Review: Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed

John Maynard Keynes: Volume 1: Hopes Betrayed 1883-1920
Robert Skidelsky

The first volume of Skidelsky’s three volume telling of the life of the man who is arguably the 20th century’s most famous economist.* This covers birth and all that crap, and then the very juicy years of JMK at Cambridge. Besides his economic work (talked about more here) Keyenes was a pretty interesting, and fucked up individual. He was an unrepentant racist, at least for a time a self identified homosexual, and an endlessly curious man who thought he was smarter than everyone else in the room (and on many occasions, including the peace negations at Versaille, probably was). He was close with Virginia Wolff and that crowd in these days, though he and they would distance from each other in the coming years, as JMK’s political success made him less attractive to the literati. There’s a one volume abridgement of Skidlesky’s work, and if you’re interested in Keynes, I imagine that one is more than enough to satiate you curiosity, but if not, I think this volume, which covers more Keynes development as a contradictory, often dislikable and totally fascinating individual is the better of the two volumes I read.

*Actually, I wonder who is the twentieth century’s most famous economists. I know few people are reading this, but if you are, leave a comment with who you think is the 20th century’s most famous economist or who your favorite 20th century economist is. (Kaptial, mind you, was published in the 1860s and the Wealthy of Nations in the 1770s so Marx and Adam Smith don’t count).

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: The Economist as Savior

John Maynard Keynes: Volume 2: The Economist as Savior, 1920-1937

Robert Skidelsky

It is hard to believe there was a time in my life when I thought reading a three volume biography of JMK was a good idea*. But there is it. On a personal note, I read most of this, and the first volume (reviewed separately) while traveling back and forth from my home in Brooklyn to a political economy class being taught by Bill Tabb at Queens College. That commute was about an hour and a half each way, so it gave me plenty of time for reading.

This volume of Skidelsky’s biography covers the time when Keynes began to become to major world player history remembers This was the depression, obviously, and the build up to WWII. Keynes ideas of deficit spending and huge government projects, were at the time (and for the next forty years)**, credited with bringing the U.S. and the world out of the depression. Keynes writing (especially The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money) and recommendations he made to the leaders of Britain and the U.S. during this period (and the rest of his life) are what got him the title of the man who saved capitalism.

But besides his economic work, Keynes personality is what really interests me. I’ll talk about this more in the review of the first volume, but the point of note in this volume is Keynes marriage (after a young adulthood of almost total homosexual relationships) to the wife he would love for the rest of his life, Lydia Lopokova. Keynes love for Lopokova didn’t end his passion for men, it just complicated his personal life some, making him even more interesting to a gossip hound/ amateur economic historian like myself.

This book isn’t easy going, but if you’re a student of economic history, it’s worth your time.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

* Note that while I thought it was a good idea, I only ended up finishing the first two volumes. Maybe I’ll get obsessive again, and polish off the series, but this seems unlikely.

** There is now a ton of dispute about what exactly ended the depression, and whether or not big government project, paid for with debt, are actually a good idea or not.