I thought it would be interesting to read a history of economic theory given the economic challenges we face today. Sylvia Nasar’s Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius certainly fits the history bill. Nasar provides an in-depth survey of economic theory and the people who devised them. The book opens in Dickensian London and ends in present day India. Nasar profiles many of the heavy hitters in economic theory from Marx, Keynes, Hayek to Schumpter and Friedman. I liked some of the interesting personal background information provided for each of the economists but much of the time I wanted Nasar to get to the point more quickly.
Sylvia Nasar won a National Book Critics Circle award for her 1998 book, A Beautiful Mind, which was a biography of economist John Nash. The interconnected stories in Grand Pursuit led me on a economic journey down through history. It was fascinating to see how the success or failure of one economic theory spawned the next great theory. It also pointed up the fact that economics is certainly not a precise science.
I have to admit that some of the early chapters that just seemed to lag to me. I appreciated that Nasar included a couple of chapters on female economists, but I found her forty-seven page chapter on Beatrice Webb about 15 pages too long. This book needed a heavier hand in the editing department. It probably would have been a more compelling book if it were about 150 pages shorter.
Prepare to set aside a good chunk of time if you’re contemplating reading Grand Pursuit. I’m not sure that the payoff for the time invested to read the book is all that good. I did learn much more about the history of economics. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much that would give me hope that we’re on the cusp of figuring out the next new economic theory that will lift us from our current economic woes. (That however, is not the author’s fault.)
Grand Pursuit did help me remember to keep things in perspective. The economic situation we face today is nothing compared to the accepted status quo that most of population of Great Britain faced in the 1840’s. “There is no going back,” Nasar asserts. “Nobody debates any longer whether we should or shouldn’t control our economic circumstances, only how.”
Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.