Carter unearths the lost legacy of one of history’s most fascinating minds. The Price of Peace revives a forgotten set of ideas about democracy, money, and the good life with transformative implications for today’s debates over inequality and the power politics that shape the global order.
The Price of Peace, Zachary D. Carter’s outstanding new intellectual biography of John Maynard Keynes, offers a resonant guide to our current moment ... It’s rare for a 600-page economic history to move swiftly along currents of lucidity and wit, and this happens to be one of them ... Carter begins with a love story, and ends with an elegant explanation of a credit default swap; even readers without a background in high finance will learn how to appreciate the drama of both ... Carter’s explications of macroeconomic theory are so seamlessly woven into his narrative that they’re almost imperceptible; you only notice how substantive they are once you get to his chapter on Keynes’s notoriously dense 1936 book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, and realize that you’re riveted by a passage on fluctuations in liquidity preference because you somehow know exactly what it is that Carter is talking about ... As this brilliantly incisive book shows, being fair and judicious doesn’t necessarily mean trying to reconcile all sides.
... couldn't have appeared at a more opportune moment. Carter has crafted a timely, lucid and compelling portrait of a man whose enduring relevance is always heightened when crisis strikes. If there is a conspicuous blemish in the book, it is the polemical turn of its last third, which goes well beyond the life of his subject. Still, readers of all political persuasions will, in the biographical material at least, find plenty of insight for our time ... wholly apart from his auspicious timing, Mr. Carter has, with this fresh reappraisal, made an outstanding authorial debut. The financial and economic questions with which Keynes wrestled, both as scholar and adviser, were complex, and it is tempting for an author writing for a wide audience to gloss superficially over the more difficult ones. But whether the subject is war reparations or interest-rate policy, Mr. Carter leaves no reader behind, and he writes with wit and clarity ... Keynes and Keynesianism disappear for long stretches of text, as the discussion devolves into an ever-angrier assault on “neoliberal” trade and market-liberalization policies, which Mr. Carter blames for growing inequality ... Mr. Carter is also too dismissive of contributions to economic policy thinking from the center and the right, particularly from Nobel Prize winners Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman—both of whom he paints, in his more charitable moments, as tools of reactionary and moneyed interests ... In the end, readers who admire the anti-'market fundamentalism' of Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, whom Mr. Carter quotes approvingly, will delight in this book’s extended epilogue; those who don’t, won’t. In any case, Mr. Carter might have been wiser to write two books, letting his fine and eloquent analysis of Keynes’s life and thought stand alone as the best single-volume biography of this intellectual giant.
In this sweeping intellectual biography, Carter traces Keynes’ career from his first forays into public policy during WWI, through the bumpy 1920s, and the Great Depression, to its end in the behind-the-scenes negotiations of WWII. He vividly describes Keynes’ world, which encompassed both European realpolitik and the Bloomsbury Group, and illustrates how his academic, cultural, and political activities influenced his ideas ... Carter’s timely study is highly recommended.