A solid introduction to the history of economic thought

Cover of The Great EconomistsThe Great Economists
By Linda Yueh
Viking, £20
(Buy at Amazon)

The economist John Maynard Keynes famously said that “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”. One reason for this is that most people have not studied economics to a level where they understand where many of these theories come from and their full impact on today’s world. Linda Yueh aims to fill this gap with a readable history of 12 important economic thinkers, from Adam Smith’s revolutionary insights in the 18th century, through to Robert Solow’s Nobel Prize-winning work on economic growth in the 20th century.

Yueh does a good job of delivering potted biographies and summarising what her subjects had to say. The problem is she gives the impression she would rather be writing a book about contemporary problems such as globalisation. As a result, we get long digressions, such as an account of a documentary she made in 2016 about the American political system. Ironically, the book omits late 18th- and early 19th-century thinker Thomas Malthus, whose views of the impact of population growth on individual income continue to influence today’s debates on immigration. Despite these flaws, this is a solid introduction to the history of economic thought. I certainly wish that it had been around when I started to study the subject.