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The Ordinary Business of Life: A History of Economics from the Ancient World to the Twenty-First Century

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In some of Western culture's earliest writings, Hesiod defined the basic economic problem as one of scarce resources, a view still held by most economists. Diocletian tried to save the falling Roman Empire with wage and price fixes--a strategy that has not gone entirely out of style. And just as they did in the late nineteenth century, thinkers trained in physics renovated In some of Western culture's earliest writings, Hesiod defined the basic economic problem as one of scarce resources, a view still held by most economists. Diocletian tried to save the falling Roman Empire with wage and price fixes--a strategy that has not gone entirely out of style. And just as they did in the late nineteenth century, thinkers trained in physics renovated economic inquiry in the late twentieth century. Taking us from Homer to the frontiers of game theory, this book presents an engrossing history of economics, what Alfred Marshall called the study of mankind in the ordinary business of life. While some regard economics as a modern invention, Roger Backhouse shows that economic ideas were influential even in antiquity--and that the origins of contemporary economic thought can be traced back to the ancients. He reveals the genesis of what we have come to think of as economic theory and shows the remarkable but seldom explored impact of economics, natural science, and philosophy on one another. Along the way, he introduces the fascinating characters who have thought about money and markets, including theologians, philosophers, politicians, lawyers, and poets as well as economists themselves. We learn how some of history's most influential concepts arose from specific times and places: from the Stoic notion of natural law to the mercantilism that rose with the European nation-state; from postwar development economics to the recent experimental and statistical economics made possible by affluence and powerful computers. Vividly written and unprecedented in its integration of ancient and modern economic history, this book is the best history of economics--and among the finest intellectual histories--to be published since Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers. It proves that economics has been anything but the dismal science.


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In some of Western culture's earliest writings, Hesiod defined the basic economic problem as one of scarce resources, a view still held by most economists. Diocletian tried to save the falling Roman Empire with wage and price fixes--a strategy that has not gone entirely out of style. And just as they did in the late nineteenth century, thinkers trained in physics renovated In some of Western culture's earliest writings, Hesiod defined the basic economic problem as one of scarce resources, a view still held by most economists. Diocletian tried to save the falling Roman Empire with wage and price fixes--a strategy that has not gone entirely out of style. And just as they did in the late nineteenth century, thinkers trained in physics renovated economic inquiry in the late twentieth century. Taking us from Homer to the frontiers of game theory, this book presents an engrossing history of economics, what Alfred Marshall called the study of mankind in the ordinary business of life. While some regard economics as a modern invention, Roger Backhouse shows that economic ideas were influential even in antiquity--and that the origins of contemporary economic thought can be traced back to the ancients. He reveals the genesis of what we have come to think of as economic theory and shows the remarkable but seldom explored impact of economics, natural science, and philosophy on one another. Along the way, he introduces the fascinating characters who have thought about money and markets, including theologians, philosophers, politicians, lawyers, and poets as well as economists themselves. We learn how some of history's most influential concepts arose from specific times and places: from the Stoic notion of natural law to the mercantilism that rose with the European nation-state; from postwar development economics to the recent experimental and statistical economics made possible by affluence and powerful computers. Vividly written and unprecedented in its integration of ancient and modern economic history, this book is the best history of economics--and among the finest intellectual histories--to be published since Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers. It proves that economics has been anything but the dismal science.

30 review for The Ordinary Business of Life: A History of Economics from the Ancient World to the Twenty-First Century

  1. 4 out of 5

    Zach13

    Great book for anyone wanting to get into the study of economy, or is just interested in the history of political economy and economic science.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ushan

    A concise history of economics from the ancient Greeks till the present day. Aristotle thought that the just price is the harmonic mean of the maximum the buyer is willing to pay and the minimum the seller is willing to accept; other kinds of justice involved the arithmetic mean and the geometric mean. The arithmetic-geometric mean had not yet been invented in Aristotle's days. A concise history of economics from the ancient Greeks till the present day. Aristotle thought that the just price is the harmonic mean of the maximum the buyer is willing to pay and the minimum the seller is willing to accept; other kinds of justice involved the arithmetic mean and the geometric mean. The arithmetic-geometric mean had not yet been invented in Aristotle's days.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    A very readable book. Almost in an The Atlantic type style wherein the transition from economics as philosophical art to its translation into a science under the domain of a statistical programme, is well done.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I found this to be long at times and tedious at others. Yet, as books of this genre go, I found this read compelling. If you enjoy history and especially history of how we progressed from ancient times to today, you should consider this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ted

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Broughton

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steven

  9. 5 out of 5

    Solanch

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tiago

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alankrita Goswami

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chan

  13. 5 out of 5

    Josh Smith

  14. 5 out of 5

    Harvin

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  16. 5 out of 5

    Frank Moore

  17. 4 out of 5

    James Taylor

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline Naughton

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nick Fedorek

  20. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Johnson

  21. 5 out of 5

    JK202

  22. 4 out of 5

    John

  23. 5 out of 5

    dimitri

  24. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Lam

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vinicius Klein

  26. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Mascaro

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michelle W

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suraj Alva

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