When the Dismal Science Was Brilliant

Sylvia Nasar explains the history of economic genius. We could sure use some

Illustration by Harry Campbell for TIME

The idea that humanity could turn tables on economic necessity--mastering rather than being enslaved by material circumstances--is so new that Jane Austen never entertained it." That's the first line of Sylvia Nasar's new book, Grand Pursuit The Story of Economic Genius, and it's an impressive line, as it manages to put forward not only Nasar's entire thesis but also the great aspiration of modern economics: to lift up the majority of human beings living in squalor.

Nasar, who also wrote the best-selling John Forbes Nash biography A Beautiful Mind, would argue that economics has done a pretty good job of that,...

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