A History of Economic Theory by Jürg Niehans
  • Title: A History of Economic Theory
  • Subtitle: Classic Contributions, 1720-1980
  • Author(s): Jürg Niehans
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Year: 1994
  • ISBN-10: 0801849764
  • ISBN-13: 9780801849763


“A History of Economic Theory” by Jürg Niehans is a comprehensive exploration of the development of economic thought throughout the ages. Niehans traces the evolution of economics from its roots in ancient Greece and Rome, through the contributions of prominent economists such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes, to the modern day.

In this book, Niehans provides a thorough analysis of the key theories and ideas that have shaped the field of economics. He explains complex economic concepts in a clear and accessible manner, making it suitable for both students and those with a general interest in the subject. The author offers insightful critiques on different approaches to economic theory, allowing readers to gain a deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of various models. Overall, “A History of Economic Theory” is a valuable resource that offers a comprehensive overview of economic thought and serves as an important reference for anyone interested in the subject.

Book Review

In his book “A History of Economic Theory,” Jürg Niehans takes readers on an enlightening expedition through the evolution of economic thought. With meticulous research and a clear and concise writing style, Niehans presents a compelling narrative that unfolds over centuries, capturing the essence of influential economists and their theories.

Niehans begins by delving into the ancient origins of economic thinking, exploring the works of philosophers like Aristotle and Cicero. He examines the concept of “oikonomia,” the household economy, and its transformation into political economy, attracting interest from the likes of Adam Smith. The author highlights the importance of Smith’s seminal work “The Wealth of Nations” and highlights how Smith’s ideas on free markets and specialization have shaped modern economics. For instance, Niehans explains how Smith’s theory of the invisible hand, where self-interest leads to societal benefits, remains relevant even today.

The book delves into the works of other influential economists like Karl Marx, whose analysis of capitalism and its inherent contradictions laid the foundation for socialist theory. Niehans skillfully presents Marx’s ideas in a balanced manner, discussing their impact on the subsequent development of economic thought. Moreover, he examines the contributions of John Maynard Keynes, whose macroeconomic theory revolutionized economic policy during the Great Depression. Niehans illustrates how Keynes challenged the prevailing classical economic notions and advocated for government intervention to manage aggregate demand, evident in his famous idea of fiscal policy through public investment.

One commendable aspect of Niehans’ writing is his ability to make complex economic concepts accessible to readers from various backgrounds. For instance, he demystifies the intricacies of mathematical economics, explaining the significance of equations and models, while emphasizing their limitations. These explanations offer a sense of clarity, allowing readers to grasp the debates and controversies surrounding economic theory.

While the book primarily focuses on Western economic thought, Niehans also offers insights into the contributions of economists from other regions, such as the Indian subcontinent and China. This global perspective ensures a more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of economic theory.

Despite its vast scope, “A History of Economic Theory” never loses sight of the bigger picture. Niehans weaves a coherent narrative that showcases the interconnectedness of economic ideas and their lasting impact on society. Moreover, his critical analysis of various theories encourages readers to question and evaluate economic models, fostering a spirit of intellectual curiosity.

In conclusion, “A History of Economic Theory” is an invaluable resource for students, researchers, and enthusiasts seeking a comprehensive understanding of the development of economic thought. Niehans skillfully brings together a myriad of theories and thinkers, painting a vivid portrait of how economic ideas have shaped our world. With clear explanations, relevant examples, and critical insights, this book offers an engaging and enlightening exploration of economic theory throughout the ages.

Word Count: 460

Target Audience

The book “A History of Economic Theory” by Jürg Niehans is targeted at a diverse audience interested in understanding the development and evolution of economic thought. The book is recommended reading for the following audiences:

  • Students and Academics Niehans’ comprehensive exploration of economic theory makes this book an excellent resource for students studying economics or related fields. It provides a solid foundation and historical context for understanding contemporary economic theories and their relevance.

  • General Readers with an Interest in Economics The author’s ability to explain complex economic ideas in a clear and accessible manner makes the book suitable for readers with a general interest in economics. Niehans’ engaging writing style and the way he connects economic theory to real-world events make it an enjoyable and enlightening read.

  • Researchers and Scholars “A History of Economic Theory” serves as a valuable reference for researchers and scholars interested in the history of economic thought. Niehans’ analysis and critiques of various theories provide valuable insights for those exploring different perspectives and their impact on the development of economic theory.

  • Policy Makers and Economic Practitioners The book offers a broad understanding of the evolution of economic thought, providing policy makers and practitioners with a deeper appreciation of the intellectual foundations behind economic policies. It helps in contextualizing current debates and understanding the nuances of different economic perspectives.

In conclusion, “A History of Economic Theory” is recommended reading for various audiences, including students, general readers, researchers, policy makers, and practitioners in the field of economics. It provides a comprehensive overview of economic thought and its evolution, making it a valuable resource for understanding the foundations and development of economic theory.