Brief and tame biography of the colorful and renowned economist and cultural critic, by Lamson (In the Vanguard: Six American Women in Public Life, etc.). Lamson's ``Personal Portrait'' makes a snack from a feast and never gets really personal. As a leading figure of the liberal-left community that came to maturity in the Depression, and, through FDR, to power, Galbraith deserves serious appraisal. He does not get it here. Lamson faithfully chronicles the legendary climb from poverty's edge in a tiny Canadian town, the barely average high- school and undergraduate work, the unpredicted success at Berkeley and Harvard, and the power years as Federal Administrator and advisor to Presidents. What the author doesn't do is suggest the depths of this most urbane of liberals, or reveal the driving ambition that kept him close to power all those decades he was hacking at its roots. When Lamson speaks of the affinity between Galbraith and the even more independent Thorstein Veblen, she strikes a theme that urgently needs development; instead, she catalogs a few things in common and remarks, ``It is too bad the two men never met.'' When Galbraith speaks casually of there having been no way to spend money in the 40's, Lamson scolds: ``And that, of course, is nonsense; there have always been ample ways to spend money if one is so inclined....'' Then she goes on to celebrate the Galbraiths' devotion to worthy causes and to chide them for their ``gadabout'' lives—when in fact an extraordinary career was being built. Only in his pithy observations on Vietnam does the giant emerge. Establishment writing about a brilliant rebel—barely a start at chronicling this Will Rogers of economics.
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