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Grand Pursuit: A History of Economic Genius

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,187 Ratings  ·  159 Reviews
From the bestselling author of A Beautiful Mind, a brilliant new approach to the story of modern economics and to understanding how we got into today's financial mess. As the twenty-first century faces new and ever more daunting economic obstacles, Sylvia Nasar tells the story of how our financial world came to function as it does today, and how a handful of men and women ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published July 19th 2012 by Fourth Estate (first published 2011)
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Alex MacMillan
May 31, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"No. The master narrative of High Liberalism is mistaken factually. ... A political philosophy based on fairy tales about what happened in history or what humans are like is going to be less than useless. It is going to be mischievous. ... Anyone who after the 20th century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adve ...more
The subtitle says this is a grand story of economic genius, but the text is more of a series of interesting anecdotes of the public lives of some famous economists.

It was interesting to see how Schumpeter attempted to make policy when he was the Austrian Finance Minister, how Keynes maneuvered in the Bretton Woods conference, or how Beatrice Webb wandered from classical liberalism to inventing the predecessor to the modern 'welfare state'. But the book is very thin in describing the history of
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those Interested in Intellectual and Socio-Economic History
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Suzanne Dobbins
In her preface, Nasar describes Grand Pursuit as “the story of an idea that was born in the Golden Age before World War I,” the grand pursuit of “turning economics into an instrument of mastery” that could drive prosperity, rather than the “dismal science” that cautioned against government or even voluntary social intervention. Although she gives a glimmer of the ideas of such founders of classical economics as Adam Smith, Thomas Robert Malthus, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, the focus is on t ...more
This is a popularly oriented book on economic history - in particular by way of a historical look at economists and their times. The premise is to look at the thinkers who developed our ways of thinking about how economic thinking can be used to improve the lots of people through intentional activity -- through intentional economics policies. The immediate mode of discussion is to focus on particular thinkers and their times and from that construct a larger narrative of the story of economic pol ...more
Mal Warwick
Nov 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Economics Through the Lens of Personality: An Accessible History

It’s well known that Thomas Carlyle, a 19th century British historian, is credited with first calling economics “the dismal science.” What’s much less widely appreciated is that this derogatory label was well justified when he set the phrase down on paper in 1849.

Until well into the 19th century, as Sylvia Nasar shows so clearly in Grand Pursuit, economics was, indeed, dismal. The gloomy predictions of Thomas Malthus dominated discu
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Sylvia Nasar has written a brilliant and very interesting book about economic history from Marx to the present. A Grand Pursuit is about two concerns (1) what do we do with the poor? and (2) how do we deal with the ups and downs of the economy that cause such disruption in the world? Both topics are front and center in our present situation.

Nasar deals with these questions by telling about people, like Marx, Beatrice (NOT Beatrix) Potter Webb, Schumpeter, Hayek, and most especially Maynard Keyn
Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This is hands down the finest book on the actual study of economics that I have ever read. It is a layperson's book. It puts things in perspective. It lays the groundwork to understand when people go on about Keynesianism and Milton Friedman and Monetism and explains who thought up what and who's done what in whose name and lays out the basic principles of everyone and does a wonderful jo of justifying the actual study of economics - important, since there are a lot of haters and Economists have ...more
Vishaka Datta
Sylvia Nasar takes you through the "long run" history of economics, most notably the men and women who made great strides in it, stretching from the days of Marx in 1840s Europe and concluding with Amartya Sen in modern day India. I felt that the book begins to really meander and turns a tad incoherent with the post WWII history, and hence the three stars. But it really does start with a bang.

All the economics debates today, no matter how polarised their opponents may be, all agree on one basic
Christian Dibblee
This is a tough book to review. On the one hand, I immensely enjoyed learning about the various thinkers that Nasar brings to that table. I had vague recollections of Alfred Marshall and Paul Samuelson from my college classes, but truly knew nothing about Joseph Schumpeter coming in. Nasar certainly helps provide an accessible entry into the economic history world.

