John Maynard Keynes: 1883-1946: Economist, Philosopher, Statesman Paperback – Abridged, 5 Sep 2013
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A masterpiece of biographical and historical analysis (New York Times)
About the Author
Robert Skidelsky is Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick. His three volume biography of John Maynard Keynes (1983, 1992, 2000) received numerous prizes, including the Lionel Gelber Prize for International Relations and the Council on Foreign Relations Prize for International Relations. ('This three-volume life of the British economist should be given a Nobel Prize for History if there was such a thing' - Norman Stone.) He was made a life peer in 1991, and a Fellow of the British Academy in 1994.
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If the readers fairly new to Keynes I recommend reading some of Keynes' own work first, especially 'Economic Consequences of the Peace' and perhaps 'Essays in Persuasion' - together with the material in Skidelsky's book this should help bring the great man to life.
Despite being fascinated by the subject, this book took a while to read. The author goes to no particular effort to enhance the drama of the story, which I guess aids the understanding but means the books isn't as gripping or fast paced as it could be. Most of the book is ordered chronologically, with chapters jumping between Keynes' struggles to get his ideas accepted by both the political and academic elite, his social life, his philosophical and other personal interests, and the time he spent devoted to his wife, family and estate. This approach is great for giving us a taste of what it was like to be Keynes but it makes it harder to follow particular areas of interest. If youre interested in the man as an economist, I recommend you also read Minksy's 'John Maynard Keynes' for his analyses of Keynes' influence from a practical and political perspective, or Gordon Fletchers brilliant and very readable 'Keynesian Revolution and its Critics' for more on how Keynes' work was received academically. Skidelsky's work remains the no 1 choice for understanding Keynes as a man, for those interested in the period, and for folk interested in understanding important battle in the high level war of ideas that is an ever present feature of Western Civilisation.
One small area where Skidelsky maybe looses a little perspective is when recalling Keynes last year where he possibly focuses a little too much on the great mans failing health and declining skills. Although Keynes didn't enjoy resounding success in his negotiations with the Americans, he was in many ways at the peak of his powers during his last year, and he knew it to. As he said to Hayeck when reassuring him over worries of the state becoming too strong, Keynes advised he could change world wide public opinion in a flash if need be. Its tragic he died before he could spell out the specific policies hed advise to bring about a "moderate socialising of investment" - something he probably only had sufficient influence to do successfully by the mid 40s.
And that's about as far as I can fault this most excellent work. Skidelsky has a new book on Keynes' revival during the current downturn coming out in September. Cant wait!
In this book nothng is missing: the general context of the twenties, the international situation, the sexual and artistic dynamism of the times and the characters that embodied those movements. For the reader that would not be satisfied with the soft Economics approach I suggest to consult the three volumes referred. Notwithstanding the problems arised by Keynes are all in this book. Moreover, those issues and Keynes proposals of resolution are linked to the general aspects of Keynes life and his cultural and personal experiments.
Last but not least, for a non UK citizen Skildesky approach is even more impressive than for a common Britain one: it expresses why even today the UK has a set of so vibrant culture (design, fashion, etc) that in a certain sense was enacted at the epoch that the book tackles.