This is a brilliant and unconventional study of one of the most challenging figures in modern social and economic thought. David Riesman has chosen a deliberately personal method of exposition and evaluation, and he is by no means a disciple. He says of Veblen: "I find him more often interesting than attractive, more often pungent than wise." By approaching Veblen subjectively and in a critical spirit, Riesman has arrived at an estimate of the man that is objective and balanced.
Veblen's ideas and attitudes are carefully examined, with particular attention to his conviction that "the instinct of workmanship" was the constructive element in life, and to his fundamental principle of "idle curiosity." Veblen is seen as a man with a passionate moral sense whose method was irony coupled with research. Riesman makes the interesting point that the author of The Theory of the Leisure Class was episodically a passionate, even revolutionary reformer, in contrast to a career primarily as an intellectual skeptic.
Riesman looks behind the ideas, searching for their origins in Veblen's life, with the result that one finishes the book with a genuine sense of the strange man who is its subject. Riesman concludes that Thorstein Veblen is important not so much for his specific contribution to economic thought as for his stance toward the economy and his fellow economists. For us today, Riesman adds, Veblen's great value inheres in his way of seeing. The new introduction by Mestrovic provides an appreciation of Riesman, no less than Veblen.
David Riesman is the Henry Ford II Professor Emeritus of Social Sciences at Harvard University. He has also taught at the University of Chicago, and Johns Hopkins University. Among his most important books are The Lonely Crowd; Faces in the Crowd; Individualism Reconsidered; and Constraint and Variety in American Education. His collection, Abundance for What?, confirms his place as the foremost sociologist of education in the modern era.
Stjepan G. Mestrovic is a senior social theorist in his own right. He is currently located at Texas A&M University, where he is a professor of sociology.