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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and compelling
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in international development or the social sciences in the twentieth century.

Adelman skilfully relates the cultural and intellectual milieu in which Hirschman moved for most of his adult life. From the heady days of assured planning by development 'experts', Hirschman constantly argued against one-size-fits-all...
Published 21 months ago by JSaunders

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars GREAT VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY
This book well presents the great voyage of discovery of Hirschman, both of his life narrative and his intellectual-professional-scientific work, as interacting synergically. Hirschman fought in three wars, lived in a number of countries, worked as an advisor and institution builders around the world, and served as a scholar in major universities and research institutes...
Published 21 months ago by Yehezkel Dror


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and compelling, 4 July 2013
This review is from: Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman (Hardcover)
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in international development or the social sciences in the twentieth century.

Adelman skilfully relates the cultural and intellectual milieu in which Hirschman moved for most of his adult life. From the heady days of assured planning by development 'experts', Hirschman constantly argued against one-size-fits-all solutions and the notion that outsiders knew best.

Hirschman developed many 'petites idees' into insights and concepts for understanding economic and social activity, but did not develop a theory or approach that can be formally systematised. As such, the discussion of his work in this book provides illuminating perspectives and ideas on social and economic phenomena, but is not a systematic exposition of his work.

This, I believe, is fitting for a man who constantly practised 'self-subversion' - scrutinising his own ideas and positions as much as those of his intellectual opponents.

This approach stemmed from Hirschman's epistemological beliefs - he was, at heart, skeptical of absolute knowledge of the complex human societies we inhabit - preferring to adopt multiple, partial perspectives to illuminate the whole.

The link from such fundamental doubts to the life of action Hirschman led (both literally fighting against fascism in his youth and in his career as a development practitioner and academic) is nicely captured by the notion he shared with Eugenio Colorni of trying to 'prove Hamlet wrong'. Hamlet is the paradigmatic example of someone paralysed by doubt - Hirschman aimed to act in spite of - even spurred on by - his doubts.

Hirschman's life outside his work is also told - particularly his childhood in the Weimar Republic and younger years as a student.

If you are sympathetic to the world-view I have characterised above, I believe this book will be of interest in providing an example of an engaged and passionate advocate of reform and progressive action in a complex and unknowable world. If, however, you are not intellectually sympathetic to such a position, you will not find in this book arguments to persuade you of such a view (for such arguments, I would recommend Taleb's Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable).
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars GREAT VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY, 5 July 2013
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Yehezkel Dror (Jerusalem Israel) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman (Hardcover)
This book well presents the great voyage of discovery of Hirschman, both of his life narrative and his intellectual-professional-scientific work, as interacting synergically. Hirschman fought in three wars, lived in a number of countries, worked as an advisor and institution builders around the world, and served as a scholar in major universities and research institutes. On the basis of these experiences and opportunities, he made a unique contribution to the study and improvement of development economics and policies, while also writing striking books of broader importance.
All this is well described and discussed in this biography, which presents evolving outstanding achievements as well as serious failures. Thus, Hirschman was often too optimistic, taken by surprise by the emergence of authoritarian regimes in Latin America (e.g. p. 502).
Two features of Hirschman's approach are of special interest. The first is his extensive field work, with special attention to unanticipated positive results on the local level of development projects, such as "empowerment," even when failing to achieve their declared objectives. The second is integrating theory building with close personal involvement in policy making and implementation. This combination enabled Hirschman to recognize the futility of purely economic approaches and "comprehensive planning" in development and propose instead more selective and concrete approaches. He proposed "possibilism" constantly seeking opportunities, also produced by adverse conditions and partial failures (pp. 450 ff.). And he criticized "the claims of knowledge dressed up in grand theories about the world ...[which] provide a hindrance to understanding it." (p. 339).
There is much to learn from his experiences and conclusions, for instance on the futility of "rational choice" theories and the very limited relevance of much of experimental decision psychology, which are quite irrelevant to most of actual high-level choice processes.
Hirschman's life was in all respects as "great voyage of discovery," exciting and productive in all respects, despite quite some tragedies and failures. Reading of this book is also a "voyage of discovery" of a fascinating person and of impressive professional and scientific ideas. It is strongly recommended.

Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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5.0 out of 5 stars One Star, 19 Feb. 2015
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A partly missed chance, 16 Jun. 2013
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S. Hare (Rome, Italy) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman (Hardcover)
The long and tormented life of Albert O. Hirschman - German Jew, anti-Nazi exile, French student, American economist, philosopher - is a very intriguing subject. Jeremy Adelman has done diligent, painstaking research, but Hirschman's thought is often elusive and he himself had been very reserved, even with his own wife and daughters, about some parts of his past. More often than not, the author undervalues the importance of European personalities Hirschman had been in close relationship with. Anyway it's a compelling read. Better editing could have prevented the frequent misspellings of French and Italian names and words.
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Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman
Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman (Hardcover - 7 April 2013)
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