“The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers,” Seventh Edition (1999), by Robert L. Heilbroner.

The bestselling classic that examines the history of economic thought from Adam Smith to Karl Marx—“all the economic lore most general readers conceivably could want to know, served up with a flourish” (The New York Times).


Worldly Philosophers-Cover2


“If socialism failed, it was for political, more than economic, reasons; and if capitalism is to succeed it will be because it finds the political will and means to tame its economic forces.” 

― Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers


*Post-Meeting Verdict*

On July 17, 2018, about eleven of us met on this book at PF Chang’s, Rampart.  The feedback was very positive.  Heilbroner is a an informative, enthusiastic author who made economic history interesting.  Some thought, however, that it slanted against more conservative economic thought with insufficient emphasis, for instance, on the Austrian school of economics.  Others wanted less history and more technical content.

On a five-point scale (one being the lowest, five the highest), the arithmetic mean ratings are:

Readability: 4.555

Content: 4.222

Overall: 4.000

Worldly Wealth of Nations

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

―Adam Smith

Worldly Keynes Time Cover

In the long run we are all dead.

―John Maynard Keynes


Alfred Marshal QuoteWordly Veblen Quote

Worldly Fourier Pic
François Marie Charles Fourier
7 April 1772
Besançon, FranceEnter a caption

Worldly MalthusWorldly Ricardo QuoteWorldly Robert Owen Bio


Worldly Schumpeter

Economic progress, in capitalist society, means turmoil. 

―Joseph Schumpeter

Discussion Questions:

1).  Why was the concept of “laissez faire” wa significant concept in Adam Smith’s time?


Worldly Invisibile Hand Cartoon

2).  Why did Malthus believe we were doomed?  What was the flaw in his logic?  What is the current state of overpopulation and world hunger?

Worldly Malthus Curve

3).  Who were the Utopian Philosophers and why did they fail to achieve their goals?


Worldly New Lanark

4).  Discuss why division and specialization of labor are beneficial to society.

5).  Explain Keynes’ philosophy of “priming the pump.”

Worldly FDR Cartoon Priming the Pump

6).  Explain why economics differs from the other social sciences and why it can never be reduced to simplistic formulas.


Worldly Economics the Queen

7).  Finally, did you find the book accessible?   Would you recommend it to someone who wants to learn about economics?

Wordly Wish I had a RockWorldly Magic of Free Market Econ

A primer: 

About the Author:


Worldly Philosophers-Author Robert L. Heilbroner

Robert L. Heilbroner (March 24, 1919 – January 4, 2005) was an American economist and historian of economic thought. The author of some twenty books, Heilbroner was best known for The Worldly Philosophers, a survey of the lives and contributions of famous economists, notably Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes.

Written in 1953, The Worldly Philosophers has sold nearly four million copies—the second-best-selling economics text of all time. The seventh edition of the book, published in 1999, included a new final chapter entitled “The End of Worldly Philosophy?”, which included both a grim view on the current state of economics as well as a hopeful vision for a “reborn worldly philosophy” that incorporated social aspects of capitalism.

Although a highly unconventional economist, who regarded himself as more of a social theorist and “worldly philosopher” (philosopher pre-occupied with “worldly” affairs, such as economic structures), and who tended to integrate the disciplines of history, economics and philosophy, Heilbroner was nevertheless recognized by his peers as a prominent economist. He was elected Vice President of the American Economic Association in 1972.

He also came up with a way of classifying economies, as either Traditional (primarily agriculturally-based, perhaps subsistence economy), Command (centrally planned economy, often involving the state), Market (capitalism), or Mixed.

He was a trustee of the Economists for Peace and Security.

Heilbroner died on January 4, 2005 in New York, NY at the age of 85.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s