15 September 2011

Nasar on Economic Genius

Sylvia Nasar, the former New York Times economics reporter who wrote A Beautiful Mind (which I am almost embarrassed to admit that I haven't read despite enjoying the movie so thoroughly) has just published a new book called Grand Pursuit: the Story of Economic Genius.
The book was recently excerpted on Bloomberg.com in five parts.
Since my wife never reads this site I can freely say that I have ordered mine already and should have it in hand tomorrow. This will do nothing for the backlog that I already have hanging over me, but so it goes.
I hope (and believe) it will not fall into the "Great Thinkers" trap that many economic histories suffer (notably Richard Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers). There is nothing wrong with short biographies of the giants of any field, but it tends to do a disservice to the discipline. Murray Rothbard addressed this tendency in this lecture (audio here ≈ 20:30).

"I think this is a rotten way of approaching the history of thought. In the first place, all of these political thinkers and economic thinkers were involved in movements, almost all of them. When they say anything, they have certain intentions. They use the words in a certain way, have a certain author’s intention.

In order to understand their intention, you have to understand who they’re talking to, who their friends are, who their enemies are, who they’re reacting against. In other words, the historical context of what they’re saying."

That is why Rothbard wrote An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, which I haven't read, but I have and it is a tremendous reference.

Anyway, I enjoyed the excerpts and look forward to reading Nasar's book.

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