“The Worldly Philosophers” fills a niche and for that reason alone it is a must-read. It covers the ideas of some major economists and situates these ideas in the context of their biographies and the historical events that influenced them (Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, J.S. Mill, Marx, Alfred Marshall just barely, Henry George, Veblen, Keynes and Schumpeter). Moreover, it is written in a non-academic, non-technical style suited to the general reader who is looking for an accessible introduction to the history of economic thought. Some chapters are better than others: Heilbronner is at his best when discussing Marx and Keynes, and he offers a very balanced discussion of Marx, both what he got wrong and what he got right.
However, the book has many problems, beginning with the title, which is a misnomer. Although Smith, Mill and Marx happened also to be philosophers, what all the men in this book have in common is that they were economists. But Heilbronner realized that the title “The Great Economists” that his publisher suggested would not sell books. The book is outdated, having been originally written in 1953, and even the seventh and final edition dates back to 1999; Heilbronner died in 2005, so no further updates will be made available. It omits a number of important economists such as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman; and of course it makes no mention of more recent economists and their works, such as Krugman and Piketty. Only about one page is dedicated to the Physiocrats, who preceded Adam Smith. The “Guide to Further Reading” in the back is outdated. At times the writing style is somewhat rambling.
Although this book is a bit of a classic, there are better books on this topic. I would recommend “Economics Evolving: A History of Economic Thought” or Jerry Muller’s “The Mind and the Market” for those interested in learning about the history of economic thought.
- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; 3 edition (25 May 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140290060
- ISBN-13: 978-0140290066
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 259 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)