Monday, April 29, 2013

Hirschman Biography

I have just finished reading Jeremy Adelman's wonderful biography of the great social scientist Albert Hirschman: Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman (Princeton 2013). It is among the most impressive biographies I have ever read, in large part because Hirschman led such an interesting and active life (especially for someone primarily known as a scholar), but also because of the close attention Adelman pays to Hirschman's ideas and the long arc of his thinking, which moved so closely in relation to his active  life.

I now have a much better understanding of why I always have found Hirschman's approach to social science so admirable. To understand the man's life is to better appreciate his thinking. All of the social scientists I have admired most, including (in addition to Hirschman) Tom Schelling (who plays a fairly prominent role throughout Adelman's biography), Lin Ostrom, Amartya Sen, and Herbert Simon, share in common very high levels of creativity with a relative disdain for conventional, discipline-bound thinking. They do not give rise to schools of thought, but embody them in a way that makes it extraordinarily difficult for more ordinary scholars to follow in their giant footsteps.

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