This Week In History: U.S. civil rights symbol Emmett Till was born in 1941

If Emmett Till were alive today, he would be 73 years old—two decades older than Barack Obama, who became in 2009 the first African American president of the United States. As fate would have it, the racially motivated murder of the black teenager in 1955 helped launch the civil rights movement that many believe helped make Obama’s historic election possible.

Till was born on July 25, 1941, in Chicago. On Aug. 24, 1955, while visiting relatives in Mississippi, Till and several other black teenagers went to a country store in Money. A white couple, Roy and Carolyn Bryant, owned the store. Witnesses reported that Till spoke to Carolyn Bryant and may have whistled at her. On August 28, two men kidnapped Till from his great-uncle’s home. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River three days later. He had been badly beaten and shot in the head. A metal fan had been fastened to his neck with barbed wire, apparently to weigh the body down.

At Till’s funeral in Chicago, his mother, Mamie Till, insisted that her son’s coffin be left open. She said, “Let the world see what I have seen.” The funeral attracted thousands of mourners. Newspapers and magazines aimed at African American readers published photographs of the funeral.

Two white men were charged with the murder, but they were acquitted by an all-white jury. The men later admitted to the crime.

Nearly 60 years later, in 2012, when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager returning from a Florida convenience store, many people compared the incident to the Till murder case. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, claimed self-defense and was acquitted of manslaughter in 2013. The verdict ignited civil rights protests around the country and fueled debate about racial profiling and vigilante justice.

Soon after the shooting, President Obama attracted attention when he commented that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” After the ruling, Obama further commented that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Although Obama’s election to the presidency stood as an example of the progress that came from the civil rights movement sparked by the Till case, the Martin shooting was an indication to many people that racial tensions still linger in many areas of American society today.

This Week In History: The first Spanish mission was established in California in 1769

San Diego de Alcalá

Picture: San Diego de Alcalá

In late March 1769, the Franciscan friar Junípero Serra left the Royal Presidio at Loreto, Baja (Lower) California, in what was then Spanish Mexico. At the start of a three-month overland journey to what is now San Diego, Serra felt a sense of excitement as he prepared to heed what he felt was his true calling—to bring the word of God to unbaptized Native Americans.

Serra, a 55-year-old priest from the Spanish island of Majorca, had come to Mexico 20 years earlier. He had directed the Roman Catholic missions in Baja California since 1767. But Serra found his two decades in Mexico to be somewhat of a disappointment. He had hoped to preach among Indian groups with no knowledge of Christianity, but the people he encountered had already received the sacrament of baptism. Serra longed to bring about Christian conversion firsthand to the Indians, whom he sometimes referred to as “infidels” or “gentiles.”

The Spanish had colonized Baja California in the 1530’s. Their explorers first sailed into San Diego Bay in 1602. Now, with the British and Russians increasing their trading activities along the Pacific Coast, Spanish authorities sought to establish settlements in Alta (Upper) California. Their policy toward the region’s Indians was one of “pacification”—that is, to rule by peaceful persuasion rather than outright conquest.

The Spanish explorer and provincial governor Gaspar de Portolá led Serra’s expedition. Two groups, including soldiers, missionaries, mission Indians, and pack animals laden with supplies, set off for San Diego in March. The first party, led by military officer Fernando Rivera y Moncada and missionary Juan Crespí, departed ahead of the group that included Serra and Portolá. Two ships carrying personnel and supplies for the endeavor arrived at San Diego Bay in April.

During the first weeks of the journey, Serra’s group stopped at several established Baja California missions. In May, Serra and his companions crossed into lands where the Indian residents had not been exposed to Christianity. Serra’s journey was hampered by foot and leg inflammation brought on by an infected insect bite. His group encountered Indians who were curious and friendly, and others who were more suspicious. There existed an ever-present potential for miscommunication. On one occasion, soldiers accompanying the expedition fired warning shots to quiet boisterous and friendly Indians who had joined the party on a trek along a precarious mountain pass. “The Indians … became frightened and stopped,” Serra wrote in a diary. “That put an end to the racket. I feared, however, that this radical action would leave the Indians doubting the sincerity of our love for them.”

