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The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes

4.44  ·  Rating details ·  1,124 ratings  ·  193 reviews
A page-turning biography of world-changing economist John Maynard Keynes and the big ideas that outlived him.

In the spring of 1934, Virginia Woolf sketched an affectionate biographical portrait of her great friend John Maynard Keynes. Writing a full two years before Keynes would revolutionize the economics world with the publication of The General Theory, Woolf nevertheles
Hardcover, 656 pages
Published May 19th 2020 by Random House
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Erich Kuerschner The statement in quotes is a true statement. No clue as to why the political ideology of a writer (in an intro, preface?) to a German edition ( what y…moreThe statement in quotes is a true statement. No clue as to why the political ideology of a writer (in an intro, preface?) to a German edition ( what year 1936 or 2020?) should influence what one would write rather than one’s understanding of the difference between risk and uncertainty?(less)

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May 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is not just about Keynes. It is, as the author notes, an exploration about whether you can make changes through policy or through revolution. It gets at one of the greatest fissures in modern thought right now across the world--do you need to burn the system to the ground and start over and can you make technical fixes that improve people's lives, avoid inter- and intra-societal conflicts, and equality. Keynes was an optimist and a technocrat even though his ideas were debunked when hi ...more
Jason Furman
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
The first two-thirds of this book is an extraordinary biography of John Maynard Keynes that is the basis of my five star review. It is well written, nuanced, comprehensive, and does an excellent job explaining the complicated international finance of the period in which he lived. Zachary Carter makes compelling links between the many phases and facets of Keynes’ life: someone helping the Treasury finance to the Great War vs. returning the critical roots of the Bloomsbury group; a truth teller wh ...more
Dec 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, economics
This is a biography of Keynesian economics which the author shows to be a breakthrough in economic thought and effective when used. The personal portrait of John Maynard Keynes is merely sketched. What stands out about him is ability to challenge the application of classical economics to modern times and his passion for using monetary policy for not only peace (as in the title) but also for the overall quality of life.

Zachary Carter gives a chronological presentation of the concepts and theories
Feb 15, 2020 rated it liked it
***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway***

So, for the first 350 pages or so this was going to be a strong 4 stars. A little bit biography, a little bit economics and philosophy history. Combined, this made for a very interesting read. John Maynard Keynes was not what we think of nowadays when we think of economists (sorry, friends, not an insult!) He was quirky and let his personal experiences and beliefs color his views on economic systems. And in many situations...he was right. I thoroughly
Bob H
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A magisterial and detailed (530 pp.) account of the work and legacy of John Maynard Keynes, the legendary economist whose writing and diplomacy -- public and private -- would influence economies and world policy in his time and beyond. Although it's a biography of sorts, it follows his adult life and career starting in the years before WWI and traces his influence beyond his death in 1946 -- indeed, the book's final pages concern the 2008 financial collapse and its aftermath.

We learn of his pers
Kevin Lopez
No European mind since Newton has impressed himself so profoundly on both the political and intellectual development of the world. When the Times wrote Keynes’ obituary, it declared him ‘the greatest economist since Adam Smith.’ But even praise so high as this sold Keynes short, for Keynes was to Smith as Copernicus was to Ptolemy—a thinker who replaced one paradigm with another. In his economic work he fused psychology, history, political theory, and observed financial experience like no ec ...more
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great read.

This book came out at the perfect time. It highlights many transformative moments throughout the 20th century that Keynes was part of. It is especially telling today as we go into a new transformative moment for what the world will look like after the coronavirus.

Keynes was a marvelous intellect and Carter tells a gripping tale of his life. He was there for it all, the Treaty of Versailles, the abandonment of the gold standard, the formation of the New Deal, and many other signifi
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most fascinating aspects of a critical biography, at least to me, show how the person influenced the world around him/her and continues to do so. For an intellectual biography, you have the added requirement of guiding the reader through what the subject has written and explaining how it fits into the broader story. When all of this fits together, and the author of the biography is himself a superb writer, the result is magic. I just finished Zachary Carter’s book on Keynes and it is nothing ...more
David Dayen
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Took me entirely too long to get through this but well worth the wait. A dazzling portrait of Keynes, his importance, and by the end his erasure, with his ideas sort of enduring but his spirit extinguished. The story of Keynes is the story of a century of economics, and by the end we see a profession adrift. But along the way we get a portrait of Keynes, who comes out of the Bloomsbury art and literature collective in London and really kept that perspective. The good life was Keynes' lifelong go ...more
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics, biography

In spite of his one-time prominence, John Maynard Keynes ("Cains") isn't a household name today. So Zachary Carter's The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes (2020) is a timely effort to fill that gap.

