More comments on Last Knight
This review by Ira Katz of Lafayette College is pending at Amazon.com
Great lives make great biographies. If only this were always true. One problem is that many biographies, including very long books, are written about the mediocre, or even the boring (think of politicians). Another problem is that so often a hash is made of the effort to explain an interesting life. I am happy to report that Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism by Jörg Guido Hülsmann is a great biography of a great life. More precisely, this book tells the story of the great ideas, generated by a great mind, in the context of the life of a very good man, Ludwig von Mises.
To write about this book one must consider readers as two kinds of people; those who have read Human Action and those who have not. For those who have read Mises' magnum opus, Last Knight will hold a special place in their libraries, probably on the shelf next to Human Action. To have read Human Action implies that a person is aware of and understands Austrian economics. Furthermore, the normal response to this effort (it must be admitted that it is not an easy read) is a paradigm shift in thought, if not life. Certainly all aspects of economics and politics are then understood in a fresh light; such that events of the day that were once an incomprehensible blur come into sharp focus, and the myths and lies of the ruling class become as obvious as Pinocchio's nose, or more aptly, the emperor's new clothes. For these people Last Knight quenches the thirst for knowledge about the man, his personality, life, and times. It is also a wonderful history of ideas, depicting the paths to (Menger and Böhm-Bawerk) and from (Hayek and Rothbard) Human Action. I have already seen that this can be a controversial exercise among those who claim to be Austrian economists but well worth the effort. The milieu of teachers, colleagues, and students around Mises, especially in old Vienna (before WWI) and contemporary New York (50s and 60s) are fascinating. Mises really was a man of Vienna, and then late in life, of New York. Readers who already are part of the Austrian school will dream of attending the Mises seminars evoked by Hülsmann. Mises the person is an inspiration through his moral and physical courage, and his persistent and overriding quest for truth. But it must also be admitted that he was a bit of an odd fellow. Mises relationships as husband, son, bother, teacher, friend, colleague, and occasional adversary are interesting to those of us who care so much about his work.
For those who have not read Human Action, Last Knight makes a great primer for the ideas that comprise Austrian economics. All of the key ideas are discussed in a very approachable way that modern readers can readily grasp.
Of course for many a 1000 page primer might be as daunting as the original, but I can attest that it is very readable; I could not put it down. I should say, I had to put it down occasionally to rest my arms because it is a physically big book. However, the production values are excellent (I especially appreciated the attached cloth book mark) making it easy on the eyes, and at a very reasonable price, easy on the wallet. The history of writing and publishing the book is also of interest. The efforts of the publisher, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, are part of the continuing story of Mises' ideas. The saga of Mises' papers alone, Vienna, Berlin, to Moscow, tells much about the history of ideas in the 20th century.
Even the most positive book review must include some criticism. In this case my only quibble is that the book is too short. I still want to know more about Mises the man, his times, and his ideas. I hope to read more from Dr. Hülsmann in the future.