The first party of Spaniards had experienced considerable hostility from native peoples as it passed through the lands south of San Diego. But Serra’s party was treated with greater kindness—probably for diplomatic reasons, given the Spaniards’ advanced weaponry and the likelihood that more of the interlopers would follow. Serra, for his part, tended to view each kindness from the Indians as evidence of their eagerness for conversion.

The group helmed by Rivera y Moncada reached San Diego in May. Serra arrived on July 1. Spanish soldiers soon completed a presidio (fort) on a hill overlooking San Diego Bay. On July 16, Serra dedicated a mission there, naming it for Saint Didacus of Alcalá, Spain. Serra went on to found 8 more of California’s 21 missions before his death in 1784. Thousands of Indians would make their homes at the missions, some of which became thriving agricultural and manufacturing centers.

This Week in History: Ferdinand von Zeppelin was born in 1838

Ferdinand von Zeppelin was a German aircraft pioneer whose name became synonymous with rigid airships. His “zeppelins” were lighter-than-air vehicles that floated because they contained huge bags of light gas, like balloons. But unlike balloons, zeppelins could be propelled forward and steered with an engine. Zeppelins also contained a rigid metal or wooden framework that supported the craft. These rigid airships were once the largest and grandest type of aircraft.

Zeppelin was born on July 8, 1838, in Constance, Baden, and was trained to be an army officer. He visited the United States during the American Civil War. During this time, Zeppelin took balloons up into the sky with Union forces. He became convinced of the value of aircraft. In 1870, Zeppelin served in the Franco-Prussian War. After he retired, he spent most of his time and savings on developing aeronautics. Kaiser Wilhelm II eventually offered Zeppelin financial support. Zeppelin died on March 8, 1917.

In 1937, one of the largest zeppelins ever built—the Hindenburg—exploded as it approached its destination in New Jersey. Thirty-six people were killed in the disaster, and the use of airships for passenger transport came to an abrupt end. While some airships are still used today, airplanes have largely replaced zeppelins. Airplanes can fly much faster than zeppelins, making them more useful in both passenger transport and in warfare.

This Week in History: Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec on July 3, 1608

Monument to Samuel De Champlain, founder of the Quebec City with the old Post Office tower in the back, Place D'Armes, Quebec City, Canada. Credit: © Shutterstock.

Monument to Samuel De Champlain, founder of the Quebec City with the old Post Office tower in the back, Place D’Armes, Quebec City, Canada. Credit: © Shutterstock.

Today, Quebec City is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and an important port and tourist center. The city proper has a population of more than 500,000, and its metropolitan area is home to more than 760,000 people. However, the city nicknamed the Cradle of New France was not always quite so prominent. It began as a small trading post along the St. Lawrence River.

In 1608, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed from France to what is now eastern Canada with a group of about 25 to 30 companions to establish a fur-trading post. It was not Champlain’s first journey to the Americas. From 1599 to 1601, Champlain had visited Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Panama on a French trading ship. From 1603 to 1606, he explored the St. Lawrence River and the New England coast for France. Champlain helped establish the French settlement of Port-Royal in what is now Nova Scotia in 1605. (Port-Royal later was reestablished as the nearby community of Annapolis Royal.)

In 1608, Pierre du Gua, Sieur de Monts, sent Champlain back to New France, the French colonial empire in North America, to set up a trading post and further explore the region. Du Gua had been among the group that established Port-Royal. Du Gua never returned to New France after 1605, but he remained involved in the North American fur trade.

