Perspectives on John Kenneth Galbraith
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Reflections on the life and work of one of America’s preeminent public intellectuals on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Robert B. Reich here describes Galbraith as the “most buoyant dismal scientist of our age.” The description seems apt, for Galbraith has always brought to his intellectual endeavors wit, grace, courage, and humanity. Sasson, a governor of the London School of Economics, has gathered essays by a few of Galbraith’s friends—among them Carlos Fuentes, Derek Bok, Daniel Patrick Moynihan—exploring the style and substance of this remarkable individual. The book’s first part looks at Galbraith the person: father, friend, neighbor, mentor. The second examines his work as an economist. Yet the two parts merge; as we come to see, the person is very much in the work. As an economist, Galbraith has always questioned the “conventional wisdom” (a phrase he coined) of the discipline, has insisted that economics should have something to do with real economies, with real people and the quality of the lives they lead. Eschewing both the belief in the magic of the pure market and the panacea of rigid socialist planning, he has sought ways to make capitalism work, despite itself, while recognizing the vital role government must play to make it work. Above all, he has deplored the imbalance in our society, as Arthur Schlesinger writes, “between the opulence of private consumption and the starvation of public services.” And if there is tragedy in his legacy, it lies in the fact that the few rich no longer care, and the many less affluent no longer can afford to be concerned with the common good. Time may have passed Galbraith by, but that is to time’s detriment. The book fittingly concludes with excerpts from Galbraith’s own works, separately edited by Andrea Williams. This is a loving tribute, and today that makes for a rare and pleasurable reading experience.

Pub Date: May 6th, 1999
ISBN: 0-395-97130-6
Page count: 187pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999