Keynes's Personal Life: A Thumbnail Sketch

It's well known that Keynes was homosexual. This was not unusual in his generation on Britain among prep school and university students. For Carter it is an up-front issue in Keynes's life, and Carter marvels at Keynes's su
Unnati Bose
Nov 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent- a well-written and spectacularly detailed account of economic history since the first world war to now, through the lens of Keynesianism. Zachery Carter mindfully knits together Keynes personal life - his friends, affairs and internal conflicts with his professional experience - his aspirations, failings, mistakes, and everything in between. This book is more than just Keynes and you realize that halfway through when Zachery (sometimes frustratingly) continues to detail how keynes' id ...more
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I had no idea that John Maynard Keynes was such an amazing guy. I vaguely knew him as an economist whose theories influenced FDR during the Depression. I had no idea that he was a journalist, philosopher, member of the Bloomsbury group of authors and artists among other things. And his economic ideas stemmed from a desire to halt war and help the little guys. Unfortunately, he wasn't always listened to.

This isn't a traditional biography in two ways. First, we don't get the cradle-to-grave treatm
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “Keynesian Economics” used before by politicians or economic talking heads, particularly during times of economic upheaval, and have always wondered what it exactly means or where it came from? The Price of Peace follows the life of the man who the term was derived, John Maynard Keynes. Keynes is perhaps the most distinguished and influential economist of the 20th Century and his ideas on modern economics is still utilized today.

Keynesianism can be described as a de
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Last night someone asked me how I found the book, and I said "Long." That is what it has to be: a biography of a polymath and an intellectual history of one of the most important -- and still one of the most frequently invoked -- economic ideas from the 20th century. There are parts of it where in order to set up the debate over a particular legacy of Keynesianism, the author delves into chapters of American political history that have little direct link to the man itself (indeed, about a quarte ...more
Dec 29, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

Ostensibly a biography of Keynes, this book functions more as a history and defense of Keynesian economics. Indeed, the death of Keynes occurs about 2/3 of the way in, and the final third then follows how closely his theories have been adhered to over the past 70-plus years. Carter contends that when economies flourished it was because they followed Keynesian principles, and when economies languished it was because these ideas were either abandoned or not followed closely enough.

The bo
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am doing policy reading this semester; political and economic theories and frameworks are relevant and last week I noticed a link to an interview with Carter on Ezra Klein's podcast and so I peeked at this book. It was advertised as one of the best books of the year and seemed like an approachable background read to supplement the policy stuff. It was very educational, but less entertaining than I had hoped.

I would hesitate to call it a biography as only about the first 2/3rds is devoted to K
Nov 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very readable and entertaining biography of Keynes and a concise history of the 20th century from an economic perspective.

‘But in his role as an economic theorist, uncertainty became the central psychological insight of his work. Uncertainty couldn’t be measured statistically. People had different levels of confidence about the future, but nobody could calculate it.’

‘…the market prices of stocks, bonds, and other assets created an illusory sense of mathematical certainty about prospective inv
Jul 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A tremendous book which takes the reader on a journey from Keynes' role in managing the British imperial economy in the First World War all the way through to the revival of his macroeconomic ideas in the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. Highly recommended for its relevance to the modern global economic crisis; history of Keynes and Keynesian responses to crises of the twentieth century; and flowing prose.

This may be my favourite book of 2020.
Xander Mitchell
Aug 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books of the year. Zach Carter put together a highly engaging biography of Keynes and his afterlife - his ideological afterlife, that is. Carter makes the case that a deep humanism was at the center of Keynes' economic model, describing what makes it so powerful and how we've strayed from it since. While the latter chapters present a frustrating recent history of the failures of the economics profession, I found cause for hope in the fact that many of the premises of Keynes' econ ...more
Jan 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I came to learn from this book that economic philosophy that focuses on delivering well being for its citizens is comprehensive. It is not focused on debt, price or GDP management. It is wholistic. Anything less can destroy the social fabric and bring a nation to its knees.
Jan 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
One of the best biographies I have read since Chernow's Hamilton. We've got WWI, The decline of the British Empire and the rise of the American, the Great Depression and the New Deal, WWII, debates over the gold standard, international trade policy, colonization, art, literature, and avant garde hippies, philosophy and statesmanship, in addition to the most influential theoretical economist of the 20th century.

