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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Have you ever thought you'd like to write a book about your grandfather, so everyone would know what a terrific person he was? Nicholas Dawidoff, author of The Catcher Was a Spy, has done just that, and it works very well, because his grandfather really was a terrific person -- a famous scholar with an outsize personality who led an exciting life.
Alexander Gerschenkron was born in Odessa. At 16 he and his family made an adventurous escape from the Bolsheviks. In Austria, he learned German from scratch, passed the tough exams for the gymnasium (high school), and fell in love with pretty Erica, the only girl in his class. He eventually studied economics in Vienna but had to escape again, this time from the Nazis, with Erica and their two daughters. After more vicissitudes, he wound up at Harvard, where he taught for 30 years, admired by many but delighting in controversy. He became known for his work on the economics of backwardness, but his interests were wide and deep.
Even at Harvard, Gerschenkron stood out. He was brilliant in his field (and after he was an established professor of economics, Harvard offered him a chair in Slavic languages); he was outspoken and quirky. His loyalty was well known, and so were his feuds. Dawidoff includes lots of amusing anecdotes, as well as insights and praise from Gerschenkron's friends and colleagues, but he also includes criticism of his theories and comments from people who didn't like him at all.
In explaining Gerschenkron's importance in his field, Dawidoff succeeds in making some complicated ideas extremely clear, because he isn't afraid to use words and analogies that speak to the general reader. His book is entertaining and touching, a fine tribute to the grandfather he loved. (Stephanie Martin)
Stephanie Martin lives in Newton Centre, Massachusetts.