Cover: Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction, from Harvard University PressCover: Prophet of Innovation in PAPERBACK

Prophet of Innovation

Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction

Product Details


$29.00 • £25.95 • €26.95

ISBN 9780674034815

Publication Date: 03/30/2010


736 pages

6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches

68 halftones

Belknap Press


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Much honored as an economic prophet, Joseph A. Schumpeter has had to wait half a century after his death for this splendid full-dress biography covering his ideas, life, and times… [This is] a fat, learned biography by Thomas McCraw, one of America’s most respected business historians, the author of a Pulitzer Prize–winning history of the rise of regulation. He has found the perfect subject in Schumpeter. He succeeds in getting inside the economist’s head, explaining not just what he thought but why he thought it. Beyond this, he also succeeds in painting a portrait of his times. Fin de siècle Vienna, Weimar Germany, Harvard University before and after the first world war: all come to life on these pages.The Economist

Books on the lives of the great economists might not, at first blush, set the blood coursing. Yet Robert Skidelsky’s masterly three-volume biography of John Maynard Keynes proved how engrossing such a life could be. It is high praise to say that Thomas McCraw’s biography of Joseph Schumpeter, Prophet of Innovation, has some of the same quality and appeal… McCraw, who has written the definitive biography of his subject, supplies many testimonials to Schumpeter’s genius and influence from both his day and our own.—Robin Blackburn, The Nation

[Schumpeter’s] private life was no less fascinating than his public message. In Prophet of Innovation, Thomas McCraw—emeritus professor of history at the Harvard Business School—artfully weaves the two together.—Dan Seligman, Wall Street Journal

It’s no small feat to make a jaunty read out of the life of an economist dead more than 50 years, and Thomas K. McCraw has done just that in his impressive new biography of Joseph Schumpeter.—Kevin R. Kosar, Weekly Standard

An excellent, thorough and smoothly written biography of Joseph Schumpeter, the greatest economist of the 20th century. Too bad most politicos—and economists—don’t fully grasp his insights.—Steve Forbes, Forbes

McCraw’s triumph is to tell…readers quite as much as we need to know about Schumpeter in a lucid and well-paced narrative, while also supplying, for more rigorous scholars, no fewer than two hundred pages of endnotes… McCraw successfully passes off the life of a professor of economics as a story that fully complements its undoubted intellectual significance with a tantalizing human interest.—Peter Clarke, London Review of Books

An extraordinary new biography. Prophet of Innovation by Thomas K. McCraw chronicles the life of one of the 20th century’s most original and insightful scholars… Like his contemporary and frequent rival John Maynard Keynes, Schumpeter makes for a rich biographical subject. Keynes received the treatment he deserved from Lord Robert Skidelsky’s magisterial multi-volume biography. McCraw’s effort, similarly, is worthy of Schumpeter.—Nick Schulz, National Review

McCraw doesn’t get lost in the baroque details of Schumpeter’s story—how many economists ever fought a duel?—or in the arcana of his theories, achieving a balance that his brilliant and restless subject rarely did in life.New Yorker

Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction is a well-written and entrancing look at one of the twentieth century’s most important economic and political thinkers. McCraw’s book may rightly take its place as one of the two or three best biographies of an economist ever written… [It] is so splendid because it succeeds on so many different levels. If the book were simply an account of the Harvard economics department, it would stand as a lasting and significant contribution to the history of economic thought. Alternatively, it is one of the best treatments of what it was like for European intellectuals to migrate to the United States. Or are you interested in why Austria fell apart during the 1920s, and how someone with as little real world experience as Schumpeter became Minister of Finance? The book is also a love story, and an account of how a possibly dysfunctional man can nonetheless find romantic happiness after repeated failures and tragedies. Last but not least it is an intellectual history… Every year there are three or four non-fiction books that have to be read, and this is one of them.—Tyler Cowen, The American

A thinker as multifaceted as Schumpeter demands much of a biographer, and in Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction, Thomas McCraw delivers… McCraw not only excels at conveying the innovation and excitement in Schumpeter’s work, he keeps readers riveted to the story of the economist’s life, and some of the twists are almost novelistic… [An] outstanding biography.—Daniel McCarthy, American Conservative

[A] persuasive and eloquent biography.—Jay Hancock, Baltimore Sun

McCraw…frames his narrative confidently and writes beautifully… Best of all, McCraw is an extremely good interpreter of Schumpeter’s published work.—David Warsh, Economic Principals

