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Kenneth Arrow, Nobel Laureate and Co-Founder of the Handbooks in Economics, Dies at 95

By: , Posted on: March 2, 2017

Elsevier Executive Editor Scott Bentley with Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow at the ASSA Meeting in San Diego, 20913

Nobel Prize-winning Stanford economist Kenneth Arrow died in his home in Palo Alto on Tuesday morning. He was 95. Dr. Arrow was a world-renowned scholar in the fields of economic theory and research operations. In addition to the Nobel Prize, he was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2004, among numerous other awards.

“Kenneth Arrow was one of the greatest economists,” said John Shoven, a professor of economics at Stanford. “But he was also humble, warm and a great friend to all of us at Stanford.”

Arrow’s pioneering contributions to general equilibrium theory and welfare theory led him to become the youngest person to date to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, which he received in 1972 together with British economist Sir John Hicks.

In 1980, Ken and his colleague, Mike Intriligator, were sitting in Ken’s backyard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and came up with the idea of doing a book collection of economic surveys modeled after an old publication that they had come across.  Mike and Ken “shopped” their idea around, but were unable to find a publisher that thought the project had merit. They eventually found a home with North Holland, an imprint of Elsevier, who thought that the formula would work, and the Handbooks in Economics series began. The first volume, Handbook of Mathematical Economics, published in 1981.

The goal of the Handbooks in Economics, Ken Arrow and Mike Intriligator wrote, was to provide “self-contained surveys of the current state of a branch of economics in the form of chapters prepared by leading specialists on various aspects of this branch of economics.” The series’ signature characteristic is its ability to attract top experts to summarize and judge the scholarship that defines their fields.  Its appeal can best be measured by the number of Nobel laureates who have participated so far:  41.

“Working with Ken is a high point of my publishing career,” said Scott Bentley, Executive Editor at Elsevier. “As we saw when he visited our ASSA booth, he had a warmth and accessibility that attracted people, and many who had never met him felt comfortable introducing themselves and chatting briefly.  He had a tremendous command of people’s publications and a mind that captured and retained details.  He felt no need to impress anyone.”

His son, David Arrow, said his father will be remembered for his brilliant mind, but he was also a family man who helped out with chores and washed the dishes at the end of the day. “He led a humble life,” David Arrow said. “To me, to our family, he was just a very generous, loving, caring, unpretentious man.”

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