January 7, 2012


Sylvia Nasar, Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011) ("Rather than a history of economic thought, the book . . . is the story of an idea that was born in the golden age before World War I, challenged in the catastrophic interwar years by two world wars, the rise of totalitarian governments, and a great depression, and was revived in a second golden age in the aftermath of World War II." "Alfred Marshall called modern economics an 'Organan,' ancient Greek for tool, not a body of truths but an 'engine of analysis' useful for discovering truths and, as the term implied, an implement that would never be perfected or completed but would always require improvement, adaption, innovation. His student John Maynard Keynes called economics an 'apparatus of the mind' that, like any other science, was essential for analyzing the modern world and making the most of it possibilities." "I chose protagonists who were instrumental in turning economics into an instrument off mastery. I chose men and women with 'cool heads but warm hearts' who helped build Marshall's 'engine' and innovated Keynes's 'apparatus. I chose figures whose temperaments, experiences and genius led them, in response to their own times and places, to ask new questions and propose new answers. I chose figures that took the story from London in the 1840s around the world, ending in Calcutta at the turn of the twenty-first century. I tried to picture what each of them saw when they looked at their world, and to understand what moved, intrigued, inspired them. All of these thinkers were searching for intellectual tools that could help solve what Keynes called 'the political problem of mankind: how to combine three things: economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty." Id. at xiv-xv.).