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Fortune Tellers:
The Story of America’s First Economic Forecasters
Walter A. Friedman

Book Description | Table of Contents
Introduction [in PDF format]


"Historian Friedman examines how forecasting economic performance became professionalized in the early 20th century. He adeptly and insightfully uses a biographical approach, with five case studies selected because of their contemporary significance and because each analyst understood the logic of capitalism differently and took a different approach to forecasting."--Choice

"Fortune Tellers is an engaging account of the beginnings of the vibrant industry of American economic forecasting."--George A. Schade, Financial History

"The value of Friedman's book isn't just in the brief biographies . . . but also in Friedman's insights and asides about the business, financial and political context of the time. Friedman doesn't mention it, but few readers will miss the implicit comparison to today."--Randolph Walerius, Roll Call

"There is no better way to gain an understanding of how economic forecasting began than reading Walter A. Friedman's new book Fortune Tellers. . . . It shines a light on the entrepreneurs like Roger Babson and John Moody who created the economic forecasting field a century ago and transformed it into successful businesses."--James McCusker, Everett Herald

"[C]aptivating story. . . . Compelling."--Michael A. Martorelli, Financial Analysts Journal

"Prof. Friedman . . . writes smoothly and wisely."--Books Delights

"The author has done a most remarkable job in bringing together these ideas and histories in a graceful and fascinating book."--E. Roy Weintraub, Journal of American History

"This is beyond doubt a fascinating and enjoyable book."--Geoffrey Wood, Central Banking Journal

"Friedman's fascinating study . . . makes a major contribution towards the history of forecasting in the USA. Friedman's case studies present competing but ultimately convergent paths to modern forecasting, highlighting a history which comprised what he identifies as five world views of the future."--Roger Middleton, European Journal of History of Economic Thought

"Friedman notes some long-lasting contributions of these pioneers and credits them with inspiring succeeding generations of forecasters who may or may not have raised the art to a science. Readers who struggle with that question will appreciate this entertaining look at the predecessors of the analysts whose views they probably seek almost every day."--M.A.M., Financial Analysts Journal

"This is one of the best books that I have read over the last number of years. It is very readable and, like all good books, exceptionally thought-provoking. Economic and business historians, economists, and anyone who has an interest in the history of economic thought will benefit from reading this book. Students, policy-makers, and investors would also benefit from reading it because it highlights the complexity of capitalism, how difficult it is to understand the capitalist system, and the foolishness of placing too much weight on economic forecasts. Bottom line: buy, read, and digest this book. Let me finish my review with a forecast based solely on intuition: Fortune Tellers will become a classic."--John D. Turner, Economic History Review

"Friedman's business-history approach goes well beyond the history of economic and scientific thought. His collection of portraits has a lot to say for our current times, now that the dictionary of the 1930s (depression, deflation, mass unemployment) has resurfaced everywhere but particularly in the richest countries in the world."--Francesco Daveri, Journal of Economics

"In his book Friedman has been able to cast a substantial contribution to the history of economics in an entertaining, very readable approach."--Roman Köster, History of Economics Ideas

"The book deserves to be widely read."--Roger E. Backhouse, Technology & Culture

"A fascinating story of the early economic forecasting in the United States. . . . A pleasure to read and the narrative is both informative and insightful. I highly recommend it to both economists and non-economists."--Aris Spanos, Journal of the History of Economic Thought


"Timely, trenchant, and entertaining, Walter Friedman's Fortune Tellers is a captivating history of modern economic forecasting. With graceful prose and penetrating insight, Friedman shows how scientific pretension and cultural persuasion gave birth to a new industry. Through their frustrated attempts to predict the future, Friedman's cast of oracles, gurus, entrepreneurs, and academics finally began to shape it. This is a fascinating tale about doubt and certainty in modern economic life."--Jonathan Levy, author of Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America

"Economic forecasters attempt to reduce the dimensions of the unknowable, for private profit and the public good. Fortune Tellers is the story of America's first professional forecasters. It explains their methods, quirks, limited successes, and major failures in the Great Depression. Friedman's cast of characters--Babson, Moody, several Ivy League professors, and Herbert Hoover--is a fascinating crew of would-be soothsayers. This is intellectual and business history at its best."--Richard Sylla, New York University

"Who knew that the pioneers of economic forecasting in America were such an eclectic, eccentric, entrepreneurial bunch? In profiling the likes of Roger Babson, John Moody, and Irving Fisher, historian Walter Friedman makes vividly clear their noble motives, occasionally hucksterish tendencies, and sometimes downright bizarre thinking. In the process, he elegantly sketches their different theories for charting the economy's future."--Walter Kiechel III, author of The Lords of Strategy

"Fortune Tellers tells the remarkable story of the first generation of economic forecasters in the United States. Like Robert Heilbroner's Worldly Philosophers, it combines biographical vignettes with intellectual history in an engaging narrative that documents the perilous relationship between professional expertise, economic theory, and cultural norms."--Richard R. John, author of Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications

"Fortune Tellers is a deeply researched account of the rise and fall of economic forecasting in early twentieth-century America. Profiling a colorful cast of characters, Friedman deftly documents the careers--and the hubris--of the men who sought to impose predictability and certainty on the modern economy. This is a fascinating, timely book, one with many lessons for our own age of uncertainty."--Stephen Mihm, author of A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States

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File created: 8/16/2017

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