That said, this is a book that was almost doomed to meet its expectations or thesis. The economic thinkers, while all important (thou
My friend is absolutely right on many problems of this book - the lack of real analysis, pretty obvious and horrible biases, etc. "...the author just skims through the whole thing, telling us what the general population chose to remember about each economist." But I guess her complaint here is exactly the point of the book. It simply wants to introduce what the author thinks we (general pop) would want to know about these men and women. And I decide to continue reading because of the same reason ...more
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the era of huge national deficits and concerns over a balanced budget, Ms. Nasar’s book couldn’t be more timely. Grand Pursuit, is the story of the science of economics – and how the human race has benefited (and suffered) as a result of the beliefs concerning government actions and its effects.

The book opens in the year 1842 in Charles Dickens’ London. Dickens himself set out to awaken men’s souls to the hardships of the working class in the hopes that something would be done to ease their p
Dec 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This history of economics takes the structure of serial and overlapping biographies of the most important thinkers since the mid-1800s. She starts with Dickens' descriptions of Victorian London, including the Malthusian view that 9/10ths of the population would indefinitely live in abject poverty. The book is broken into three sections - leading up to world war one, the two world wars and the period since world war 2. The strongest section of the book, by far, is the middle one. She focuses on K ...more
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
-De muchas ideas, que principalmente explican las cosas en retrospectiva, y de muchas voluntades.-

Género. Ensayo.

Lo que nos cuenta. Desde mediados del siglo XIX hasta comienzos del XXI, repaso de la vida e ideas, económicas principalmente (pero también muy sociales, políticas e incluso personales), de varios de los referentes y líderes de opinión de sus respectivas épocas, como Dickens, Marx, Keynes, Schumpeter, Hayek y Friedman entre otros, con la intención de mostrar la evolución del pensamien
Apr 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
-De muchas ideas, que principalmente explican las cosas en retrospectiva, y de muchas voluntades.-

Género. Ensayo.

Lo que nos cuenta. Desde mediados del siglo XIX hasta comienzos del XXI, repaso de la vida e ideas, económicas principalmente (pero también muy sociales, políticas e incluso personales), de varios de los referentes y líderes de opinión de sus respectivas épocas, como Dickens, Marx, Keynes, Schumpeter, Hayek y Friedman entre otros, con la intención de mostrar la evolución del pensamien
Kritajnya Raghunathan
Quite an interesting read. The title misleads one into thinking that this book is purely about economic history but in actuality, it provides a rich account of the lives of various economists and the circumstances which led them to invent the various theories which they did. Rather than being a black and white account which most economic narratives tend to be, the book triumphantly elucidates on the importance which political circumstances had on economists and on how politics has played a major ...more
Aug 13, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research
A book on economics which begins with Jane Austen and Charles Dickens has this reader's attention. Page 64 and I'm already engrossed in familiar characters' perspectives as each views economic and political issues from withing the historical time and environment each lived. At page 64, the reader is introduced to the influences and circumstances of Dickens and Carlyle, Engel and Marx,Malthus, Kant, Mayhew, John Stewart Mill, Sidgwick, Keynes and Marshall.
alana Semuels
I reviewed this book for the LA Times. Check it out here:
Maria Podolyak
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Книгу будет приятно читать жителям Советского Союза, нестандартный для нас взгяд на историю 19-20 века. Книгу можно разбирать на цитаты.
Nov 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This Grand Economic Puzzle is Incomplete

Silvia Nasar embarked on an ambitious journey to capture 160 years of economic history -- it's leading men and women, it's major successes, setbacks, influences, and impacts -- into a compelling set of standalone stories. She succeeds in assembling a meticulously researched book spanning Marx's days toiling in London's libraries to Keynes and Schumpeter trying to revive Europe's economy after WW I to Keynes trying to save the world's economy after WW II to
Praveen Kishore
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A superb book about modern economist and economics.
Sylvia not only tells stories of Marx and Marshall, Beatrice and Joan, Schumpeter and Keynes, Hayek and Fisher, and Friedman and Sen, but also illuminates various historical and theoretical development in an engaging style, flowing prose and elegant style.
A must read!
James Daher
Solid economic history. Interesting and entertaining.
Guifré B.
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In short: One of the best economic books ever read.

Sylvia Nasar starts her history of economic thought unconventionally, with British author Charles Dickens and his story A Christmas Carol. Her point is that Britain in the 1840s is one of the earliest times and places in which the extreme poverty of the majority no longer seemed to be permanent. Earlier economists, such as Thomas Malthus, thought that the poverty of the majority was inevitable, as birth rates adjusted to economic circumstances to keep the majority very poor.

