Despite some misgivings based on a review warning that Keynes's theories had been misrepresented, I finally decided the subject matter of this book was a little too compelling to overlook.
Having now read it, I have to say that, although I will not claim total familiarity with the theories, those I did have knowledge of seemed well presented, and much of the rest is given as direct quotations.
Which isn't to say that the original review was wrong, just that possibly any errors that may be in the text do not detract from the overall story.
And it is quite a story, of a battle of minds, and ideologies, that is still raging many years after the protagonists' death.
Both men are presented by Wapshott as extraordinary thinkers. But Keynes, in life and in death, is seen as overall the more influential, his ideas adopted by governments both obvious and surprising. It's no secret that successive Labour and Democratic governments have followed the Keynesian path. But that more-or-less Keynesian policies were adopted by Eisenhower, Reagan and Bush Junior carries a little more irony. Even one of the supposed cornerstones of conservative Reaganomics, the Laffer curve, transpires to be lifted from Keynes.
However, Reagan also professed a Hayekian belief in small government, and Thatcher was supposedly a true disciple, although both leaders' policies were effectively characterised by the man himself as "Hayek Lite". The only other regimes Wapshott associates with Hayekian principles are Pinochet's in Chile and the Conservative part of the current UK coalition government, shortly, it appears, to lead us into a triple-dip recession.
Keynes is presented as a towering intellect with a desire to improve society whose persuasive skills enabled him to gain access to and influence the movers and shakers of his day. He was not above a little academic skirmishing, even apparently enjoying his correspondence with Hayek in the thirties when the two discussed their respective ideas in correspondence.
Hayek comes over as slightly less satisfactory, as the sometimes mean-spirited, devil-take-the -hindmost type. Some of his debating tactics seem unpleasantly underhand, and there's something rather tacky in the story of how he dumped his wife (though it was a little early for him to be able to do it by text).
Ultimately, what stands out is how contemporary the issues are, as with Keynes warning of the danger of extremism in Austria in the face of austerity imposed by allied reparations (think Greece), or the dangers of hording money in times of crisis when what is needed is consumption, the paradox of thrift, although Wapshott does not call it that. And towards the end of the book there is a comment that Schumpeterian "creative destruction" has never been given a chance, which is open to dispute. On a micro scale, the fact that the likes of Woolworths, Comet and HMV have gone under is creative destruction in action. However, to have left the world economy to its own devices when Lehman Brothers went bust would have been a social experiment too far.
In conclusion, then, despite the possibility that the author may have at least not made the theory clear, this is a book worth reading, one which will help readers understand one of the principal ideological struggles in politics today, and give food for thought.
Finally, a note on the writing and editing. Overwhelmingly this is clear and holds the interest, and is largely well proof-read, though for the pernickety there are a couple of errors to enjoy. Early in the book (page 10) the author tells us that Keynes appealed on behalf of starving Austrian women and children in May 1918, which should surely be May 1919. The past participle of slay is slain, not slayed (page 37). And on page 258 Friedman is said to have "donned" his cap at Hayek, not "doffed". But just three ain't bad.