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Maynard Keynes: An Economist's Biography.

After some twenty years of editing The Collected Writings, Moggridge has provided us with a scholarly, wide-ranging and weighty tome on the life, thought and activities of John Maynard Keynes. As one would expect, this is an exceptionally well-documented work. At the end of each of the 31 chapters, there are two or three pages of end-notes; the bibliography runs some twenty pages; a dramatis personae of more than fifty pages is provided; lastly, a most effective index occupies the final thirty pages of the book. At a minimum, this work will remain, for many years to come, a standard source for those who do further research on J. M. Keynes.

This work is so thorough and wide-ranging that it is difficult to characterize just what sort of biography it is. In my view, the best material forms what can be called an intellectual biography. Difficult philosophical issues--for example, Keynes's theory of probability, Moore's philosophy and its influence on Keynes, and Keynes's "Early Beliefs"--are dealt with in concise yet masterful passages. (But to follow many of the nuances that Moggridge discusses one must already be pretty familiar with the seminal works on Keynes and his thought that were published in the 1980s by O'Donnell, Carabelli, Fitzgibbons and Skidelsky. At times one even feels he is eavesdropping on dialogues between a mentor or thesis advisor and the students writing under him. Indeed, this impression is so strong that a reader such as myself, who stands outside that context, sometimes feels puzzled about the relevance of passages or even whole pages of text.)

On a more positive note, the early chapters in particular detail much about Keynes's formal education, decipher English educational jargon, and explain the structure and history of England's premier educational institutions. In addition, Moggridge offers insightful sketches of the lives and thought of those who significantly influenced Keynes's intellectual development: Neville and Florence Keynes, Alfred Marshall, Henry Sidgwick and G. E. Moore, among others.

Perhaps the most novel contribution of this biography is its wealth of detail about Keynes's contributions to economic policy. Indeed, much of the final half of the book is as much an economic history (or perhaps a history of economic policy-making) as it is a biography. Nevertheless, I confess that I find this the least interesting part of the story. The extensive discussions of shifts, twists and changes in tactics and positions are most difficult to follow. (However, the difficulty originates, I'm sure, in my own lack of close familiarity with Keynes's activities after 1939 or so.)

Two faults, one of commission and one of omission, mar this work. The worst of these is Moggridge's prurient obsession--despite disclaimers--with Keynes's homosexual escapades. Clearly, biographers have an obligation to write the truth about their subjects. But by now we all know that Keynes was a bisexual, and there is not a shred of evidence presented, here or elsewhere, that relating the details of his sex life helps us understand his contributions to economic theory or policy. Why can't private matters simply be left private?

Second, if Keynes had any long-run, Schumpeterian vision of England's or the world's socio-economic future, it is not evident here. If I did not know better, I would be left with the impression that Keynes merely reacted to events in an ad hoc and wholly expedient manner. Of course, a biographer might reasonably abstain from offering such a vision either because he has detected no such central theme in Keynes's thought or actions, or because he is reluctant to impose a theme that may be simply his own interpretation. Still, in my view it is a mistake to omit a central message or leitmotif from a work of this length: it badly needs a unifying thread or thesis to knit together its many parts.

All considered, I see this book as an efficient research tool for those who are already very familiar with the material that it covers. It is not appropriate for an introduction to Keynes's life, thought and activities. For that, the novice had better turn to Moggridge's earlier (1976) biography, John Maynard Keynes.

To conclude, this is a highly literate work, whose author learned his Standard Written English well before the catastrophic decline in standards that is so obvious to today's senior faculty. If I am critical of some of his message, I thoroughly enjoyed the medium. It is pleasant to read the words of someone who can write.

William Guthrie Appalachian State University
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Author:Guthrie, William
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Words:745
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