John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics (Hardcover)

His Life, His Politics, His Economics

By Richard Parker

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374281687, 832pp.

Publication Date: January 27, 2005



The life and times of America’s most celebrated economist, assessing his lessons—and warnings—for us today

John Kenneth Galbraith’s books—among them The Affluent Society and American Capitalism—are famous for good reason. Written by a scholar renowned for energetic political engagement and irrepressible wit, they are models of provocative good sense that warn prophetically of the dangers of deregulated markets, war in Asia, corporate greed, and stock-market bubbles. Galbraith’s work has also deeply—and controversially—influenced his own profession, and in Richard Parker’s hands his biography becomes a vital reinterpretation of American economics and public policy.

Born and raised on a small Canadian farm, Galbraith began teaching at Harvard during the Depression. He was FDR’s “price czar” during the war and then a senior editor of Fortune before returning to Harvard and to fame as a bestselling writer. Parker shows how, from his early championing of Keynes to his acerbic analysis of America’s “private wealth and public squalor,” Galbraith regularly challenged prevailing theories and policies. And his account of Galbraith’s remarkable friendship with John F. Kennedy, whom he served as a close advisor while ambassador to India, is especially relevant for its analysis of the intense, dynamic debates that economists and politicians can have over how America should manage its wealth and power. This masterful chronicle gives color, depth, and meaning to the record of an extraordinary life.

About the Author

Richard Parker, an Oxford-trained economist and senior fellow of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, writes extensively on economics and public policy. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and children.

Praise For John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics

"Richard Parker's timely biography of Ken Galbraith and his brilliant career is an extraordinary gift to a nation grappling more than ever with the profound issues that Galbraith addressed so eloquently over so many years with his famed intellect and wit. Galbraith's passion for social justice, his skepticism about excessive power in the hands of either government or the private sector, and his indispensable contributions to progressive politics and economic thought shine through every page of this book, and they are still highly relevant to our twenty-first century national debate on the great domestic and global challenges of our time.

For all who care about a better world and a fairer reconciliation at home and abroad between what Galbraith called 'private affluence and public squalor,' this remarkable volume should be required reading. It is both an education and an inspiration." --Senator Edward M. Kennedy

"This is a superb book, literate and fascinating, about one of the truly original minds of the century. No one can write about contemporary economics, politics, diplomacy, wit, satire and phrase-making without taking John Kenneth Galbraith into just account, and Richard Parker is the ideal biographer." --Arthur Schlesinger, Jr

"John Kenneth Galbraith towered--literally and figuratively--over twentieth-century America, afflicting the comfortable with searing wit and unassailable logic, and comforting the afflicted with compelling ideas for improving society to the benefit of all. To understand the ideals that propelled America from FDR's New Deal until Bush's Raw Deal, one must comprehend Galbraith's life, politics, and economics. Herewith, a stunningly lucid guide. Richard Parker gives to Galbraith the deep insight and sweeping perspective that Galbraith gives to America." --Robert B. Reich, University Professor, Brandeis University

"In its breadth of interest, its erudition, its ease in explaining economics in everyday language and, above all, in its skillful, first-rate story-telling, Richard Parker's splendid, immensely readable biography is in every way a match for the towering and fascinating figure who strides through its pages." --Adam Hochschild

"John Kenneth Galbraith has been, against the tide, a shameless advocate for a government that would guarantee all of us a decent existence. This saga of his life and thought presents a lively review of what has happened to our economy and to the profession of economics in the last seventy years." --Barbara Bergmann, author of The Economic Emergence of Women

"John Kenneth Galbraith is the Harvard economist who became one of the most influential oracles of the contemporary world. An often searing critic of big business, he has been responsible for reshaping the anatomy of modern thought, extending his lively sanctions into the many branches of his eclectic intellect. In this thoughtful and highly readable volume, the Oxford-trained economist Richard Parker provides an essential guide to the man and his ideas. It captures an extraordinary life, extraordinarily well." --Peter C. Newman

"Richard Parker has written an engrossing, thoroughly researched, and authoritative account of the life of John Kenneth Galbraith. The book not only details the richly varied experiences of one of the great public intellectuals and social commentators of our time; it also offers a most interesting account of the evolution of economic thought from the era of John Maynard Keynes to the present day." --Derek Bok

"An engaging and comprehensive review of the life and times of a brilliant, prolific twentieth-century thinker. Galbraith understands that the structural determinants, limitations, and consequences of markets have been largely ignored by economists--to the detriment of the discipline and of society. This is a poignant book with important messages for the twenty-first century." --David K. Foot, University of Toronto and co-author of Boom, Bust & Echo

"Against accumulating fears, Parker lifts up a single life as an image of how intelligence, compassion, and commitment remain the essence of social hope. Somehow, we humans regularly undercut ourselves by imagining that such virtues are rare. In contrast, Parker not only finds them amply supplied in John Kenneth Galbraith, but reminds us of Galbraith's creed - that the intelligence, compassion, and commitment of every person are what define democracy, and what keep justice at the center its work." --James Carroll, The Boston Globe