A summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Harvard, Robert Louis Heilbroner (born 1919) is an influential economist and prolific writer, reviewer, consultant, and lecturer. Raised in luxury and educated at private schools, he claims to have patterned his liberal economic views after the family chauffeur, who served as a father figure after the author's father died in 1924.
Heilbroner was assigned to the Intelligence Service during World War II, interrogating Japanese prisoners of war. He rose to the rank of first lieutenant and earned the Bronze Star. Following the war he obtained his doctorate from the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he served as the Norman Thomas Professor of Economics beginning in 1972.
As a practicing economist, Heilbroner has lectured before business, university, and labor groups. Among his awards and honors are the Guggenheim fellowship (1983); membership in the executive committee of the American Economic Association, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Century Association; and honorary degrees from La Salle College, Ripon College, Long Island University, and Wagner College. Outside his profession he cultivates an interest in Oriental art, the eighteenth century, bird watching, and piano.
Heilbroner achieved immediate recognition as a writer and economist with his first book, The Worldly Philosophers. Published in 1953, it was revised many times. The most recent revision reflects Heilbroner's evolving views and contains backnotes as well as alterations to the final chapters, which deal with the modern economists. The book has been printed in over twenty foreign editions and is respected and utilized in American colleges and universities as a standard introductory text.
In 1956, Heilbroner published The Quest for Wealth, which describes the origin and nature of the human drive for acquisition and its role in today's money-directed society. The Future as History followed in 1960, a work attempting to predict future trends in U.S. and world economics. In this book, the author questions American optimism concerning conflicting world ideologies. Not entirely pessimistic, he warns Americans to assert themselves and halt long-term trends that may prove disastrous.
In 1962, Heilbroner examined the development of economic societies from past to present in The Making of Economic Society. This overview includes inquiries into slavery, feudalism, the Industrial Revolution, and the market system. The following year, the author published The Great Ascent, a survey of economic development in a hundred emerging nations and the relationship of these nations to the modern Western world, particularly the United States. In this work the author favors foreign aid only as a means of promoting trade among nations.
In An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (1974), Heilbroner stresses present dangers, especially overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, and the threat of nuclear disaster. Rejecting the label of pessimist, Heilbroner says of his book: "We all learn to live on two levels and yet there are dreadful contradictions between them. This troubles thoughtful people. But here history helps. If you know something about the past, then you know this contradiction is not new."