E. F. SCHUMACHER: His Life and Thought by Barbara Wood
Kirkus Star

E. F. SCHUMACHER: His Life and Thought

Email this review


Barbara Wood has taken on the delicate task of integrating the tangled life and signal work of her prophet-father, Fritz Small-Is-Beautiful Schumacher (1911-1977). The result is a glowing, unapologetic reinvestiture--though Schumacher was anything but a simple, good man. The historical and intellectual facets are also fascinating: Schumacher's first formative experiences, as a German boy and economist's son, were WW I hunger and bitterness at Versailles. He grew up an attractive, charming intellectual snob and German patriot--dispirited by Oxford (he was a Rhodes scholar), impressed only by Maynard Keynes (who also attributed Germany's economic problems to Versailles). In America for further research on international finance (genesis of a scheme partly realized, through Keynes, at Bretton Woods), he was exhilarated by New York, depressed by Hitler: it was 1933, and with the arrival of refugees he began to doubt his defense of Nazism as potentially good for Germany. Still, he returned home to see for himself; condemned the Nazis for their ""abandonment of truth""; and decided internal opposition was futile. ""To stay in Germany would be to risk either compromise or concentration camp."" 1937 brought a London job--and, for homebody wife Muschi, a separation from her family to which she never adjusted. That Schumacher's career rested on the devotion of two wives, without ""inner resources"" or outside interests, is a major motif. WW II made the Schumachers enemy aliens; briefly interned, he met an active, intelligent Marxist; released to a Scottish farm, he put his mind to improving agriculture and rural life. (Later, only the solutions would be different--scaling down, not state-farms.) Postwar, he discovered Eastern philosophy and religion--a ""bombshell"" that opened his eyes to the spiritual, the non-rational. (Characteristically, he swung to the other extreme--flying saucers, Gurdjieff.) So, fortuitous step-by-step, visionary scheme-by-scheme, the pieces come together--except that, until the publication of Small Is Beautiful in 1973, Schumacher's ideas fell on deaf academic, bureaucratic, and political ears. During his 20 years with Britain's National Coal Board, Schumacher pleaded for preservation of the industry, foreseeing the shortage of oil and other non-renewable resources, the costliness and hazards of atomic power. A 1955 trip to Burma revealed to him the well-being of the statistically poor, the price of Western development in instilling unneeded wants, and produced his treatise on ""Buddhist economics."" India, truly poor, caused him to ask why the apathy, why no self-help--and he thought back to the demoralized Incas, thought through to moderating the impact of the advanced West with Intermediate Technology, the Small Is Beautiful ethic. Wood, who shared in her father's work and preceded him into the Catholic Church, functions as an exponent of his holistic/Middle Way ideas while displaying his complexity and contradictions: ""You must be as cunning as a serpent and as innocent as a dove"" he once said, of statistics (and statisticians). An admirable, engrossing work.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row