Summary of Grand Pursuit

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Rating

8

Qualities

  • Innovative

Recommendation

Economists are people, too, as journalism professor Sylvia Nasar proves in her revealing book on the lives of the men and women who demonstrated “economic genius.” Starting with the 19th century and ending in modern times, she relates how writers, journalists, social activists and academicians turned the concepts of economics into practice. She delves into their personal lives to find the human aspects that informed their theories, while also weaving in the vivid historical settings that gave their lives context. From the tragedies of illness and death to the pangs of unrequited love, and even the scandals – one famous economist kept a “sex diary” – Nasar presents engaging, sometimes quirky portraits of the people behind the pronouncements. getAbstract highly recommends Nasar’s tracing of the history of modern human economic development – with its circling-back loops that mimic the booms and busts of the economies and societies her protagonists lived in – to those who love history, economics and a rousing good tale.

About the Author

Sylvia Nasar wrote A Beautiful Mind, the best-selling biography of economist John Nash. She is a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

 

Summary

A Dickens of a Time

In 1843, novelist Charles Dickens published a story he hoped would prick the conscience of a nation. A Christmas Carol indicted English society’s tolerance for the dismal poverty in its midst. The metamorphosis of lead character Ebenezer Scrooge from mean tightwad to enlightened philanthropist rebuked fatalists, who believed hunger, poverty and scarce resources were the natural, unavoidable results of overpopulation. Their opinions echoed the 18th-century teachings of the Rev. Thomas Malthus, who justified poverty as part of history’s cycle of feast and famine.

This mind-set resulted in the English Poor Law of 1834, which required those who sought public aid to “become inmates of parish workhouses.” The Industrial Revolution spurred economic activity beyond any historical measure, but it didn’t eradicate the new factory age’s widespread poverty and disease – both exacerbated by workers’ crowded living conditions. By the 1840s, hunger, social unrest and human misery across Europe spurred many reactions. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels struck up their lifelong, codependent friendship and collaboration based on their shared belief that only...


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