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The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers Paperback – Aug 10 1999

3.8 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; 7 edition (Aug. 10 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068486214X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684862149
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 21.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #47,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“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

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

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
I recently assigned Heilbroner along with New Ideas from Dead Economics (by Todd Buchholz) in a college course and found them a useful contrast. Buchholz is a bit to the right of the mainstream and Heilbroner is far to the left, so they usually give different perspectives on the economists of the past. If I were to use only one, Buchholz would be the clear choice. Heilbroner is a better writer than he is an economist, while Buchholz is both a gifted writer and a sound economist. Perhaps because he is unhappy with most of what has happened in the past half century in economics, Heilbroner ends his book with Schumpeter in the 1940s. In contrast, Buchholz believes that the past half century has been a creative and exciting time in economics and, hence, one gets from him a better sense of what is happening in economics today.
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Format: Paperback
Heilbroner is a gifted writer with a flare for illuminating the lives and times of the great economic thinkers who are the subject of the book. Therein lies both the major strength and the major weakness of The Worldly Philosophers.
The major strength is that the book is an engaging read, especially considering its subject matter. In particular, Heilbroner paints a compelling picture of the lives of John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx.
His chapter on Marx may be the book's highlight, since an understanding of Marx's embittered worldview may provide a clue to the oppressive atmosphere engendered by Marxism, both within societies that subscribed to Marxist doctrine and within the movement itself. Especially illuminating is French Socialist Pierre Proudhon's response to Marx's offer to join forces: "Let us together seek, if you wish, the laws of society, the manner in which these laws are reached, the process by which we shall succeed in discovering them; but, for God's sake, after having demolished all the a priori dogmatisms, do not let us in our turn dream of indoctrinating the people. . . . I applaud with all my heart your thought of inviting all shades of opinion; let us carry on a good and loyal polemic, let us give the world the example of an informed and farsighted tolerance, but let us not--simply because we are at the head of a movement--make ourselves into the leaders of a new intolerance, let us not pose as the apostles of a new religion, even if it be the religion of logic, the religion of reason. Let us gather together and encourage all dissent, let us outlaw all exclusiveness, all mysticism, let us never regard a question as exhausted, and when we have used one last argument, let us if necessary begin again--with eloquence and irony.
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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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