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History of Political Economy 35.2 (2003) 335-336

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The Life and Times of J. Neville Keynes: A Beacon in the Tempest. By Phyllis Deane. Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 2001. xvii; 315 pp. $95.00.

John Neville Keynes is known to many historians of economics as the father of John Maynard and author of the classic study, The Scope and Method of Political Economy (1891; it actually first appeared early the following year), a volume that is still highly regarded and cited by economic methodologists. Like his earlier successful Studies and Exercises in Formal Logic (1884), it went through several editions and reprintings; and together with Alfred Marshall's magisterial Principles of Economics (1890), it heralded a new era in academic economics not only in Britain but also in many other countries. In effect, Scope and Method laid down the terms of an armistice between the leaders of an incipient British Methodenstreit in the 1870s, and the latter-day more moderate and scholarly exponents of classical economics.

Phyllis Deane, the author of this volume under review, is a distinguished economic historian who has, in recent years, turned to the history of economic thought. Curiously enough, she does not consider her book a biography “in the sense of a creative reconstruction of the life of an historically famous character” (xi), presumably because in his lifetime Neville Keynes's fame was largely confined to Cambridge University. His scholarly career was admittedly short, for after the publication of his two books he became increasingly involved in academic administration, eventually becoming the university's top administrator. The path to this eminence was long and arduous, but his achievement was the direct consequence of his dedication, judgment, efficiency, and integrity. For those readers wishing to know how Cambridge “worked”—what were its problems in changing from “a loose federation of 15 religious communities into an integrated institution dedicated to scientific learning, education, and research” (xi)—Neville Keynes's career is a rich source of information on and insight into the leading figures and organizational changes involved.

A Beacon in the Tempest draws heavily on two major sources, his remarkable diary, which he kept for over half a century to 1917, “candidly recording his pleasures, griefs, problems, ambitions and achievements” (xii) (often including the number of [End Page 335] hours he worked per annum, his golf scores, and other details), and the long series of annual volumes of the Cambridge University Reporter, “with their detailed record of changes in, and debates on the human, institutional and financial context within which the academic revolution gradually, and sometimes stormily, developed” (xii). Of course these sources, the private and the public, often supplement and complement each other, overlap, or even coincide, but the diary is especially valuable since it reveals Neville Keynes's character and motives, as well as his thoughts and opinions on university and scholarly matters, his academic colleagues (and occasional opponents), and his duties on formal university occasions, together with details of the Keynes family and household.

Armed with this wealth of material, Professor Deane is able to provide a far clearer and more detailed portrayal of the central character in her story than has hitherto been available. In terms of subject matter, roughly one-third of the book deals with personal matters such as Neville Keynes's family background, upbringing, early education, and eventual courtship and marriage, as well as the personalities and qualities of his able wife Florence and his gifted children Maynard, Margaret, and Geoffrey.

Although Neville Keynes eventually became a pillar—indeed perhaps the main pillar—of the Cambridge University establishment, he did not come from an academic family background. He was a nonconformist (the first of his kind to become a Fellow of Pembroke College) in an overwhelmingly Anglican community, and, together with Florence and others, became a leading activist on behalf of women's education, a cause consistently opposed by Alfred Marshall. Phyllis Deane successfully interweaves these varied strands in her story. And although she adds little to the many...


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pp. 335-336
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