Books

04.22.14

Capitalism by the Numbers

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a not so surprising best seller—it’s rigorously researched and arrestingly written.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
By Thomas Piketty

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‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by Thomas Piketty. 696 pp. Belknap Press. $39.95 hardcover. ()

‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by Thomas Piketty. 696 pp. Belknap Press. $39.95 hardcover.

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a dense, data-intensive tome, clocking in at nearly 700 pages with more than 100 graphs and tables. That a book like this is a New York Times best seller speaks to the fact that the publication of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is, in some circles, an event. Rapturously received in academia and heralded as an instant classic, Piketty’s timely analysis of the dynamics of inequality is primed for a crossover into the mainstream. A professor at the Paris School of Economics, Piketty has looked at centuries of tax archives to formulate a theory of capitalism that is evidence-based and rigorously researched, but also attempts to answer the most basic questions in economic theory. His paradigm-shifting thesis is, at its most basic, that late-stage capitalist economies foster inequality and create an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. These ideas feel intuitive and elegant, and Piketty’s emphasis on data-based analysis lend even his most ambitious claims great credibility. Capital in the Twenty-First Century is already being hailed as a seminal work of economic thought, and with very good reason. Piketty is as arresting and readable a writer as he is a rigorous thinker; the former trait may end up being as responsible for the longevity of Capital in the Twenty-First Century as the latter.