Not So Dismal After All?

David Colander in American Scientist:

If it were really the main point of Diane Coyle’s new book to argue that economics is a soulful science, this would be a negative review. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Most of The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters is devoted to a grand whirlwind tour of modern economics, with fascinating vignettes of individual economists. It’s a trip worth taking, because what economists do has changed considerably in the past two decades, and the textbooks haven’t kept up. Coyle, who is both a journalist and a Harvard-trained economist, is ideally suited to the role of tour guide: She understands economists as only a fellow economist can, and she can write, as most economists cannot.

Coyle’s tour begins with the economics of development and growth. She describes the work of Angus Maddison, a leading economic historian who has collected statistics on the growth that has occurred over the millennia, and she outlines the ongoing debate about the meaning of those statistics. She then characterizes economists as “passionate nerds,” making her point with perceptive snapshots of three well-known members of the profession—New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and recent Nobel laureates James A. Heckman and Joseph E. Stiglitz.

More here.