Words and the worldly philosopher

On the strength of the introductory chapter, I’m really going to enjoy Jeremy Adelman’s biography of Albert Hirschman, [amazon_link id=”0691155674″ target=”_blank” ]Worldly Philosopher.[/amazon_link] Adelman talks about his subject’s love of words:

“Hirschman’s work represents an effort to practice social science as literature. It is what makes him appear so original in style and content now the bonds between literature and social science have increasingly been severed. ….. [H]e made of his style a kind of rampart from which to warn us, without giving up on humor, of the perils of over-specialization, of a narrowing of vision, and of the temptation to fall in love with one’s own technical prowess and vocabulary, and lose sight of the vitality of moving back and forth between proving and preaching.”

[amazon_image id=”0691155674″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman[/amazon_image]

I also like Hirschman’s insistence on being wary about strong claims and grand theories, intended to free social science from the shackles of historical specificity – the kind of humility economists have been urging on themselves since the onset of the crisis, without quite managing to achieve it.

Like many economists of my generation – in graduate school at the height of the rational expectations/real business cycle madness – I was never taught anything of Hirschman’s work. The only book of his I’ve read is [amazon_link id=”0674276604″ target=”_blank” ]Exit, Voice and Loyalty.[/amazon_link] I’ll obviously have to set that right after finishing this biography.

[amazon_image id=”0674276604″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States[/amazon_image]