John Maynard Keynes, Vol. III: Fighting for Freedom, 1937-1946

Skidelsky, Robert. John Maynard Keynes, Vol. III: Fighting for Freedom, 1937-1946. New York: Viking Penguin, 2001.

From Publishers Weekly:

“In the world of economics and finance,” Skidelsky writes, “Keynes had come to occupy the same position as Churchill in the world of politics” during WWII, even though his position as adviser to the chancellor of the exchequer was unofficial and unpaid. In the third and final volume of this definitive biography, Skidelsky, professor of political economy at England’s Warwick University, depicts the great Bloomsbury fiscal philosopher as a tireless wartime activist. Paradoxically, Skidelsky notes, “Keynes rates a single mention in [Churchill’s] five-volume history” of WWII. Yet the two had complementary goals to finance and win the war, regain economic footing and preserve the British Empire. (The biography’s subtitle, thus, is the only false note in the book.) The Brits and Americans clashed over this last point amid their broader economic rivalry. Keynes’s shuttle diplomacy with Washington regarding Lend-Lease and postwar fiscal settlements, despite his ever-weakening heart (he died the year after victory), furnishes a tense if dense narrative. Keynes understood England’s industrial inefficiency, and that his own efforts to resuscitate his country would hold back the hands of the global clock and swindle England’s crucial ally. But he was always a prescient economist, realizing, among other things, that American policy in 1945, which favored Russia fiscally over Britain, risked Soviet domination of Europe. Despite some confusing chronologies, the biographer’s prose is worthy of his subject. Another great merit is Skidelsky’s charming evocation of Keynes’s loyal wife, Lydia Lopokova, once a Russian ballerina. Readers shouldn’t be daunted by pages of fiscal detail, which can be scanned. This elegant and accessible account lives up to the distinguished earlier volumes. Illus. not seen by PW.

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