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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best seller

An “outstanding new intellectual biography of John Maynard Keynes [that moves] swiftly along currents of lucidity and wit” (The New York Times), illuminating the world of the influential economist and his transformative ideas

“A timely, lucid and compelling portrait of a man whose enduring relevance is always heightened when crisis strikes.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Winner of the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Sabew Best in Business Book Award

Longlisted for the Cundill History Prize

Named one of the ten best books of the year by Publishers Weekly and one of the best books of the year by: Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times The Economist • Bloomberg Mother Jones

At the dawn of World War I, a young academic named John Maynard Keynes hastily folded his long legs into the sidecar of his brother-in-law’s motorcycle for an odd, frantic journey that would change the course of history. Swept away from his placid home at Cambridge University by the currents of the conflict, Keynes found himself thrust into the halls of European treasuries to arrange emergency loans and packed off to America to negotiate the terms of economic combat. The terror and anxiety unleashed by the war would transform him from a comfortable obscurity into the most influential and controversial intellectual of his day — a man whose ideas still retain the power to shock in our own time.

Keynes was not only an economist but the preeminent anti-authoritarian thinker of the 20th century, one who devoted his life to the belief that art and ideas could conquer war and deprivation. As a moral philosopher, political theorist, and statesman, Keynes led an extraordinary life that took him from intimate turn-of-the-century parties in London’s riotous Bloomsbury art scene to the fevered negotiations in Paris that shaped the Treaty of Versailles, from stock market crashes on two continents to diplomatic breakthroughs in the mountains of New Hampshire to wartime ballet openings at London’s extravagant Covent Garden. 

Along the way, Keynes reinvented Enlightenment liberalism to meet the harrowing crises of the 20th century. In the United States, his ideas became the foundation of a burgeoning economics profession, but they also became a flash point in the broader political struggle of the Cold War, as Keynesian acolytes faced off against conservatives in an intellectual battle for the future of the country — and the world. Though many Keynesian ideas survived the struggle, much of the project to which he devoted his life was lost. 

In this riveting biography, veteran journalist Zachary D. Carter unearths the lost legacy of one of history’s most fascinating minds. The Price of Peace revives a forgotten set of ideas about democracy, money, and the good life with transformative implications for today’s debates over inequality and the power politics that shape the global order.

©2020 Zachary D. Carter (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Zachary D. Carter has given us an important, resonant, and memorable portrait of one of the chief architects of the world we’ve known, and know still. As Richard Nixon observed, we’re all Keynesians now - even if we don’t realize it. Carter’s powerful book will surely fix that.” (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Hope of Glory)

“With an eye for the apt phrase and the telling detail, Zachary D. Carter has written a thoughtful and sweeping biography of Keynes and his ideas, extending through the 20th century and into our own time. Carter gives life to the effortless brilliance, frank appetites, and ethical commitments that made Keynes and Keynesianism so immensely consequential in philosophy, art, money, politics, letters, and war. The Price of Peace is a terrific book about a fascinating character.” (Eric Rauchway, author of Winter War)

The Price of Peace is a towering achievement. Carter blends a nuanced and sophisticated financial history of the twentieth century with the intimate personal drama and political upheaval of an epic novel.....A masterful biography of a unique and complex social thinker.” (Stephanie Kelton, author of The Deficit Myth

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What listeners say about The Price of Peace

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An uncritical analysis.

The first several hours were good, putting the English economy in the context of the world's issues. However, the author seemed to posit that Keynes was right and everyone else in the world did not understand his grand vision. After the death of Keynes, the author threw in all sorts of irrelevant stories about his heroes and kept going back to the American "Red Scare" with no sense of chronology. The last four hours should have been edited. His last chapter was all praise for Keynes vision with little critical appraisal. The author's comments about Bush, Obama and Trump did not consider the small problem that they had to face political issues. After all, Keynes was never elected to anything and was appointed to lofty positions due to his position in the British old boys club. The UK was a colonial, racist and royalist enterprise which he promoted and wanted all Brits to accept his culture, music, and sensibilities. He was a fine example of the entitlement that public intellectuals possess.

