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Milton Friedman: A Biography Hardcover – January 23, 2007
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Ebenstein creates a picture of Milton Friedman, one of the leading economists and political philosophers of the twentieth century, as not just a revered economic theorist but also a public intellectual. Ebenstein begins with Friedman's childhood and early career, moving through his long tenure as an economist at the University of Chicago, and completes the book with a picture of Friedman as a renowned public figure. Completed before Friedman's death, in November 2006, the book espouses Friedman's beliefs in libertarianism, the free market, and capitalism. He was known for his controversial stances and powerful influence on leaders of the day. Through lengthy interviews with Friedman and his wife, Rose, a picture of him as family man, Nobel Prize winner, and advisor to multiple presidents emerges. Ebenstein's attention to detail and copious quotes from others who knew Friedman well make for an engaging picture of one of America's most important economic theorists. Gail Whitcomb
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"An absorbing book about the life, battles, and some of the ideas of a great economist. Definitely worth reading to help understand the development of an extraordinary individual."
--Gary S. Becker, Nobel Laureate in Economics
"Lanny Ebenstein gives us a careful and illuminating exposition of the life and ideas of Milton Friedman. A genuinely rewarding read."
--George P. Shultz, Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
"A powerful book about the most influential economist since Adam Smith."
--Martin Anderson, former domestic and economic policy advisor to President Reagan
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Even if you are an unreconstructed disciple of everything Friedman advocated, however, you wont find this book of much value. In fact, if you are relatively cognizant of Friedman's ideas, if you've read any of his own writings, I suspect you'll find Ebenstein's explications of them childish, vague, and undependable.
Ebenstein's writing style is pedestrian, repetitive, and disjointed; the author is never quite certain of whether he wants to write a classic character study, a plain narrative of Friedman's personal life, or a 'simple' explanation of Friedman's thought. The only consistency Ebenstein achieves is his hagiographical tone. Given the historical economic events of 2008, events which challenge not only the substance but also the morality of Friedman's ideas as pursued by his disciples in the Bush administration, a far deeper and more detached biography would be very much in order.
1. This book had a very nice synopsis of what happened during the Great Depression. MF's "A Monetary History of the United States" is, of course, the definitive work on that event, but in the event that one wants the Reader's Digest version, this book does that very well.
2. A decent synopsis of some of the fundamental differences between Keynesian economists and Monetarists was also included. It could have been a bit better, but it is good enough to be able to talk intelligently. At least we understood clearly the difference between Keynesians (Paul Krugman) and "supply siders" (Friedman, other conservative economists).
3. The author gives ample space to state the case for empirical verification of different Economic ideas, and demonstrated that there was a point before which people exhaustively tested their theories (rather than just putting together enough cute-sounding words and calling it "finished" from that point). It does seem that the author went overboard on stating this, but perhaps that was intentional.
4. Ebenstein clarifies the "Chile Scandal" surrounding Friedman. Many authors have talked up Friedman's influence on the events in Chile and have created a role for him that did not exist in those events. It turns out that Friedman did not engineer any government takeovers or act in any capacity as adviser other than in a very limited capacity.
1. There was not one single photo in this book about the many people to whom it referred. They were not essential, but might have been nice just the same.
2. I might like to have seen a time-line of MF's life. There were so many names and dates that it just became difficult to keep track of after the first 3rd of the book. A time-line would have served as a reminder or recapitulation.
3. The author disclosed that Friedman himself read/ edited many of the chapters. This arrangement could have led to any number of things. A) That MF would only cooperate if he was given final control over the contents of the books; B) That the author was a bit more fawning than needed in order to get MF's cooperation; C) That critiques of MF's methodology/ conclusions was muffled, and that there might have been some things that needed to be brought to the fore.
4. This point bears repeating: That the book just appeared a bit too fawning and didn't give a consideration to any criticism of MF that may have needed to be rebutted at length. Later the author did very briefly mention some disagreements of other economists with Friedman, but did not get into them at length. (Perhaps this would have required a graph.)
5. The prose was fairly easy to read, but a bit choppy in some places.
6. Friedman had all of these houses and took all these vacations, but who paid for this? I didn't want a full financial disclosure, but some financial details might have been nice. Like, say, Friedman's speaking fees for engagements. Or how much he made on at least some of his jobs (university salaries are public record and would not have been difficult to find). Not sure if this was deliberate or a mere oversight.
In sum, this is worth a second hand purchase.
The evidence of Friedman's contributions to the general public is not hard to find and document. For example, sensible deregulation led to cheaper airplane tickets, which induced more flights to more places. The efficacy of volunteer armed forces as a component of an effective national defense is now too commonsensical to restate here. Perhaps Arthur Schopenhauer was correct after all that "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
What is very interesting about this book - Milton Friedman: A biography - are insights about the person behind the public good many people around the world come to know just as Friedman. Behind that person were the individual, family, proximate cause, and initial conditions all of which made possible the growth of ideas we associate with Professor Friedman. In the world of Friedmans ideas, both as public and private, are anchored in individual freedom and choice, which only a capitalist nature nurtures. That one individual could have done so much so long (9 decades) is worth volumes in itself; that the intellectual laborer remained sane, rather than vane, about his accomplishments and the fame they conferred is another remarkable quality, and an interesting part of Mr. Ebenstein's book.
To say Friedman made a significant scholarly contribution to economics is a positive (testable) statement. If even only half of what Lanny Ebenstein writes about Friedman the person is true, then the author/philosopher Jean Paul was surely incorrect in his assertion that " Fine minds are seldom fine souls". In Friedman's case a good soul and an even better mind were joint-products (complements). I learned all of that and more from this book, so can anyone. A good reading, indeed!
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