[Schumpeter] deserves more recognition and McCraw’s book is to be welcomed on that account.—Pat McArdle, Irish Times

It’s the lively and penetrating prose of the book itself that make its appearance in paperback a cause for rejoicing. Reading it is certainly time well-invested.—Abraham Benrubi, Open Letters Monthly

McCraw’s book on Schumpeter is an absorbing read, with short chapters, lots of personal detail and historical scene setting, and an important anti-Galbraithian economic theme. —Deirdre McCloskey, Reason

Those seeking some escape from the deluge of ‘Keynes the Comeback Kid’ will enjoy a refresher on that other brilliant economist of his generation, Joseph Schumpeter. Thomas K. McCraw’s brilliant biography of the economist who best understood the turbulence of markets and ‘creative destruction’ is all the more relevant as a credit crisis-induced recession unfolds. This biography is the clearest and most comprehensive guide to Schumpeter’s life and work and the turbulence of his time which has, like the classic business cycle, come round again.—Bill Jamieson, The Spectator

Prophet of Innovation is an immensely entertaining read.—Marisa Morrison, Washington Times

Although he died 60 years ago, Schumpeter’s ideas about capitalism still resonate, including the belief that no business, no matter how successful, should assume it will be around forever.Worth

As Thomas McCraw’s comprehensive and well-written biography convincingly shows, Schumpeter succeeded in becoming the ‘prophet of innovation’ by pioneering the vision of a superproductive world of continuing competitive struggle in a nexus of more or less open financial and economic markets. It’s never easy to make economics come alive on the page, particularly for readers not steeped in the discipline, but McCraw does his best to balance rigor and accessibility. He gives careful attention to the various elements of Schumpeter’s life, focusing, naturally, on his work… McCraw’s biography is a major step toward Schumpeter’s restoration in the pantheon of modern economists.—Victor Zarnowitz, Conference Board Review

Although Schumpeter died in 1950, McCraw is right to insist that his contributions to our understanding of the economies in which we live are still vital today.—Peter Timlin, Harvard Magazine

[McCraw] has written an impressive and thoughtful biography of one of the most significant economists of the 20th century. Although widely regarded as a man of no small ego, Schumpeter can justifiably lay claim to effecting considerable scholarly debate in a wide range of academic backgrounds. Schumpeter’s analysis of economic development and business cycles, his notion of the process and significance of creative destruction, and his views on entrepreneurial activities continue to influence generations of economists and social scientists. McCraw’s thorough, insightful biography draws on an array of public and private papers to explain Schumpeter’s scholarly development and increasing sway, from his early years in Vienna to Bonn and later to his tenure at Harvard. This engaging scholarly work provides substance and context and is well worth a close read by both students and faculty.—T.E. Sullivan, Choice

In this biography, Pulitzer Prize winner McCraw neatly divides his emphasis between Schumpeter’s professional and personal life. He portrays his subject as a somewhat self-absorbed insatiable scholar not entirely comfortable with his contemporaries, which might explain marriages and affairs with much older and younger women, as well as his affinity with students and often-strained relations with colleagues of his own generation. McCraw lucidly addresses Schumpeter’s economic theories through an examination of his letters, lectures, addresses, articles, and major works… [An] insightful and highly readable biography.—Lawrence R. Maxted, Library Journal (starred review)

A most compelling portrait of a complex man who has had a profound influence on how we think about entrepreneurship.—Amar Bhidé, Columbia University

This well-paced and beautifully written book explains not only Schumpeter’s work but also the fast-changing phenomenon of modern capitalism. McCraw brings out Schumpeter’s energy and charisma as well as the power of his ideas, quite skillfully linking the economist’s colorful and adventurous personal life with the development of his views. This book is a fine tribute to a great thinker.—Harold James, Princeton University

A welcome book—a truly penetrating biography of the most influential theorist of finance capitalism.—Edmund S. Phelps, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Economics

Awards & Accolades

  • 2007–2009 Alfred and Fay Chandler Book Award in Business History, Business History Review
  • 2008 Joseph J. Spengler Best Book Prize, History of Economics Society
  • Co-Winner, 2008 Schumpeter Prize, International Joseph A. Schumpeter Society
  • A Spectator Best Read of 2008
  • A Library Journal Best Business Book of 2007

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