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The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers, Seventh Edition Paperback – August 10, 1999
The Amazon Book Review
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“A brilliant achievement.”
—John Kenneth Galbraith
“If ever a book answered a crying need, this one does. Here is all the economic lore most general readers conceivably could want to know, served up with a flourish by a man who writes with immense vigor and skill, who has a rare gift for simplifying complexities.”
—The New York Times
“Robert Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers is a living classic, both because he makes us see that the ideas of the great economists remain fresh and important for our times and because his own brilliant writing forces us to reach out into the future.”
“The Worldly Philosophers, quite simply put, is a classic....None of us can know where we are coming from unless we know the sources of the great ideas that permeate our thinking. The Worldly Philosophers gives us a clear understanding of the economic ideas that influence us whether or not we have read the great economic thinkers.”
“Sinclair Lewis's Arrowsmith inspired several readers to become Nobel laureates in biology. Robert Heilbroner's new edition of The Worldly Philosophers will inspire a new generation of economists.”
From the Back Cover
The Worldly Philosophers is a bestselling classic that not only enables us to see more deeply into our history but helps us better understand our own times. In this seventh edition, Robert L. Heilbroner provides a new theme that connects thinkers as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx. The theme is the common focus of their highly varied ideas -- namely, the search to understand how a capitalist society works. It is a focus never more needed than in this age of confusing economic headlines.
In a bold new concluding chapter entitled "The End of the Worldly Philosophy?" Heilbroner reminds us that the word "end" refers to both the purpose and limits of economics. This chapter conveys a concern that today's increasingly "scientific" economics may overlook fundamental social and political issues that are central to economics. Thus, unlike its predecessors, this new edition provides not just an indispensable illumination of our past but a call to action for our future.
Top customer reviews
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Now the book: With an exquisite, elegant and appealing style, Robert Heilbroner goes along three centuries or so in which economics has lived with us in the modern sense of the word. To make the difference he explains the emergence of the politics, markets and the capital as connected phenomenons. Never before the world had seen something like this. That's why Adam Smith wrote "An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations" on 1776 and not before. I would say that this is the first important lesson that Mr. Heilbroner gave me, a very layperson in this topic.
The book is organized in ten chapters that covers from mid eighteenth century to mid twentieth century. Every chapter transmit the context and the predominating ideas of some worldly philosopher about the changes and disruptions that economics has undergone. The underlying idea of the book is to tell the tale through the heroes of the story rather than the processes. In this sense every reader could disagree with the selection that the author made to tell the story. Why not this or that economist, but in this sense I would remain the sentence that J. L. Borges used to settle the point: there is no anthology that doesn't begin well and doesn't end bad. And this selection --like any other-- is not an exception.
Every economist is presented with his history together with his legend. All of them were really strange and freaky guys. All of them were smart and clever enough to grasp the contents of a world --our world-- which is very introspective and it doesn't speak so much about itself. So they explain the world and then they say what would happen to it in the next future if it follows the same path.
I would say that every philosopher had an explanation to show how the machinery of economics worked. And I would add that all of them --even Adam Smith-- had a prophecy about the future of that machinery. This is what the book does. It gives you the character, then the ideas and, finally, the prophecies of this heroes. In a sense, all of them were right and all were wrong. The thing is that philosophy is neither a science nor a discipline that gives you a recipe for not committing mistakes. Philosophy is a discipline that gives you the tools for explaining the world showing --at the same time-- the underlying foundations that makes you feel sure about what you say. That's why our worldly philosophers could attack and criticize each other with very dangerous and lethal (i.e., intellectual) weapons.
What do we find at last? We find an unforgettable last chapter that speaks about the future, as did the philosophers, of economics. The title of the chapter is "The end of the worldly philosophy?" so you you have to notice the subtle pun between philosophers and philosophy that hides with a hussy smile the last and important message of Heilbroner. I'm not going to talk about that because it would be like revealing the name of the murderer in a detective story so this will be your task as a reader if you make the decision of reading the book.
One with highly deserved five stars.
Before proceeding, perhaps I should admit that I have had a lifelong interest in economics. Some people might think this strange or, indeed, boring. To the contrary, I see economics as the study of everything that makes the world tick. The economist is the true generalist trying to understand big picture issues.
Robert L. Heilbroner has written a wonderful book. It presupposes no reader knowledge of economics. It can be easily read by the general reader. It is brief and insightful.
Personally, I am always drawn back to that famous quote by Adam Smith in 1776 that “people of the same trade seldom meet together but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some diversion to raise prices”. In my mind, this is the best sentence ever written about economics. It applies just as much today as in the late eighteenth century when it was written.
However, Heilbroner uses Smith only as a starting point. The reader is quickly introduced to Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, the Utopian Socialists, Karl Marx and then to thinkers of the twentieth century. The book moves chronologically but not without showing how later generations built at least partly on their predecessors. Indeed, although he is not followed directly by many today, Smith still influences modern debate. The same could also be said of Marx although his influence is certainly on the wane.
In summary, this is a very good read. I recommend it to all readers with an interest in the history of economic thought.