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The Passionate Economist: how Brian Abel-Smith shaped global health and social welfare

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Sally Sheard
Policy Press (28 November 2013)

This book is about former LSE professor Brian Abel-Smith.

Brian Abel-Smith was one of the most influential expert advisers of the twentieth century in shaping social welfare. He was a modern-day Thomas Paine, driven by a strong socialist mission to improve the lives of the poorest. This valuable and accessible book is the first biography of Abel-Smith. It takes a historical perspective to analyse the development of health and social welfare systems since the 1950s, exposing the critical impact of long-running debates on poverty and state responsibility, especially in Britain.

This book also provides the first comparative study of how developing countries sought better health and social welfare, enabled by the World Health Organisation and other agencies for whom Abel-Smith regularly worked. This book offers an engaging and useful study for students and researchers in health and social policy, history, politics and economics. It will also be essential reading for professionals working in those government ministries and institutions that Brian Abel-Smith helped to shape.

  • Dr Sally Sheard is a Visiting Fellow at LSE and a Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine at the University of Liverpool.

The book is available with a 20 per cent discount - purchase this book from the publishers|


"This book has many of the qualities possessed by Brian Abel-Smith, its subject: lively, stimulating and committed. Brian was a citizen of the world, one who not only bridged international boundaries but also those of policy, politics and academe. And Sally Sheard has done this remarkable man justice by producing a remarkable biography."
Professor Julian Le Grand, LSE

"As a result of her exhaustive research and with insightful writing, Sally Sheard brings readers the life and work of an influential activist intellectual. Brian Abel-Smith set standards for conducting research on health services and systems, advising policymakers, governing healthcare organisations, and participating in an international network dedicated to improving the human condition."
Daniel M Fox, Milbank Memorial Fund

"How 'academic' knowledge and research actually impact on policy has always been a challenging question. Brian Abel-Smith's career as a scholar, networker, entrepreneur and shaper of global health and welfare systems provides a fascinating and important case-study. In skilfully weaving together the evidence from personal and professional archives, Sally Sheard's book allows us to understand much more about a man who had an extraordinary influence on public policy."
Professor Ann Oakley, Institute of Education, University of London

"As the dismantling of the NHS, as we have known it, proceeds apace, this biography brings alive a pivotal figure in its development since the 1950s. It reminds us of the strengths of the health and social welfare systems which we have taken too much for granted. Hopefully it will help inspire their reinstatement."
Lord David Owen


Part 1 -
Inheritances and Duties: 1926-1951
Inheritances: 1926-1946
A Wider World: 1946-1951
Part 2 -
The Politics of Policies: 1951-1979
Beveridge’s Britain: 1951-1955
Political Ambitions and Private Passions: 1955-1959
Health and Happiness: 1956-1964
A natural historian: The Hospitals 1800-1948
Lingua Franca: 1956-1967
Distractions and Diversions: 1964-1968
Values: 1968-1970
Patriarchy and Authority: 1970-1974
‘Such marvellous fun’: 1974-1976
Disillusionment: 1976-1979
International Commuting: 1975-79
Part 3 -
Shifting the Balance of Power: 1979-1996
In and Outers: 1979-1991
The End of the Party: 1979-1990
On the Move: 1990-1996


The Passionate Economist