When Champlain returned to New France in 1608, he entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and sailed southwest along the St. Lawrence River until he reached the present-day site of Quebec City. Champlain recognized the site’s geographical advantages. It offered a natural harbor, a cliff from which to keep an eye on the surrounding area, and a river with tributaries that provided access inland. Today, the cliff is known as Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond), and the river is called the St. Charles. The area also was home to First Nations (American Indians) with whom the French settlers could trade. Champlain named the settlement Quebec, from an Algonquian word meaning the river narrows here.

Champlain and his companions soon built a wooden structure, called the Abitation or Habitation, which served as lodgings, a fort, and a trading post. Today, the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church stands where the Abitation once stood. Its altar resembles a fort. The first winter proved to be extremely cold, and only about one-third of Champlain’s group survived. Champlain became friendly with the Algonquin and Huron peoples living near Quebec. He believed that friendship between the French and First Nations peoples would prevent First Nations attacks on the settlement, improve trade, and make it easier to explore the surrounding country.

In time, Champlain’s settlement grew and prospered as a trading center. Louis Hébert, the first Canadian farmer, established a household at Quebec in 1617. In 1620, Champlain built Fort St. Louis where the Château Frontenac, a castlelike hotel, now stands.

In 1791, Quebec City became the capital of Lower Canada, a British colony that included what is now southern Quebec province. Quebec City also served as the capital of the Province of Canada, a larger British colony, twice during the 1800’s. When the Dominion of Canada was established in 1867, the area that had been Lower Canada became the province of Quebec. Quebec City, with a population of nearly 60,000, was chosen as the provincial capital.

World Book competes in Dragon Boat Festival

By Nicholas Kilzer

First Row (left to right): Iris Liu; Rachel Martin; Bev Ecker; Monica Beckford; Erika Meller; Al Jackson Second row (left to right): Yuhwen Chow; Echo Gonzales; Jacqueline Jasek; Nicholas Kilzer (hat); Jason Moser; Navpreet Lekhi; Jeff Heimsath; Michael Noren; Tina Trettin; Jean-Edouard Armand; John Rejba (hat); Michael DuRoss (very back); Dan Steilen; Ken Shenkman

First Row (left to right): Iris Liu; Rachel Martin; Bev Ecker; Monica
Beckford; Erika Meller; Al Jackson
Second row (left to right): Yuhwen Chow; Echo Gonzales; Jacqueline Jasek;
Nicholas Kilzer (hat); Jason Moser; Navpreet Lekhi; Jeff Heimsath; Michael
Noren; Tina Trettin;
Jean-Edouard Armand; John Rejba (hat); Michael DuRoss (very back); Dan
Steilen; Ken Shenkman

On Saturday, June 28, a crew of World Book employees took to the Chicago River for a second time in the annual Dragon Boat Race for Literacy, sponsored by the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. The event is part of a daylong festival held in Chicago’s Chinatown at Ping Tom Memorial Park, with music and dance performances in addition to the races. In the dragon boat tournament, crews race colorfully decorated dragon boats, holding up to 20 people, on a 750-foot long stretch of the South Branch of the Chicago River. Proceeds from this year’s race will be used to support and promote local literacy, cultural, and diversity programs throughout the city.

Dragon boat racing has origins over two thousand years ago in China. The sport honors the ancient Chinese poet and statesman Qu Yuan, who lived from about 340 B.C. to 278 B.C. His support for certain government reforms led rival officials to plot against him, and he was sent into exile. He eventually drowned himself in the Miluo River to protest corruption in the government. According to legend, local fishermen took to the water in an attempt to save him. The reenactment of this legend at Chinese festivals eventually became associated with the sport of dragon boating.

World Book’s racing team, known as the World Book Mighty Dragons, participated in their first dragon boat racing competition at the same festival in 2013.That experience proved to be a hard lesson, as the Mighty Dragons were defeated in their two races and failed to advance. However, the team was heartened by their improved race times from the first heat to the second. With several veterans on the crew and a few enthusiastic rookies, the World Book Mighty Dragons were intent on improving their performance this year.

