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The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers, Seventh Edition Paperback – August 10, 1999
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
If you are new to economics or want summaries/insights into the greatest economists in history this book is for you. Mr. Heilbroner's book, the Worldly Philosophers, is the best books on economics I have come across and I have endured graduate level economic courses, both macro and micro (along with the undergraduate courses.) This book provides readers with a nice summary and analysis of the great Economic thinkers from Adam Smith, Karl Marx, David Ricardo, Mill, Keynes, Schumpeter and others. I found the book to be very general and not extremely analytical/scholarly if you will.
The summaries of each man's economic concepts and life/times in which he lived were extremely accurate. Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the author tries to explain the multi-disciplined nature of economics and how it is a combination of sociology, history, political science and philosophy all rapped into one. If you look at the London School of Economics graduate program you will find over 30 unique Masters Programs in economics as the field is increasingly becoming applied and specialized into different parts of the society. Mr. Heilbroner asks a question at the end such as "are we seeing the end of Worldly Philosophers?" as the field is increasingly getting more specialized and very few economists are tackling the "big picture" anymore and how the various components of an economy (land, labor and capital) are intertwined with each other. Definitely something to think about.....
I found myself sitting down and reading a chapter at a time, 50-60 pages, with no problems at all. Mr. Heilbroner doesn't give you everything but perhaps enough to chomp your teeth into the works of each philosopher on your own. At the end of the book he has a list of suggested readings for those seeking more information on any of the economists/subjects mentioned but, frankly, I don't think many can handle 99% of the stuff.
The author takes a subject (economics) that is often beyond dry and makes it both entertaining and educational, with lots of surprises thrown in. Every time I thought I had caught the author in a mistake or an oversight (Ah ha! Now I've got you!) he'd cover my questions or thoughts within the next couple of pages or so. The author earned my confidence again and again. I found him to be a reliable guide through treacherous waters.
There's a lot of good history in this book. He tackles each major economic philosopher (and others), makes the man come alive in the context of his times, and relates his thinking to our own time by putting their ideas to the test of subsequent history. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Smith and Keynes.
The author, like any good educator, doesn't give you everything. He gives you lots of food for thought. I also found the author to be thoughtful and unpretentious. I plan to read more books by him.
My copy also contained a very nice description of suggested readings.
However, I found Heilbroner's book to be neither useful to the layperson nor to people who have a good background in Economics. Let me explain.
Heilbroner spends a LOT of time in awe of these economists and spends a great deal of time explaining how great they were, how revolutionary, how brilliant, how much of a genius, how wonderful these men were, ad nauseum. Ok, I get the point. Unfortunately, all this fawning and fan worship clouds what should've been the more interesting and more important part of the book, which are the central economic ideas put forward by these thinkers. In fact, there's a lot of emphasis on putting their economic ideas in perspective to the prevailing moral philosophical thought at the time.
It's almost as if this books is written for people who have already taken Economics 101, and know all the basic economic principles and can nod, "yes, uh huh, I didn't know those personality quirks or their moral philosophical outlook about these economists - good to know. By the way, it's great that he didn't go over his economic ideas since I already know them."
For example, the entire chapter devoted to David Ricardo fails to mention the theory of Comparative Advantage anywhere in the chapter. Isn't that a MAJOR omission? That's just one example. Omissions such as this are everywhere.
So the layperson is stuck getting a vague feeling that these people were wonderful people, but that a little less fuzzy on their ecnomic ideas. It also leaves a person with economics background feeling like this is less a book about economics and more a book about Heilbroner's fan worship.
Neither audience is served. I can't recommend this book.
Right after I read this book, I read Todd Buchholz's New Ideas From Dead Economists.
Where Heilbroner failed, Buccholz succeeds in so many ways. He puts the central ideas of these economists as the main focus of each chapter. When talking about David Rircardo, the theory of Comparative Advantage is front-and-center. When talking about Marx, Heilbroner meanders and throws a lot of Marx's ideas around and you don't get a sense of how they all fit together in Marx's mind or why modern economists find fundamental flaws in his reasoning. In Buccholz's book, the central point is Marx's ideas, how they fit together and it's very clear why most economists (and the reader) will find Marx's basic premise wrong in light of emperical evidence. This goes on and on.
I initially thought Heilbroner would be a good read, since it was recommended by econ majors when I was in college and they'd never heard of Buccholz's book. I'm glad I read both.
Do yourself a favor and don't waste your time/money - read the better book.