In End This Depression Now! (W.W. Norton, $24.95), Paul Krugman addresses our current disastrous economic situation, explaining in blunt, often witty and always engaging prose what should be done to alleviate the suffering. Much has already been written about how we got into this mess, but Krugman’s focus is, “What do we do now?” Any regular reader of his New York Times column will not be surprised by his arguments. He thinks the government should be spending more, with a renewed focus on job creation, until the private sector is better able to carry the economy forward again.
This vibrant narrative history of political economics from the 1840s to today recasts the dismal science as a Grand Pursuit (Simon & Schuster, $35). Sylvia Nasar covered economics for The New York Times before turning to biography with A Beautiful Mind, and she combines these two areas of expertise to elucidate ideas and investigate the lives they grew out of. Here’s Alfred Marshall, walking Dickens’s London to get a first-hand look at labor conditions. Here’s Marx, hunkered down in libraries. Nasar covers the Great Depression and two world wars, recreating the experiences of Schumpeter, Keynes, Hayek, Fisher, and others as they faced the terrific challenges of avoiding economic ruin once the gunfire had stopped. The book closes with Amartya Sen, a high-caste Bengali, witnessing the horrors of the 1943 famine, partition, and violence, and using ethics to develop a new economics of social welfare. As much an adventure as a history of ideas, Nasar’s book shows economists in action as the “trustees…of the possibilities of civilization.”
In the past twenty years, since he won the Pulitzer for The Prize, his encyclopedic history of the discovery of oil and the ensuing battles for control over the world’s supply, Daniel Yergin, our neighbor, has become the global media’s go-to expert on all matters about oil, energy, and geopolitics. The media loves him not only because he is so smart, but because he has the rare ability to communicate his knowledge clearly. The exploding growth in energy demand and the growing awareness of the ominous effects of energy use on Earth’s climate are the two major global issues that require national leaders to come to consensus, and Yergin clearly lays out what and where the options are. The New York Times book critic Dwight Garner says Yergin’s new The Quest (Penguin Press, $37.95) should be required reading for “C.E.O.s, conservationists, lawmakers, generals, spies, tech geeks, and thriller writers,” and that means a lot of people in Washington.