Robert Heilbroner, 1919-2005

Robert Heilbroner, one of the great economic historians of the era and author of the canonical Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers, has died. 

“A professor at the New School in New York for five decades and author of more than 20 books, Dr Heilbroner remains best known for his first book, Worldly Philosophers, an engrossing account of the lives and contributions of economists from Adam Smith and Karl Marx to John Maynard Keynes. Written as his doctoral thesis in 1953, Worldly Philosophers has sold nearly 4m copies – the second best-selling economics text of all time (after Paul Samuelson’s Economics)-and remains required reading in the economics departments of virtually every American college. The book is also credited with inspiring the careers of generations of economists.

In his later years, Dr Heilbroner became a critic of the modern economics, cautioning that the focus on mathematics and esoteric models to the exclusion of any societal factors diverged from the great strides made by his Worldly Philosophers. This failure of vision, he warned, threatened to render the field irrelevant. In 1996’s The Crisis of Vision in Modern Economic Thought, co-authored with Will Milberg, he noted that ‘the high theorising of the present period [in economics] attains a degree of unreality that can be matched only by medieval scholasticism’.”