As captain of the Mighty Dragons, I had to figure out ways to improve on last year’s performance without the benefit of any organized training or actual practice on a dragon boat. I did some research on dragon boat crews while vacationing in Taipei, Taiwan, where the Dragon Boat Festival is a popular public holiday with races held over several days on the Tamsui River. I learned that seating our six heaviest and strongest paddlers in a group (called “the engine”) at the middle-rear of the dragon boat would provide ballast at the best position to maximize our paddling strength. Our lighter paddlers were placed at the bow, where lead paddler Bev Ecker set the pace, and the stern, where they would provide that last push towards the finish line. I also took note of our left-handed paddlers to place them on the port side, which would allow them a more natural paddling. Our sweep (the experienced helmsman who steers the boat, provided by the Chinatown Chamber) also provided helpful tips to improve our paddling.

World Book's Victory! Al Jackson catches the flag.

World Book’s Victory! Al Jackson catches the flag.

In the first race, the Mighty Dragons were matched up against the consumer research and media ratings firm Nielsen. This first race was a seeding heat that would determine our opponent for the elimination heat to follow, so a good finishing time was important regardless of the outcome of the race itself. Some good-natured trash talk by the Nielsen group in their black dragon boat was met with steely stares of determination from the World Book paddlers. As the starting horn sounded, the Nielsen boat got off to a surprisingly quick start. But World Book drummer Erika Meller shouted at the Mighty Dragons to pick up the pace as she beat an increasingly fast beat at the bow. About half way down the race course, the Mighty Dragons pulled even and then ahead and never looked back. Flag-catcher Al Jackson grabbed the flag at the finish line and held it high to mark our victory in front of a cheering crowd of supporters from the World Book Home Office. The Mighty Dragons finished with a time of 1 minute 25.82 seconds –about ½ second faster than our best finish time the year before. Even better, we had won our first race, besting Nielsen by more than 3 seconds.

Our race time had us right in the middle of the standings among 30 teams, which meant we would be seeded against a team of nearly equal strength. Our next race would be against the Wheezin Dragons of Northrop Grumman in an elimination round where the winner advances and the loser goes home. During a break, as organizers lined up the second-round matches, the Mighty Dragons met briefly to plot our strategy. In dragon boat racing, it is essential that the paddlers stay in sync. While our paddling synchronization was good in our first race, we knew we needed to paddle faster, harder, and deeper to increase our speed.

Determined to show our confidence, the Mighty Dragons chanted our company name as we paddled to the starting line alongside our opponents. At the horn, the whole crew dug in deep with their paddles, and the Mighty Dragons were off to a fast start. Both crews paddled furiously, yelling the count to stay in sync while splashing wildly as the dragon boats raced neck and neck down the course. I looked up just as we approached the finish line only to see the Wheezin Dragons snatch their flag less than 2 seconds before us.

Our disappointment with the finish and our failure to advance was somewhat tempered when we checked the scoreboard to see our race time. At 1 minute 20.62 seconds, we had sliced more than 5 seconds off our fastest time! Such a time would have guaranteed advancement against a lesser opponent. Our congratulations go out to the Wheezin Dragons, and to all the other teams that took part in the competition. At the end of the day, the defending champions from Grainger came away with the first place medal, with an astonishing final race time of 1 minute 07.81 seconds. For the World Book Mighty Dragons, the Dragon Boat Race was another fun day in the sun, with some intense exercise and the thrill of our first victory. The teamwork and enthusiasm that the World Book Mighty Dragons brought to the competition will be felt in all aspects of our work at the Home Office as we set our sights on advancing next year!

World Book at BEA!

Erica Bruns at BEA

Erica Bruns at BEA

Every year in late May, publishers, retailers, readers and other associates of the written word descend upon New York City from across the globe for the annual BookExpo America (BEA).

