it led to another world war. However often she hints at more modern economic results, but does not go into what they are. Milton Friedman, for instance, is described as the future father of Reagan-era tax cuts (in opposition to his earlier positions), but this story is not explained further because the jury is still out on whether or not these tax cuts were a good idea. The one exception is that the author clearly believes the Soviet model of communism is a mistake (many western economists will not dispute this, but communists may disagree). Specifically, "China's remarkable leap in modernity left the Soviet Union in the dust and finally discredited the Soviet economic model." I wish the test included more modern economics (post - 1970s) and further explained such statements.
Overall the text is extremely well written and engaging as expected of a professor of journalism. The book is full of good references to historical texts (e.g. The Economic Consequences of Peace) as well as many solid one-liners. The main reason for reading this book is summed up in the epilogue: " economic intelligence was far more critical to success than territory, population, natural resources, or even technological leadership. Ideas matter." I don't entirely agree with this statement, but economic theory is nonetheless an important determinant for society. Furthermore, it is shown what has been done and whether or not it worked. These statements are particularly relevant to price controls, which surprisingly larger numbers of countries are still trapped in. This text should be required for all politicians and leaders.
Having looked at other reviews here, I noticed many recommend "The Worldly Philosophers" over this book. I'm currently in the process of reading that and it appears that book is a better reference for understanding the economics. However, I prefer to think that the books compliment rather than subtract from each other.
This 463 page treatise is a wonderful accomplishment and is likely to become required reading for those interested in the history and development of economic thought. As Nasar, writes: "Most journeys start in the imagination." Friedman, Hayek, Keynes, Sen, The Webbs, Schumpeter, Marshall, Robinson - they're all here - and many others - come alive in this magnificent weave of history, biography and economics. The manner in which it is written makes the entire subject area vastly more approachable - accessible - and shall inspire others to dedicate themselves to the the same sort of challenge that the author embraced here..
I was particularly impressed with how Nasar weaved her challenge (stated above) as cleverly, and with an unbelievable depth and breadth - yet maintained an appetite for the reader to come back for more. This is a work of art from the heart - Sylvia Nasar's.
I truly enjoyed the journey. You will too. However, the subtitle will likely turn many off from the purchase decision...The Story of Economic Genius - probably is not one that magnetically attracts too many folks today.
I am not an economist. As an undergraduate 45 years ago, I planned to devote my life to the economic history of the Roman Empire and took many courses in Latin, Greek, economics, and mathematics. Instead, I went into law and am now a retired lawyer.
Throughout my life, I have read many economic works merely as a pastime, including the Skidelsky's new biography of Keynes, Milton Friedman's joint autobiography, assorted works of Schumpeter, Joan Robinson, Hayek, and Paul Samuelson. So there wasn't much in the Grand Pursuit that was totally new.
But what was new was putting this all together in a continuous narrative that shows interrelationships that I never suspected. Ms. Nasar writes extremely well, and I found the entire book engrossing.
It also has stimulated me to read or reread quite a few books. I have now reread Keynes's Economic Consequences and am halfway through the General Theory. Next I'm going to reread one of Schumpeter's books, and then I will tackle some of the works of Léon Walras, beginning with L'Économie politique et la justice (hélas it is cheap on Kindle, but only in French!).
The Grand Pursuit provided me with just kind of reading experience I enjoy. A very good book.