Nasar is to be co

At it best, this book offers illuminating explanations of a wide variety of economic ideas. At its worst it dives into the most boring trivialities. Nasar thinks it's more important or interesting to describe Beatrice Potters love life than to engage with her ideas. Half of all the quotations Nasar picks are utterly irrelevant for the overarching storyline. One could say that Nasar gives convincing sketches of the contexts from which these thinkers arise, but I don't agree with this. There are e ...more
Paul Frandano
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economy
Uneven but agreeable reading, a kind of disjointed one-thing-I-thought-to-mention-after-another narrative that nevertheless focuses on the big shots, Marshall, Fisher, Schumpeter, and Keynes - sometimes in a very forced way - as a structural spine, with several species of "seven dwarfs" to flesh out the diversity profile. The inclusion of Joan Robinson and Amartya Sen didn't do much for me and weakened the final quarter of the story in a kind of gradual, needless dissipation of the book's eponym ...more
Anne Payne
Ever wonder how the personalities, lives and loves of economists influenced modern economic theory and practice? Me either, but reading Sylvia Nasar's "Grand Pursuit" lets me enjoy some very human life stories while upping my economic savvy.

The narrative scaffolding is ambitious: the economic history of the industrial world into which Nasar weaves mini-biographies of influential economists.

The underlying thesis is that modern economic understanding is a means to get and keep humanity out of grin
Aug 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sylvia Nasar est connue pour son habilité de bien narrer les histoires et elle n'a pas changé. Ce livre, malgré son sujet assez difficile à digérer, contient une continuité fluide qui permet au lecteur d'y accrocher. Personnellement, j'ai beaucoup aimé lire sur certains personnages plus que d'autres, spécialement sur les personnages du sexe féminine comme Beatrice Webb et Joan Robinson. J'ai remarqué chez ces deux femmes une tendance vers la dépression lorsque les choses ne vont pas à leur guise ...more
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, economics
Sylvia Nasar has produced an excellent summation of economic thought in the last 200-or-so years. The book's thesis is irredeemably optimistic. Dispelling any notion that economics is a "dismal science," and employing a distinctly Schumpeterian world-view, Nasar argues that economic thought has provided governments with the "instruments of mastery" needed to elevate human welfare.

Grand Pursuit is by no means a dry tome. Nasar illuminates the development of new economic ideas by placing them in
Oct 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sylvia Nasar has written this book as a PBS series with lots of personal details over intellectual backbone. Smooth writing but no prizes for not taking on the tough issues and ideas. You would think Marx made no contribution whatever to the discussion, quoting Keynes' blunt (and unfair) dismissal as a final judgment. However, there are some good things. She does a good job of conveying Alfred Marshall's claim to fame, having to do with discrediting some of the extreme socialist ridicule of busi ...more
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grand Pursuit
By Sylvia Nasar
Published by Simon & Schuster

Grand Pursuit is an exploration of economic scholars, ideology and development over the past two century’s. Drawing upon the great political, economic and literary thinkers of the times, Nasar exposes the gritty realities of industrialized nations and the theories on wealth, poverty and unemployment that continue to confound our world leaders today.

Thoroughly researched and expansive in its coverage, Nasar provides biographical and pri
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Sylvia Nasar was born to a German mother and Uzbek father. Her family immigrated to the United States in 1951, then moved to Ankara, Turkey in 1960. She graduated from Antioch College in 1970, and earned a masters' degree in economics at New York University in 1976. For four years, she did research with Nobel Laureate Wassily Leontief. She is currently the Knight Chair in Business Journalism at Co ...more
More about Sylvia Nasar...
“Para Dickens y Marx, la función de las empresas era controlar o explotar al trabajador. Para Mill, su función era enriquecer a los dueños. Para Marshall, la empresa no era una cárcel, y dirigir una empresa no significaba controlar a los presos. Competir por los clientes (o los trabajadores) exigía algo más que repetición ciega. Las empresas estudiadas por Marshall habían tenido que evolucionar para sobrevivir.” 0 likes
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