Robert Louis Heilbroner

On this date in 1919, economist and social theorist Robert Louis Heilbroner was born into such a wealthy New York City family that he told the New York Post in 1972: “I was reared during the Great Depression and never knew there was one.” His German-Jewish father co-founded the men’s clothing retailer Weber & Heilbroner. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1940 with B.A.s in history, govenment and economics. His doctorate was earned from the New School of Social Research in 1963.

In 1972 the New School made Heilbroner, a nontheist, the first Norman Thomas Professor of Economics, named for the Socialist Party presidential candidate. Heilbroner served during World War II and was awarded a Bronze Star. The most famous of his 20 books on economics is The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers (1953). Known for its inviting writing style and humanization of economics, the book has been translated into 20 languages, has sold 4 million copies and has been used extensively as a college textbook. He died of a stroke at age 85 in 2005.

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