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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best seller

An “outstanding new intellectual biography of John Maynard Keynes [that moves] swiftly along currents of lucidity and wit” (The New York Times), illuminating the world of the influential economist and his transformative ideas

“A timely, lucid and compelling portrait of a man whose enduring relevance is always heightened when crisis strikes.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Winner of the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Sabew Best in Business Book Award

Longlisted for the Cundill History Prize

Named one of the ten best books of the year by Publishers Weekly and one of the best books of the year by: Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times The Economist • Bloomberg Mother Jones

At the dawn of World War I, a young academic named John Maynard Keynes hastily folded his long legs into the sidecar of his brother-in-law’s motorcycle for an odd, frantic journey that would change the course of history. Swept away from his placid home at Cambridge University by the currents of the conflict, Keynes found himself thrust into the halls of European treasuries to arrange emergency loans and packed off to America to negotiate the terms of economic combat. The terror and anxiety unleashed by the war would transform him from a comfortable obscurity into the most influential and controversial intellectual of his day — a man whose ideas still retain the power to shock in our own time.

Keynes was not only an economist but the preeminent anti-authoritarian thinker of the 20th century, one who devoted his life to the belief that art and ideas could conquer war and deprivation. As a moral philosopher, political theorist, and statesman, Keynes led an extraordinary life that took him from intimate turn-of-the-century parties in London’s riotous Bloomsbury art scene to the fevered negotiations in Paris that shaped the Treaty of Versailles, from stock market crashes on two continents to diplomatic breakthroughs in the mountains of New Hampshire to wartime ballet openings at London’s extravagant Covent Garden. 

Along the way, Keynes reinvented Enlightenment liberalism to meet the harrowing crises of the 20th century. In the United States, his ideas became the foundation of a burgeoning economics profession, but they also became a flash point in the broader political struggle of the Cold War, as Keynesian acolytes faced off against conservatives in an intellectual battle for the future of the country — and the world. Though many Keynesian ideas survived the struggle, much of the project to which he devoted his life was lost. 

In this riveting biography, veteran journalist Zachary D. 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.

©2020 Zachary D. Carter (P)2020 Random House Audio

What the critics say

“Zachary D. Carter has given us an important, resonant, and memorable portrait of one of the chief architects of the world we’ve known, and know still. As Richard Nixon observed, we’re all Keynesians now - even if we don’t realize it. Carter’s powerful book will surely fix that.” (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Hope of Glory)

“With an eye for the apt phrase and the telling detail, Zachary D. Carter has written a thoughtful and sweeping biography of Keynes and his ideas, extending through the 20th century and into our own time. Carter gives life to the effortless brilliance, frank appetites, and ethical commitments that made Keynes and Keynesianism so immensely consequential in philosophy, art, money, politics, letters, and war. The Price of Peace is a terrific book about a fascinating character.” (Eric Rauchway, author of Winter War)

The Price of Peace is a towering achievement. Carter blends a nuanced and sophisticated financial history of the twentieth century with the intimate personal drama and political upheaval of an epic novel.....A masterful biography of a unique and complex social thinker.” (Stephanie Kelton, author of The Deficit Myth

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What listeners say about The Price of Peace

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Overall fine, some glaring holes

The narrator is very stiff I wish this book were read by a Brit. The whole story sounds off with that American accent. (Perhaps this is a misguided stand in for the American author?) Otherwise largely interesting and worth a listen to learn more about the man, his philosophies, and the era. It did bother me in the early chapters that the author consistently overlooks that the US *is* an empire, with colonial properties. And that Woodrow Wilson, who supposedly disliked empire, did nothing to stop it and much to prop it up. Some awkward mis-contextualization around that topic, but otherwise enjoyable.

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must read

loved and hated this book. I loved the historical narrative so pleasingly clarified by the author. I am no economist, however i have a strong opinion on where the ills of the current state of affairs in the world lie. I now fully understand how the world arrived here and who is responsible for the two huge barriers to human prosperity and happiness. Income inequality and the rise of authoritarianism.

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Great read, if missing a few key points/opinions

Unquestionably thorough detail of Keynes.

One of the great thinkers of the 20th century, this work is an important look at his life, contributions to economics, and perhaps more importantly, his philosophy on democratic rule.

My only complaint would be that the end of the book is somewhat opinionated. Whereas most of this read is informed by the opinions of great economic thinkers, the last two chapters are essentially the author’s point of view with little else. He seems to fail to understand a basic principle of economics, in that decisions must be made in a setting of scarcity and incomplete information.

There is no mention to the fact that the Obama administration spent a significant amount of political capital passing the ACA, making it more difficult for them to bail out homeowners in addition to banks. This type of prisoners dilemma is faced by all administrations, though the author seems to think that they can have their cake and eat it too.

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Fascinating and wonderful story!!

Very well written and very well read. Memorable and perfect for our times.
I did not expect this biography to give such insight; well worth the time!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-06-02

A must read for post COVID-19 crisis

Keynes philosophy of solving economic challenges still applies to current crisis, choosing between tolerable and not intolerable, making the best decision for vast majority instead of saving the 0.1% most rich population.

