Techdirt Reading List: The Worldly Philosophers

from the economic-history dept

We’re back again with another in our weekly reading list posts of books we think our community will find interesting and thought provoking. Once again, buying the book via the Amazon links in this story also help support Techdirt.

When I talk to people who are interested in the concept of economics, but never really got into the specifics, I often suggest they pick up and read (or at least skim) The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers, by Robert Heilbroner. It’s not an economics text by any means, but rather a highly readable and interesting look at some of the earliest economists, their lives and philosophies. At least one friend told me after reading this book that he finally realized that economics is not boring — and isn’t just about numbers, graphs and charts — but rather really is a form of philosophy.

There have been some criticisms of The Worldly Philosophers over the years — including that Heilbroner inserts his own viewpoint and opinions into it, and sometimes focuses on creating a good story over a fully accurate representation of the individuals covered in the book. That may be true, but I’m not convinced it really matters that much. The book is not a full and thorough scholarly work or biography about these individuals, but is (in my opinion) a great way to think about the concept of economics itself and how it developed, while learning a bit about the original characters who created the field.

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Comments on “Techdirt Reading List: The Worldly Philosophers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Philosophy = Newton's Third Law

Like there is an equal and opposite reaction to every action… there is an equal and opposite saying to every saying.

Muse away everyone, people have always been more interested in the vehicle the message arrived, but not really the message itself.

It’s why forked tongue folks get around the way they do!

Quick Brown Fox says:

I concur completely with the comments of Dave Barnes (see above) regarding “The Worldly Philosophers” by Robert Heilbroner. I also read and thoroughly enjoyed this book many years ago, once in high school, then again in junior college, both in the 1960s. Heilbroner makes the pioneering economists come alive, and he portrays them as very human, subject to every foible and frailty that makes us human beings.

As Mike Masnick astutely notes, economics need not be boring when it is in the hands of a skilled writer such as Heilbroner. Heilbroner does insert his socialist viewpoints from time to time, but that does not detract the reader from enjoying the book. This is a book that has stood the test of time and can be read by anyone who has a glimmer of interest in the subject of economics and its origins as a social science.

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