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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
3 of 3 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worldly Philosophers Delivered With Style April 30 2012
By Ian Robertson TOP 50 REVIEWER
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 introductory economics classes for decades): its subject matter - the great economic thinkers, or 'worldly philosophers - is both timeless and assembled with great care; and the erudition and style with which Heilbroner writes is unparalleled. With seven editions over more than 60 years (Heilbroner died in 2005), this landmark book should continue to serve as an introduction and reference for years to come.

The text flows chronologically, with ample references forward and back in time as necessary to provide context, starting with the smaller building blocks of economic thought prior to Adam Smith and progressing with separate chapters for Smith, Malthus and Ricardo, Marx, Veblen, Keynes and Schumpeter. There are two additional chapters - one for the Utopian Socialists of the early 1800s, including John Stuart Mill, and a second for the Victorian era, including Bastiat, Henry George, and John Hobson. The seventh edition also includes a new concluding chapter lamenting 'The End of Worldly Philosophy', or more specifically the evolution of economics as a science disaggregated from its necessary social causes and effects.

It's not difficult to find information on any of the people noted above, or to access their major works. What sets this book apart is the seamless weaving of the subjects' accomplishments into a compelling narrative along with a context and frame of reference for assessing their work.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, vibrant reading June 11 2004
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 as Karl Marx, John Hobson, Marshall, Keynes, the Utopian socialists, Adam Smith, etc.
This is a wonderful book for an introduction to economics. I've generated many ideas and economic theories as a result of reading this book--the author constantly points out their ideas, the flaws, the strengths, the fallacies.
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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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Most recent customer reviews
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 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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic
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. Read more
Published on Dec 21 2003
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Writing, but Beware of Bias
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... Read more
Published on Dec 12 2003 by Jeffery Steele
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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