Ever wonder why stimulus checks are a thing both republican and democrats signed into
David C Ward
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting, fluently written yet oddly constructed book; two books in one, really: a biography of Keynes and then a treatment of Keynesianism in American politics after his death. Without Keynes himself, his theory disappeared into a welter of measures that generally failed when implemented by venal and short sighted policy makers in the public and private sectors. In particular, the fear of anything that could possibly be called radical, let alone socialistic, meant that Americans ignored b ...more
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In The Price of Peace, Zach Carter writes about Keynes' life, work, and the impact of that work through today. Keynes was "not only an economist but the preeminent anti-authoritarian thinker of the twentieth century ... a moral philosopher, political theorist, and statesman".

Keynes is best known for The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. This book created macroeconomics (p. 257). It "proved that the condition and organization of society were not the inevitable, dispassionate requi
Matt Schiavenza
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Perhaps the first thing to know about this excellent new biography of John Maynard Keynes is that its subject dies halfway through. This isn't meant as a slight; if anything, it only goes to show that Keynes' influence did not end with his passing in 1946.

Most people with a passing understanding of economic history have a basic sense of Keynesian economics: that the government has a responsibility to stimulate the economy when high unemployment and economic uncertainty limit private consumption
Matthew Hall
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Keynes had a colorful personal life, and his legacy is complicated.

After letting this book sink in for a day or so, it strikes me that the questions it raises remain prescient. It asks the reader to consider the political implications of macroeconomics, what a government can do to shape society and respond to the effects of macroeconomics on their citizens. It asks us to consider how ideas and virtues are implemented, and how we can account for the unintended effects of those ideas in the long d
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
In the long run, we are all dead.
In the long run almost anything is possible.

The Price of Peace - Zachary D. Carter’s new biography of Keynes begins and ends with the above quotes that elegantly illustrate the great economist’s analytical prowess and boundless optimism in human progress.

What “Keynesianism” meant for me before this book was an approach to macroeconomics that implied the heavy hand of the state. Carter describes K
Dan Stoyell
Feb 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Keynes had a surprisingly interesting life, and it was fascinating to learn about his moral and social philosophy, which I didn't know anything about prior to this book. I also enjoyed the chronological overview that blended his life with the large events of the day, which Keynes generally played a large role in. Learning about the Bloomsbury society, Keynes' writings on Versailles, and his growth as an economist and human was fascinating. The book sometimes felt like a cheerleader rather than n ...more
Richard Marney
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics, history
All economics students know of Keynes and his work in economics, probability and public policy. A smaller number have actually read him in the original, whether the General Theory, Economic Consequences of the Peace or A Treatise on Probability. Even fewer (including yours truly) have read much about the man. Of the many books, perhaps Robert Skidelsky’ is the most renown. Mr. Carter’s book is a worthy addition to the body of work.

This well-researched and written book provides many insights into
Jul 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have to say, I know nothing about economics, never studied it. So there were things about this book that I didn't really understand, no matter how nicely Carter explained them. There were some important things I learned. It seems that most of what happened in the US under the name of Keynesian economics wasn't. It was made up of attempts by various people to modify Keynes' ideas to fit a country that worships markets above all else, with predictable results.
When Keynes died about halfway throu
Oliver Kim
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Takes an expansive reading of Keynes as more than just a theorist of depressions, but a visionary for peace and the good life for all -- a reformist "third way" that avoids the bloodletting of revolutions and the callousness of neoliberalism. In general I'm sympathetic to broader readings of Keynes that try to pull him out of the narrow box of "sticky prices + deficit spending" which academic economists have stuck him in, but I wonder if Carter overreaches in trying to recast this unabashed elit ...more
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“It is not true that individuals possess a prescriptive ‘natural liberty’ in their economic activities,” Keynes wrote. “There is no ‘compact’ conferring perpetual rights on those who Have or on those who Acquire. The world is not so governed from above that private and social interests always coincide. It is not a correct deduction from the principles of economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest.” 1 likes
“Keynes was not only inventing modern economics, he was helping invent the modern economist and placing him at the apex of a new intellectual power structure.” 1 likes
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