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A must read for post COVID-19 crisis

Keynes philosophy of solving economic challenges still applies to current crisis, choosing between tolerable and not intolerable, making the best decision for vast majority instead of saving the 0.1% most rich population.

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A must read

I heard about this biography on Wondery’s Tides of History, a podcast narrated by Patrick Wyman, and I was very happy with this purchase. The colorful life of John Maynard Keynes and his motivations to write his extensive and important work were very well detailed in the pages of this book. Keynes’ theory is arguably the most important development in Economics to this day and I think Carter does it justice in the pages of this book. Keynes was a visionary man; his vision should inspire the future generations of Social Scientists and his ideals need to be carried on.

The only reason why I couldn’t give a full 5-star review is the pamphleteer character of its final few chapters detailing the historical developments post Keynes’ death. Economics, as any Social Science, cannot be described in absolute terms, and the author seems in many situations to assign wholly negative events to theories that compete with Keynesianism and neglects the shortcomings of Keynes’ and his intellectual disciples’ work. Carter presents a very one-sided view of History. Biases are normal and mostly welcome, but not to the extent that the post-Keynes chapters presents. The author also very meticulously highlights flaws and political mistakes by Keynes’s rivals while only bringing up once, and briefly (on Joan Robinson’s case), the authoritarian and illiberal side of some of his own ideological allies.

I understand that we are living through hard times with extremely disagreeable Heads of Government, but the final few chapters almost ruined the book for me. “The Price of Peace”, however, still is an extremely good book and I do recommend it to anyone who wishes to understand a little bit better the character of John Maynard Keynes, the motivations behind his wonderful work, and the economic developments of the 20th Century.

4 people found this helpful

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Book of the decade

Honestly one of the most important (and best written) books of the decade so far. Distilling Keynes is difficult but done with ease here.

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sweeping comprehensive in depth and scope

Just the right balance of personal perspective of Keynes and his disciples - even those who were not devotees get fair treatment. Story well paced and delivered. I was pleased to learn, as the story extends beyond Keynes' life, how is devotees applied his principles to changes in global affairs.
I would have improved on the narrow Anglo-American experience where Keynes principles were applied in other countries.

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Thorough and always interesting

There’s a lot here to digest and let soak in. But I am glad I stuck with this book. I feel I now know who Keynes was and why his life’s work is as important today as it ever was. I love the last words of the book, which I think was a direct quote from Keynes, something to the effect that yes, “in the end we are all dead. But looking ahead to the future, anything is still possible.” This gave me hope in the face of today’s threats to democracy and the fate of life on this planet.

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Immersive and addictive

A fantastic history of modern economic history wrapped up in an emotionally affecting biography. Resonant scholarship and storytelling

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So much more than economic theory.

Everyone should read this book. Keynes life is interesting and his theory one of the major forces in economic practice. History and context as always plays a major role in how this theory is perceived and applied. The book is a compelling read taking us up to the Obama administration and slightly beyond. I had no knowledge of econ theory but this book is indispensable for understanding our current state of affairs. Well done all around.

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TESTING DEMOCRACY

Zachary Carter has written an interesting biography of John Maynard Keynes. Carter details Keynes’ personal life with an interpretation of Keynesian economics. This is a a history of a man of many parts that explains Keynes economic beliefs and their evolution and interpretation by later economists.

The surprising perspective given by Carter’s biography is that Keynes’ economic theory is grounded in the conservatism of Edmund Burke. Today’s view of Keynes is that faltering economies can spend their way out of depression by deficit spending, a highly liberal political and economic theory. What Carter explains is that Keynes argues economic policy should be designed to benefit the general welfare of the public. Keynes looked at economic policy impacts on all classes of citizens when developing his economic theory. If the private sector creates jobs and the general public’s economic health is improving, government that governs least is considered best by Keynes.

However, Keynes argues-when the welfare of the public is harmed, the government must act to regulate unfair practices of the private sector that diminishes the economic health of the public, particularly the poor. He offers a brief evaluation of modern Democratic and Republican Presidents that suggest neither clearly understood Keynesian economics. Carter decries the mismanagement of the economy by Kennedy, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama because they fail to see the impact of their policies on human inequality. Keynes fundamental belief is that all governments must evaluate the affect of their administrations on the poor and middle class because they are the engines of prosperity.

