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The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers [Paperback]

Robert L. Heilbroner
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 10 1999
The bestselling classic that examines the history of economic thought from Adam Smith to Karl Marx—“all the economic lore most general readers conceivably could want to know, served up with a flourish” (The New York Times).

The Worldly Philosophers 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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“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.”
—Leonard Silk

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.”
—Lester Thurow

“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.”
—Paul Samuelson

About the Author

Robert L Heilbroner is the Norman Thomas Professor of Economics, Emeritus at the New School For Social Research, New York. He is author of more than 20 books, and has contributed to the New Yorker. He lives in New York City. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A different way of teaching economics April 2 2004
Frederic Bastiat, a nineteenth century French economist, once wrote a open letter calling on parliament to intervene and prevent unfair competition from ruining the industries related to lighting; his argument was plain: "We are suffering from the intolerable competition of a foreign rival placed, it would seem, in a condition so far superior to our own for the production of light, that he absolutely mandates our national market with it at a price fabulously reduced ... This rival ... is no other than the sun."
Sarcasm, Robert Heilbroner tells us, is just one of many ways in which economists have tried to express their ideas and make them intelligible to a skeptical public. If Bastiat comes off as an eccentric, that is because he was. But wait till you meet others such as absent-minded Adam Smith or aspiring revolutionary Karl Marx. Only then will the world of economics become alive.
In this succinct volume, Mr. Heilbroner aims to make economics appealing to non-economists. There are no graphs, few numbers, and all ideas are conveyed in a superb way, paving the way for future inquiries (a rich bibliographical survey serves the same purpose). The book will also excite those with an economics background, as it offers anecdotes into people whom students usually know only academically. Still, the greatest contribution will be the introduction of the economics world to those who seem aloof to it, either because they find it boring or difficult. After reading this book, they should change their minds.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction May 4 2004
This is the latest version by a historian of economics, Heilbroner. In this book, taking the paradigm of Polanyi, so many classical economists are introduced as �gworldly philosophers�h like Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Owen, San Simon, Fourier, Mill, Marx, Edgeworth, Frederic Bastiat, Henry George, Hobson, Marshall, Veblen, Keyens, and Schumpeter.
The author shows us the way how we can understand some difficulties of those philosophers, explaining their social background, habitus, characters, whole perspective which the author calls �gvision�h, achievements and difficulties from current issue. And because they have affected each other as a matter of fact, some letters which were inserted in this book is effective to touch their personalities. This book can be read as a Euro-American history through those philosophers.
Although there are a few inadequate expressions on anthropological facts and might be philosophy, this book must be fantastic for inviting readers to economics. However, although anthropology or sociology has same challenge, what we want to know at the end must be economy itself rather than thoughts of worldly philosophers. I�fm just a bit afraid this book might produce �gstudiers who want to become economists�h rather than �h studiers who want to know economy�h, unless readers take it into account.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Dec 21 2003
By A Customer
This lucid and lively book tells the history of economic thought through the lives and times of great economists such as Smith, Marx, and Keynes. The writing will grab most readers, making the book an ideal introduction to economics for intelligent high schoolers or college students who might be put off by the dryness of the subject. There's no wonder that it's been in print for decades and has gone through numerous editions.
That said, the reader show know that Heilbroner's history stops with Keyenes and Schumpeter, thus ignoring the the revival of market-oriented schools of thought and the collapse of communism. This will strike some readers as a huge omission, perhaps reflective of Heilbroner's advanced age or his aversion to the mathematical emphasis of contemporary economics. Heilbroner would probably argue that no truly fundamental and original contributions have been made to the discipline in the last 50 years. He may be right.
Some Amazon reviewers, apprently of conservative bent, don't understand that The Worldly Philosophers is as much a book of history and biography as it is of economics. To criticize Heilbroner for giving too much space to Marx and none to Friedman or the Austrians is to confuse historical impact and originality with correctness. Marx had a gigantic impact on social thought and world history. The Austrians were (and remain) a smallish cult, whatever their other merits.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Writing, but Beware of Bias Dec 12 2003
In this justly famous volume, first written more than fifty years ago and now in its seventh edition, Robert Heilbroner brings to life the great practitioners of the dismal science. Starting with Adam Smith and ending with Joseph Schumpeter, Heilbroner shows the sparkle and variety and even the romance of these social scientists that many readers might think of as boring. By humanizing them, he illustrates that economists ask questions and search for answers which are too important to be dull.
"The Worldly Philosophers" weaves the details of the economists' lives into their work, making it easy for the reader to remember their important ideas. Thorstein Veblen's idiosyncratic work, so different from the concerns of most economists, is shown to be of a piece with his idiosyncratic life. John Maynard Keynes iconoclastic (and yet discriminating) mind, completely at odds with his mentor Alfred Marshall's straightforward analytical approach to the discipline, is described as crucial to his understanding the underlying reasons for the Great Depression.
Economics and economists are rarely presented with such style. And yet, ultimately, it is Heilbroner's fascination and focus on style that undoes some of the greatness in this book. Heilbroner is at home with the old political economists of yesteryear that wrestled with the great questions and used a few simple models in their books. He despises, however, the recent turn by the modern economics profession away from its literary roots towards a more mathematical approach. His unwillingness to come to terms with why economists use more math is the only flaw in an otherwise wonderful book.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Worldly Philosophers Delivered With Style
There's a good reason this is the second best selling economics book of all time (the first is Paul Samuelson's Economics textbook, which was prescribed by professors for... Read more
Published on April 30 2012 by Ian Robertson
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Bad
This book will just serve as an introduction to a number of economic thinkers. The reader then gets a bit of a feel for what type of economics area, he would find interesting. Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2008 by Patrick Sullivan
2.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Bag, Indeed!
One reader of this book has noted that this book is a "mixed bag". I think he/she is exactly right.

Obviously, this author has done something pretty remarkable, and has... Read more
Published on April 29 2008 by Mark Nenadov
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, vibrant reading
I came to this book a novice in economic history. The Worldly Philosophers opened my eyes and gave in-depth detail of some of the major thinkers and key players in economics: such... Read more
Published on June 11 2004 by "blackarrow017"
5.0 out of 5 stars A great reading experience
This book reminds me of Will Durant's marvelous The Story of Philosophy, with which it shares many positive qualities. Read more
Published on April 5 2004 by M. Dog
3.0 out of 5 stars good but......
An excellent overview but far too brief. I would have paid more for a book with twice the pages if more detail of each economist's theories had been included. Read more
Published on Dec 15 2003 by W.R.Schillings
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful read!
This is one of those delights that come very rarely in economics. The author wrote for the New Yorker and anyone familiar with the old rambling New Yorker articles that took days... Read more
Published on Oct. 14 2003 by economist
2.0 out of 5 stars read New Ideas From Dead Economists instead
I've read both Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner and New Ideas From Dead Economists, by Todd Buchholz. Read more
Published on July 1 2003 by Eiji Hirai
5.0 out of 5 stars Money makes the world go round
This book is an important history of economic thought throughout the ages. It gives the general reader a basic understanding of how economics has changed through the years from... Read more
Published on June 24 2003 by M. A Newman
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