Sylvia Nasar’s Grand Pursuit is a history of economic ideas, as told through the lives of some of the greatest economic thinkers. Sylvia’s previous book A Beautiful Mind is a biography of game theorist John Nash, most famous to the general public for the film adaptation starring Russell Crowe (a film I will always hilariously remember for an incorrect explanation of the concept of Nash equilibrium in a hammy bar scene).
One thing I loved about Grand Pursuit is the window it gives to the unexpected sides of some great economic thinkers. It paints a portrait of Karl Marx as a leisurely spendthrift, who left the messy work of actually investigating the working conditions of factories to his friend (and often benefactor) Friedrich Engels. Marx managed to blow several inheritances from various family members in the 20 years he took to polish off Das Kapital. Similarly unexpected was the tale of a young Milton Friedman working on Keynesian policies in the US government (Friedman later became famous for the view that governments should interfere as little as possible in the economy). Another personal highlight was Irving Fisher’s views on the importance of self-control.