Carter reminds listener/readers of the history of the 20th century in this excellent biography of Keynes. Carter’s biography reminds one of Keynes’ contributions to economics in the way of Newton’s contributions to physics. Both were geniuses. Both were ahead of their time and laid the groundwork for fundamental understanding of their disciplines.

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Master biography of Keynes and his ideas

Zachary Carter has written a biography of Keynes and his idea that might just save his name from the distortions that have been heaped on it since his death in 1946. Keynes never set out to be an economist - he was a mathematician focused on probability, an academic, a philosopher, and, possibly most of all, an aesthete who valued creativity above all other human skills. The coverage of the Bloomsbury set here is excellent and shows that Keynes (not Strachey or V. Woolf) was really the linchpin that held them together. Keynes was a great, compassionate friend to those he loved. His nurturing of his fellow Cambridge economists, especially Joan Robinson, is covered in this book with great insight. It's a touching story of a woman who should've won the Nobel prize.

The explanations of Keynes' economic ideas are well-presented. He was working in his field with a blank slate (poor data, 19th c. ideas, a love of austerity all prevailed) but was able to come up with many brilliant ideas about reducing unemployment, economic equality, government spending, etc. Did he get some things badly wrong? Of course, and Carter calls them out clearly. Keynes couldn't defend himself after his death and the way his ideas were mangled was not just unfair, it was often malicious. This biography will teach you things you didn't know and it'll act as a history lesson for the past 100 or so years.

Robert Petkoff does a stellar job reading this material. He has a knack for knowing when to emphasize a point and when humor is needed. I'm now listening to his reading of Gary Ginsberg's terrific "First Friends". He's a star in this field.

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  • Fletcher Christian
  • 07-07-20

Brilliant, excoriating, fascinating, devastating

Not just a brilliant biography but a fascinating, scything debunking of aristocratic classical economics and the charlatans who maintain deplorable levels of inequality behind a facade of bogus so called mathematical certainties. A wonderful evidence packed, historically compelling justification of Keynes’s enduring philosophical breakthroughs which are as relevant now as ever for policy makers committed to creating good lives for those outside the monstrously selfish 1 per cent

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  • Mlc
  • 09-10-20

compelling writing, grand ideas for our times

excellent examination of Keynes's life and work, and the effect it had on (mainly) American politics in the century since.. as a vrit I would have liked more on the long shadow of Keynes on the UK political system, but still fascinating.

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  • AWK
  • 06-22-20

So very good on personalities and theory

good into to JMK's thought made even better ob how it was applied during his lifetime and after up to the present. By an admirer of Keynes who also writes of his faults and Bloomsbury friends.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-30-21

Brilliant

fantastic book with amazing details on the history of the economy. very relevant to today. definitely recommend

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  • Lise
  • 09-19-21

What a great inspiration this book is

Also well written and well read, pleasant and easy to follow, considering how complicated some of its discussion actually is.

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  • Anthony Coles
  • 10-17-20

An incredible ride

What a ride. The colourful framing of a Century of (Western) human existence through the lens of a detailed researcher and narrator.
The perils of the current world order set out in the Conclusion point to some troubling times ahead.
As I review the macro-economic policies on display currently in China, one might consider ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ more Keynesian than Karl Marx.
Both aren’t right when global Distribution of Wealth still so out of whack.
Maybe that’s the rub driving all the confrontational rhetoric atm.
Interesting times indeed.
Thank you Zhac. 🤝

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  • Nicholas Gruen
  • 06-23-20

Superb

A superb retelling (with excellent narration) of Keynes' life showing how Keynes' economics was only part of a larger intellectual, spiritual and life journey.

By so breaking the disciplinary bonds of his story, the author also presents Keynes' life as a microcosm of the great political questions of his century. It's hard to think of any intellectual in the whole of human history who has so influenced the intellectual tenor of his times for the better.

It's a glorious story of a golden age though those living through it may not have appreciated it as such. And then it was taken away.

The enemies of such generosity of spirit – of Keynes' economics of abundance – were all there at the outset plotting. And with infusions of funds from the moneyed enemies of Roosevelt's New Deal, they successfully engineered its downfall.