Fans of economist Milton Friedman—of whom I’m one—should count themselves lucky that Stanford historian Jennifer Burns has written a detailed biography of him. Based on intensive archival research that only a patient, first‐​rate historian can do, she covers his intellectual life in its various stages from his time in high school to his death. Along the way, we see how he struggled in the 1930s and even, to some extent, in the 1940s to figure out his role in academia. Burns also shows in great detail the important influences in his life and, later, the many ways he has influenced the economics profession and the bigger world of policy—on taxes, monetary policy, welfare policy, and the draft, to name four of the most important.

Her book is by no means a hagiography. At various points, she criticizes Friedman, sometimes unfairly. She’s also a little unfair to his wife, Rose Friedman, an economist in her own right. But that makes Burns’s many positive evaluations of Milton’s work all the more credible.

Although she is, as noted, a historian and not an economist, and sometimes makes little slips in her economic exposition, her big‐​picture understanding of economics is impressive, especially on one of the toughest issues to understand: monetary policy. Indeed, she lays out the fact that the Federal Reserve does not directly control interest rates better than many economists I’ve read.

These are the opening paragraphs of my review of Jennifer Burns’s book Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative, Regulation, Summer 2024.

As I explain near the end of the review, I’m not in love with the book’s title, to put it mildly. But that’s not the most important part of my review. I praise many things in the book and criticize a few.

Read the whole thing.