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The Worldly Philosophers

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  7,008 ratings  ·  491 reviews
The Worldly Philosophers not only enables us to see more deeply into our history but helps us better understand our own times. In this seventh edition, Robert L. Heilbroner provides a new theme that connects thinkers as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx. The theme is the common focus of their highly varied ideas—namely, the search to understand how a capitalist society w ...more
Paperback, Seventh Edition, 368 pages
Published August 10th 1999 by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster (NY) (first published 1953)
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If you have even a modest interest in economics, particularly in the historic and philosophical aspects of the subject, but don’t know where to begin, this book is what you are looking for!

(On the other hand, if you have an interest in the Econ 101 side of the subject, enroll in an Econ 101 course and learn about the “dismal science” from that vantage point: the relations between distribution and consumption; buyers, sellers, and markets; economic growth, inflation, and unemployment; and the mi
Ian "Marvin" Graye
As Seen in the Sub-Blurbs

This is step two in a project to acquire a modest foundation in political and economic philosophy before some more focused reading in both areas.

The first step was Thelma Lavine’s “From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest”:

Both books summarise the lives and philosophy of key philosophers in language that is easy to understand.

While I intend to read some other generalist philosophy books as well, I recommend both books for re
Sep 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
This one fits into a swag of books that have been written over the years, sort of grand introductions to the key players in philosophy (or in this case economics). Now, there are dangers with this stuff. One of them is getting the balance right in how much you plan to say about the life of the ‘philosopher’ and how much space that then leaves you to expound on their economic (or philosophical) theories. For an example of someone who gets that balance completely wrong check out the ‘in 90 minutes ...more
More or less the story of British Empiricism versus mainland European Idealism, but without the empiricism, told in a handful of lives the 'worldly philosophers' of the title, or economists as they are often known, but Heilbroner did not want to use as off putting a term as economists, having an eye on potential sales. The book feels quite smug now rereading it, the Cheshire cat has got the cream and leaves a self-satisfied smile on almost every page. My sense is that it is overall less than the ...more
I have long been intimidated by the idea of studying economics, even though I hold a deep fascination for it. In an effort to push myself to read more about some concepts that I have considered as complex for an inexcusably long time now, I picked up this book. Layman that I am, Heilbroner's approach seemed well suited to my interests.

There is a dry wit in each of this book's chapters. Maybe it's because these economists were eccentric in their own ways or maybe it's because Heilbroner is so ard
May 06, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Nutshell: cold warrior burps up whirlwind dilettante's tour of the chrematistical arts.

Overall presents an affective dialectic, positioning various theorists of political economy in relationship to each other on the basis of how they feel about the future. Smith is pragmatically optimistic; Malthus and Ricardo are independently despairing; Owen, Fourier, Saint-Simon are presented as insanely optimistic; and so on. This presentation sweeps up the whole: “behind this diversity was a common thread,
Sanjay Gautam
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant!
May 舞
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
"Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." - Maynard Keynes

With this in mind, it is not only important, but crucial for all of us to understand how that complex entity we call the economy works. Dr. Heilbroner sets himself a difficult task; to discuss the economists whose vision has largely shaped our society and whose contributions are still relevant to the contemporary world.

There are many fa
Rajat Ubhaykar
In this excellent summary of the evolution of economic thought over the last two centuries, Professor Robert Heilbroner delves into not just the philosophies, but also the lives and the backgrounds of various economic thinkers and tries to find common ground between how they experienced their lives and what they wrote in their books.

He starts the book off with one essential question: what makes the modern economy so radically different from medieval and ancient economies so as to necessitate th
Oct 09, 2011 rated it liked it
My estimation of economic science lies somewhere between where I rate astrology and phlogiston, but I'm giving this a chance to convince me otherwise...

Update: A little breezy, but so far it is interesting to read that Adam Smith was a lot brighter than his latter day followers. He recognized that the division of labor did not create economic growth by any sort of magic, but by the systematic exploitation of available resources including labor. He thought that eventually wages would either rise
Jason Furman
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Worldly Philosopher should be required reading for all economists and is also a book I would highly recommend to all non economists as well. I last read it about 30 years ago and although I have learned a lot in the interim, and economics has advanced some as well, it has actually aged reasonably well. Moreover, much of the writing is genuinely beautiful and makes you want to read it aloud to various people you come across, a feeling one rarely if ever gets with an economics book.

The Wordly
J.G. Keely
Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Read as an audiobook.

As far as I know, this is an excellent and amusing introduction to economics. I certainly enjoyed the breadth and depth to which Heilbroner explored the topic, arguing intelligently for how, why, and when economics came about, and the tracing its strange, wavering history through the politics, war, and geography of the modern world.

