All 22 pounds, four volumes, 4,194 pages and 4.3 million words of the New Palgrave are set out to convince even the unconvincible that economics is not a dismal science.
From "Absentee" to "Zero-sum game," this dictionary of economics covers the gamut of worldwide thought so thoroughly that readers will become addicted--or so hopes John Eatwell, one of the collection's co-editors.
Even calling the $650 New Palgrave a dictionary is a misnomer. "That gives the slightly false impression that you get neat definitions," Eatwell said. The edition really is an encyclopedia.
Rather than bare-bones insight, some entries are as long as 20,000 words. Eatwell said every effort was made to not only describe a theory but put it into historical perspective, a move that should give the work greater longevity.
Four years ago, Eatwell, a Cambridge University professor who conceived the project, and his collaborators courted the top echelon of economists and got an "extraordinary reception."
Of 100 big-name economists initially contacted, 81 agreed to write entries. Those initial contacts led Eatwell and his partners to more than 800 other economists, historians, philosophers, mathematicians and statisticians from around the world who would join the ranks of Palgrave contributors.
Aimed at the Masses
The dictionary has 1,261 subject entries as well as biographies on 655 influential thinkers like Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx and J. R. N. Stone. All entries are signed by their authors.
The New Palgrave, for the most part, will be understood by the masses who tremble in the shadow of economics--only 20% of it is hard-core statistics, Eatwell says. But its biggest fans are likely to be academics and other professionals in the world of business and finance.
Eatwell, an author and economic adviser to Britain's Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, was joined by editors Murray Milgate, associate professor of economics and social studies at Harvard University, and Peter Newman, a professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University.
The dictionary is an updated version of the old Palgrave, which was published in Britain in three volumes between 1894 and 1899 and compiled by R. H. Inglis Palgrave under the title Dictionary of Political Economy.
An important work in its day, the original dictionary gradually faded out of the limelight. To the best of Eatwell's recollection, the work was last cited in writing in 1948 by Milton Friedman.
Still, "that's a shelf life of 50 years, and that's not bad," Eatwell says.