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  • Guilherme Matos
  • 2020-08-09

A must read

I heard about this biography on Wondery’s Tides of History, a podcast narrated by Patrick Wyman, and I was very happy with this purchase. The colorful life of John Maynard Keynes and his motivations to write his extensive and important work were very well detailed in the pages of this book. Keynes’ theory is arguably the most important development in Economics to this day and I think Carter does it justice in the pages of this book. Keynes was a visionary man; his vision should inspire the future generations of Social Scientists and his ideals need to be carried on.

The only reason why I couldn’t give a full 5-star review is the pamphleteer character of its final few chapters detailing the historical developments post Keynes’ death. Economics, as any Social Science, cannot be described in absolute terms, and the author seems in many situations to assign wholly negative events to theories that compete with Keynesianism and neglects the shortcomings of Keynes’ and his intellectual disciples’ work. Carter presents a very one-sided view of History. Biases are normal and mostly welcome, but not to the extent that the post-Keynes chapters presents. The author also very meticulously highlights flaws and political mistakes by Keynes’s rivals while only bringing up once, and briefly (on Joan Robinson’s case), the authoritarian and illiberal side of some of his own ideological allies.

I understand that we are living through hard times with extremely disagreeable Heads of Government, but the final few chapters almost ruined the book for me. “The Price of Peace”, however, still is an extremely good book and I do recommend it to anyone who wishes to understand a little bit better the character of John Maynard Keynes, the motivations behind his wonderful work, and the economic developments of the 20th Century.

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  • Simon
  • 2021-09-18

Book of the decade

Honestly one of the most important (and best written) books of the decade so far. Distilling Keynes is difficult but done with ease here.

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  • James Messelbeck
  • 2020-07-04

sweeping comprehensive in depth and scope

Just the right balance of personal perspective of Keynes and his disciples - even those who were not devotees get fair treatment. Story well paced and delivered. I was pleased to learn, as the story extends beyond Keynes' life, how is devotees applied his principles to changes in global affairs.
I would have improved on the narrow Anglo-American experience where Keynes principles were applied in other countries.

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  • Seth and Lauren
  • 2022-06-18

Great Biography

Really enjoyed the discussion of Keynes and his contemporaries and work. Very well-written and accessible.

Found the concluding portions (say from 2000 onwards) a bit less illuminating/too “in the present”, but others’ mileage may vary.

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  • Daniel B Kirkpatrick
  • 2022-06-08

Author grinds an axe ...

I came so I can learn more about Keynes. Keynes dies halfway through the book, and this is where most biographies end, but the author uses "keynesian economics" to have a dead economist side with him on all current economic and social issues. For example the author uses bad data to argue against NAFTA (Keynes supported increased trade). I would expect better economic chops for a book about Keynes.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2022-04-24

Thorough and always interesting

There’s a lot here to digest and let soak in. But I am glad I stuck with this book. I feel I now know who Keynes was and why his life’s work is as important today as it ever was. I love the last words of the book, which I think was a direct quote from Keynes, something to the effect that yes, “in the end we are all dead. But looking ahead to the future, anything is still possible.” This gave me hope in the face of today’s threats to democracy and the fate of life on this planet.

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  • Terry623
  • 2022-04-05

Immersive and addictive

A fantastic history of modern economic history wrapped up in an emotionally affecting biography. Resonant scholarship and storytelling

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  • Power Boothe
  • 2021-11-06

So much more than economic theory.

Everyone should read this book. Keynes life is interesting and his theory one of the major forces in economic practice. History and context as always plays a major role in how this theory is perceived and applied. The book is a compelling read taking us up to the Obama administration and slightly beyond. I had no knowledge of econ theory but this book is indispensable for understanding our current state of affairs. Well done all around.

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  • CHET YARBROUGH
  • 2021-10-20

TESTING DEMOCRACY

Zachary Carter has written an interesting biography of John Maynard Keynes. Carter details Keynes’ personal life with an interpretation of Keynesian economics. This is a a history of a man of many parts that explains Keynes economic beliefs and their evolution and interpretation by later economists.

The surprising perspective given by Carter’s biography is that Keynes’ economic theory is grounded in the conservatism of Edmund Burke. Today’s view of Keynes is that faltering economies can spend their way out of depression by deficit spending, a highly liberal political and economic theory. What Carter explains is that Keynes argues economic policy should be designed to benefit the general welfare of the public. Keynes looked at economic policy impacts on all classes of citizens when developing his economic theory. If the private sector creates jobs and the general public’s economic health is improving, government that governs least is considered best by Keynes.

However, Keynes argues-when the welfare of the public is harmed, the government must act to regulate unfair practices of the private sector that diminishes the economic health of the public, particularly the poor. He offers a brief evaluation of modern Democratic and Republican Presidents that suggest neither clearly understood Keynesian economics. Carter decries the mismanagement of the economy by Kennedy, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama because they fail to see the impact of their policies on human inequality. Keynes fundamental belief is that all governments must evaluate the affect of their administrations on the poor and middle class because they are the engines of prosperity.

Carter reminds listener/readers of the history of the 20th century in this excellent biography of Keynes. Carter’s biography reminds one of Keynes’ contributions to economics in the way of Newton’s contributions to physics. Both were geniuses. Both were ahead of their time and laid the groundwork for fundamental understanding of their disciplines.