"You will read your Political Economy in my absence," Miss Prism says to the Reverend Canon Chasuble in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. "The chapter on the Fall of the Rupee you may omit. It is somewhat too sensational."
It was, in fact, the management of the Indian rupee that occupied John Maynard Keynes at the dawn of his career, and many chapters in the life of this distinguished economist and public servant were considered too sensational for his first biographer, Roy Harrod, to address. Now with John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, 1937-1946, the third and last installment of his monumental biography, Lord Robert Skidelsky has brought us as close as we are ever likely to get to the whole Keynes, rupees and all.
THE ECONOMIST AS A YOUNG MAN
His was a very English life. At Cambridge, Keynes was one of the enfants terribles whose mix of philosophical idealism, undergraduate homoeroticism, and cynical disengagement from the certainties of their Victorian grandparents shocked the Edwardians and pointed to the vast cultural and social changes ahead. After helping to blaze the trail later traipsed by such bright young things as Evelyn Waugh, W. H. Auden, and Christopher Isherwood (and, for that matter, the double-agent Guy Burgess), Keynes plunged into the artistic and cultural mix of the storied Bloomsbury group, where he enjoyed the company of such betes noires of the British establishment as the author Lytton Strachey and the painter Duncan Grant.
What Bloomsbury regarded as the shades of the prison house began to close in about the growing Keynes during World War I, when he forsook the fashionable antiwar stance of many of his friends to serve in the British Treasury, ultimately accompanying the British delegation to the 1919 Versailles conference. His coruscating and still controversial account of the conference, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, remains one of the great landmarks in the history of the twentieth century and continues to shape debate over the relationship between the
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