Meet the author

PenguinThe author was Roger Backhouse. And the book was The Penguin History of Economics (UK ed., US ed.).

I teach with Harro Maas, a course “Contemporary Economic thought in a Historical Perspective” at a new venture, modeled on a liberal arts curriculum, the Amsterdam University College. They require the first year courses to have a textbook and since we both admire Roger’s Penguin history we chose that one. It was Harro’s great idea of inviting Roger for a meeting with the students. After discussing the book for 5 weeks, they could ask questions of expansion or clarification or make suggestions to the author on what to write in future editions.

From the 25 students came questions like: what is the best form of economic organization, markets or the state? what works best capitalism or socialism? should we adopt sociological approaches to risk analysis instead of relying on mathematical models? That’s right! Students querying the historian on what economics to believe, and if the past could arbitrate on these dilemmas. Roger did his best to answer and not answer the questions, but not far into the conversation he was politely labeled a Keynesian. The tone was always interested and there was no disappointment from either side, and some questions were properly historical such as why some ideas developed in some countries (often their own) and not somewhere else…

To conclude, a student spoke of a concern that many had voiced before. Roger’s text has too many names, too much happens and it is hence difficult to summarize. The student asked for the ten most important economists of history that would make a summary. Roger gave us then a “Hamlet without the Prince”. The history of economics as the history of its identity, as subordinate to morality, breaking out as a subject in political and moral philosophy, finally in the twentieth century the economic becoming its field of professional and academic expertise.

It was all good! A perfect way to motivate students giving them a sense of ownership of the content… they are on first name terms with the author, and they even drank a beer with him.

(on other reviews Backhouse gets three 4 star reviews on amazon.co.uk, and one 2 star and one 4 star reviews on amazon.com, the American shopper is less impressed)

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Meet the author

  1. Tiago: I don’t know where you found those reviews on Amazon.com. I found the three reviews you mentioned on the Amazon.co.uk and a few reviews of other books on the American site, but I could not find any review of the Penguin book there!
    Besides, it’s quite interesting that a lot of students are asking questions about the current state of the discipline. This means that they still see the historian of economics as the last generalist, who can judge the discipline at large … This is nice but I am sure Roger’s legendary modesty did well to undermine this vision.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s