Wolff and Resnick are well known and widely acclaimed for their 1987 book "Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical" Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical published by John Hopkins University Press. The current book under review, "Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian" published by MIT Press, is an extension of their previous book. The importance of "Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical" was that it offered an impressive introduction and intermediate level presentation to both neoclassical microeconomics and Marxian economics. To this day chapter 3 of "Economics: Marxian and Neoclassical" and chapter 4 of "Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian" are among the best introductory/intermediate presentations of Marxian economics. (Other competitors include Ernest Mandel's two volume book, "Marx's Economic Theory" Marx Economic Theory, Paul Sweezy's The Theory of Capitalist Development The Theory of Capitalist Development: Principles of Marxian Political Economy, John Weeks' "Capital and Exploitation" Capital, Exploitation and Economic Crisis (Routledge Frontiers of Political Economy), Meghnad Desai's "Marxian Economics" Marxian Economics (Littlefield, Adams quality paperback), and David Harvey's "A Companion to Marx's Capital" A Companion to Marx's Capital; all of these books are far lengthier than Wolff and Resnick, while the latter loses no depth or rigor to their far briefer introduction).
This book is worth its purchase for chapter 4 alone, but if you already own their 1987 book, you already have this chapter in that book.
The primary weakness of the 1987 book is that the presentation of Keynesian economics was not presented at the same level of depth and rigor as was neoclassical microeconomics and Marxian economics. Unfortunately, "Contending Economic Theories" does not mend the weakness. Instead, Wolff and Resnick have merely separated the sections already available in Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical" and given these sections their own chapter heading. There is a brief and new elaboration on "Post-Keynesianism" but this section is rather obtuse and shallow. Thus, although it appears there are three new chapters, really there are two.
The two new chapters do hit their marks. Wolff and Resnick add a chapter (chapter 5) on "late neoclassical economics" co-authored with Yahya M. Madra. The chapter introduces and discusses various developments in neoclassical microeconomics including recent developments in externalities, imperfect competition (i.e. big business), transaction costs, asymmetric information, bounded rationality, behavioral economics, game theory, and evolutionary game theory. This chapter is brief, but has significant depth and breadth of recent developments in neoclassical microeconomics.
Wolff and Resnick also add a chapter on oscillations, instability, and intervention pitched in the context of three competing economic theories (neoclassical, Keynesian, Marxian). This chapter is interesting and very useful. It clearly demonstrates the symbiotic relationship between real economic oscillations and economic theory. It argues that theoretical commitments have very real consequences to the incidence of economic crisis, the political reaction to oscillations/crises, and the quality of human beings lives for those individuals enduring class relations and economic crisis.
In the end, this book will continue to be celebrated for the strengths already available in "Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical." The chapters on "late neoclassical economics" and "Oscillations" will be welcomed and appreciated. But Wolff and Resnick have missed an opportunity to deepen their comparison to Keynesianism. Moreover, there have been some important developments in Post-Keynesianism, Neo-Keynesianism, and New Keynesian economics which could have been elaborated that can be argued to be as important as any of the developments in "late neoclassical economics." Further, I question the title "late" in "late neoclassical economics," it is almost certainly premature. Wolff and Resnick do not see these developments within neoclassical economics as any serious challenge to the orthodoxy and do not believe these developments as connecting with Marxian themes of class, exploitation, and instability. They base most of this on the philosophical foundations and entry point of neoclassical economics. I believe this to be an important point, but it is not clear whether the philosophical foundations/entry point of neoclassical economics are consistent with some of the results of behavioral economics, (evolutionary) game theory, imperfect competition, and asymmetric information. I am more optimistic that neoclassical economists working within these "late" developments may be in a position of sympathy to understanding, traditionally, more Marxian themes of class, exploitation, and instability.