The inclusion of not only scientists and revolutionaries but satirists, idealists, religious fanatics, armchair hobbyists, and social theorists h
Erik Graff
May 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
This book consists of a series of short biographies of such economists as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen, John M. Keynes, Joseph Schumpeter etc. The accounts of their lives are studded with anecdotes and amusing asides which disguise the fact that the reader is actually learning classical economic theory painlessly.
Sep 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: social-science
If you're a Goodreader (or a Virtual Bookshelfer?), you may have come to know and enjoy particular reviewers' reviews. For example, I've become something of a fan of the reviews of fellow Goodreaders Trevor McCandless and Ginnie Jones. I mean it as the height of compliments to say that reading Heilbroner is like reading McCandless and Jones. In a nutshell, Heilbroner surveys and summarizes the major ideas/writings and lives of economists beginning with Adam Smith and culminating in John Kenneth ...more
Mohamed Almahdi
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Economics is important to be grasped and digested by all people. It is in direct touch with our lives and our wellbeing. As time passes further it is witnessed that life becomes more complex and the systems that govern our activity gets reshaped, expecting us human to adapt to the continuous changes. Life is no longer a trade-based agricultural traditional life of early civilizations. The industrial revolution and the technological advancements that associated it have resulted in a tremendously ...more
Savil Srivastava
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
A history of the big ideas in Economics from Adam Smith to Mill to Marx to Keynes. Written in the 1950s so doesn't get into Hayek/Friedman. Wonderful book that I highly recommend, because Heilbroner not only lucidly explains the core ideas but also puts them into context: we're taken into the society that each of these economists lived in, and their own personal lives and how these likely affected their views on the political-economy. ...more
Palash Bansal
Oct 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
Having studied economics for the last 3 years, in all fairness to the professors and myself, I did imbibe the concepts of it. But all the theories were like little pieces of autarky islands. What was missing was a common thread that could join everything together such that it all ends up making complete sense.
This book certainly helped a lot in doing so!
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: public-library
fascinating book about the life and eccentricities of world class economists. I liked the summaries and insight view of their living. looks like that all of them were anti capitalists but didn't found any other way so they wrote a books on the faults of the economy. seriously guys can we reduce life to a math equation? ...more
Jackson Cyril
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book. Heilbroner effortlessly communicates the ideas of classical economic theory while providing the reader with amusing anecdotes about the men behind this theoretical development.
Feb 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Holly by: jarrod
Shelves: nonfiction
So interesting and what an introduction! The idea that has most stuck with me in the book, I felt, is that in a group of non-industrialized peoples, increasing wages will result in a voluntary decrease of hours instead of an increase or no change. The concept of accumulating wealth while sacrificing free time is not inherent! Imagine that....we are so tied into this system of living that we forget alternatives are possible sometimes. I would never even think of cutting my hours if I got a raise ...more
Jun 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Like many weepy humanists, I don't read many books that deal with economics in a sincere, deep way (too dry, too mathy, the usual wimpy criticisms.) Heilbroner's overview is wonderful, not simply because he breaks down several notoriously byzantine, ideologically fraught economic world systems, but because he shows the reader the sincere human inquiries at the center of them. What is our world like? How did it get that way? Is it possible to exert control over it?

Economics in our age is, like so
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: philosophy readers
Shelves: athropology
Great book!! Reading it felt like being in the classroom with someone explaining to me the theories and everything. Many examples that make it easier to understand the points raised and I loved that it included biographies in it as well!!
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is far away from supply and demand diagrams and equations familiar to every economics student. It is merely focused on the idea of the economy as a social entity and what we went through throughout history to shape its concepts.
David Sarkies
Sep 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Historians and Economists
Recommended to David by: Some Guy at Law School
Shelves: philosophy
Explores the development of economic theory
3 September 2012

A friend at lawschool recommended this book to me after I had decided to read the works of Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes in the hope that I could glean some ideas on how to become wealthy. My belief was that wealth lay in understanding the basics of economics, and when it came to economics, I believed that the basics could be found in a number of authors that my American History lecturer had mentioned who had been quintessential in
Ian Robertson
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
There’s a good reason this is the second best selling economics book of all time (the first is Paul Samuelson’s Economics textbook, which was prescribed by professors for introductory economics classes for decades): its subject matter - the great economic thinkers, or “worldly philosophers - is both timeless and assembled with great care; and the erudition and style with which Heilbroner writes is unparalleled.  With seven editions over more than 60 years (Heilbroner died in 2005), this landmark ...more
Shaunak Bhatt
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.

Well written doesn't do it justice. Lucid, pretty comprehensive, multi-faceted, learned, juicy, addictive.

Economics sucks, we all know why Carlyle called it "the dismal science"....because its bloody dismal.

But Heilbroner succeeds beautifully at writing it in such a way that its effortless. I felt like I grasped a little more about Smith and Marx and Schumpeter (!) than I would have if I had tried other means of getting myself aquainted with these supremely influential men.

Also, he gets into bio
Karn Satyarthi
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
I had hoped for good biographical sketches on world's best ever economists before beginning this book but was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was much more than just that. Heilbroner essentially deals with the historical development of economic theory through the work of some of its greatest exponents. The chapters on Thorstein Veblen and early socialists like Owen, Saint Simon and Fourier are especially illuminating. The author does well to divorce Marx's work from later day Marxists. ...more
Nov 15, 2014 added it
Shelves: economics
Raise your hands if you've read The Wealth of Nations. Keynes' General Theory. Any of Capital beyond Volume 1? Or even Volume 1 itself? Economics, really, of any stripe beyond the occasional Krugman columns in the Times, or a quick Wikipedia search from time to time?

That's what I thought.

Literary types don't read much in the way of economics, and I don't read enough, which is a shame, because it is such a critical part of thought. Heilbroner's little history is a fantastic way to approach the wo
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-of-ideas
I read it for economic history. It gives a good introduction to some influential economists and therefore provides a background to understanding why we think the way we do today. I would've preferred that the author spend more time explaining the work which these economists made rather than writing their biographies. If he did I would've understood the classical and neo-classical school much better (instead of having to read Murray Rothbards critique of Marshall in order to understand the differ ...more
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Robert L. Heilbroner (March 24, 1919 – January 4, 2005) was an American economist and historian of economic thought. The author of some twenty books, Heilbroner was best known for The Worldly Philosophers, a survey of the lives and contributions of famous economists, notably Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes.

Written in 1953, The Worldly Philosophers has sold nearly four million copies

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