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Keynes (Past Masters) Paperback – 22 Feb 1996

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About the Author

About the Author: Robert Skidelsky is Professor of Political Economy at Warwick and a member of the House of Lords.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
brief and valuable; presumes some understanding of economics 9 May 2001
By C. N. Gomersall - Published on
Format: Paperback
Skidelsky's three-volume biography of Keynes has just been completed (to much acclaim, I think it's fair to say). One wonders, then, for whom he might have intended the short book I'm now reviewing.

An early chapter covers Keynes' life in as much detail as you could expect from a slim volume whose main emphasis is on its subject's work. (The series of which it is a part aims at providing "introductions to the thought of leading intellectual figures".) A valuable bridge between the "life" and the "work" is given by a chapter on Keynes' philosophy, showing that his early studies of probability drew on issues that were of fundamental concern to him throughout his career--and playing down, incidentally, the importance of any consistent political philosophy.

Two chapters follow on specific books: one on the earlier works, and one on the General Theory itself. It's here that I'd caution those who've had no previous exposure to macroeconomics, warning them that Skidelsky may be fair in his judgments and clear in his exposition, but that the issues are necessarily technical; to those who are not economists, these chapters will not be easy reading.

The concluding two chapters cover Keynes' activities as a "statesman" in the '30s and '40s and, finally, his "legacy". Skidelsky concludes that Keynesian thought has had its day, if only because the experiences of the '60s and '70s have destroyed confidence in the very possibility of "Keynesian" solutions. Yet his is no hatchet job on Keynesian thought. Not only does he point out that Keynes can't be blamed for his followers' mistakes--an obvious point that Skidelsky is wise not to press too far--but he also offers a fairly nuanced explanation, given his limited space, of the lack of popularity enjoyed by Keynesian thought over the past thirty years or so. (There was much more at work than just the oil crises of the '70s, to mention only the factor most commonly cited in introductory texts.)

I should at this point confess that I have a doctorate in economics, and that I teach undergraduates. I say "confess", because I find myself regrettably unable to evaluate Skidelsky's accuracy and judgment. As I said earlier, his interpretation certainly does not seem to be idiosyncratic, but I suppose there's always the possibility that he's presenting only one side of a well-known, if arcane, academic debate. If so, however, it's unfamiliar to me.

To sum up, I'd recommend this book to economists who need a little brushing up (and who could follow Skidelsky's advice about which chapters of the General Theory they really must read, and which they should skip), but also to political scientists, historians and the like who are roughly familiar with the period and who'd like to understand the views of a major economist. The good old "general reader" (if any such remain) might well enjoy this book too, but it is likely to require--and to reward--their close attention.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Skidelsky can't grasp Keynes's technical analysis in the GT 15 Jan. 2011
By Michael Emmett Brady - Published on
Format: Paperback
Skidelsky has written an interesting book for the general reader who wants to be introduced to Keynes the man.Such a reader wants to know about Keynes's many faceted abilities and accomplishments,his interactions with famous people and his views on politics,international relations and work for England's Treasury Department during WWI and WWII.This book is an excellent bargain for such a reader.I highly recommend this book for the general reader.

Unfortunately,Skidelsky's training is as an academic historian.He simply does not have the training and capability to master the technical analysis used by Keynes in his A Treatise on Probability(1921),which underlies Keynes's treatment of expectations,risk,uncertainty and decision making in the GT or in chapters 20 and 21 of the GT ,where Keynes integrated his TP analysis into the standard approach of his time ,elasticity analysis.Skidelsky can't follow what Keynes is doing.

However,in fairness to Skidelsky,only Hugh Townshend,who overlooked crucial mathematical steps in Keynes's analysis, and a handful of other economists ever covered this crucial material in the 20th century.
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