BEA is an annual book and author event that offers the book industry an opportunity to showcase their goods and services as well as a glimpse into the year ahead. It features author signings, panels on industry topics and trends, and an exhibit hall of 1,000+ exhibitors, comprised of publishers and related businesses. It is a dynamic environment for networking, identifying trends, and establishing and building upon relationships in the publishing industry. This year’s BEA also featured the first-ever BookCon – part of the floor was open to the public on Saturday and allowed publishers and fans to build on the enthusiasm of upcoming releases across audiences and genres.

I have attended BEA for the last several years but only ever as an attendee, so it was exciting to enter the Javits Center early and as an exhibitor. World Book’s two trade lines, Bright Connections Media and Incentive Publications, exhibited in a booth space within the larger Independent Publishers Group (IPG) aisle. Don Keller, Paul Kobasa, and I transformed an 8’ x 10’ space filled with bare shelves and boxes into a representation of World Book’s trade publishing platform – past, present, and future. Many international publishers, as well as librarians and educators, were drawn to our Incentive line. The two Fall 2014 releases from Bright Connections, J Is for Jazz and Invisible to the Eye, had attendees of all ages and backgrounds stopping in our booth to get a sneak peek.

This year’s BEA was a lively show, and our World Book team met many wonderful marketing, licensing, and sales contacts. There are many hot topics in our industry at the moment – the future of bricks and mortar stores, the effects of digital growth, subscription models, and the continued success of young adult fiction across all audiences to name just a few – and BEA was an ideal opportunity to present and celebrate the bright future ahead for publishing.

- Erica Bruns
Trade Product Manager

This Week in History: Victoria became queen of the United Kingdom

At 5 o’clock in the morning on June 20, 1837, the lord chamberlain of the royal household and the archbishop of Canterbury hurried to the gates of Kensington Palace in London. They rang and knocked until they roused a porter to admit them. They said they had an urgent message for an 18-year-old girl who lived at the palace. Nevertheless, they were left to cool their heels a while longer, because the young woman’s mother did not want to wake her so early.

Shortly after 6 o’clock, the men finally met with Princess Alexandrina Victoria, the person they had come to see. They told the princess that her uncle, King William IV of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, had died a few hours earlier. The young princess was now queen.

Alexandrina Victoria chose to rule under the name Victoria. She would reign for 63 years, 7 months, and 2 days—longer than any British monarch before her.

14.06.16 Queen Victoria

Victoria had been born on May 24, 1819. She was the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent (the fourth son of King George III), and Victoria Maria Louisa, a German princess. Victoria’s father died when she was only 8 months old. King George III died less than a week later. Between 1820 and 1837, two of Edward’s older brothers reigned, in turn, and all three older brothers died without leaving behind a surviving child of his own who could inherit the throne.

Meanwhile, Victoria grew up away from court at Kensington Palace. Her mother oversaw her strict upbringing, successfully giving the princess a strong sense of responsibility. However, once Victoria was queen, her mother never again decided who she would see, when she would see them, or any other matter of importance.

The British people anticipated Victoria’s succession with high hopes. Victoria’s lifelong dedication and hard work would fulfill their expectations. On her first day as queen, Victoria wrote in the journal that she had kept since age 13:

Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure, that very few have more real good will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.

On June 28, 1838, Victoria was crowned in a five-hour ceremony at Westminster Abbey. An estimated 400,000 people flocked to London for the event. Overwhelmed by the support and loyalty of the crowds, Victoria wrote in her journal, “I really cannot say how proud I feel to be the Queen of such a Nation.”

In 1840, Victoria married the love of her life, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The couple had four sons and five daughters. Because Victoria’s children and grandchildren married into so many European royal families, she became known as the “matriarch of Europe.”

Victoria built up the prestige of the British monarchy, even as the institution of monarchy became less political and more symbolic. Her long reign from 1837 to 1901 saw British government and society become more democratic. The United Kingdom was transformed from a mostly agricultural country to an industrial giant. The British Empire reached its peak, expanding to include about a quarter of the world’s territory and a quarter of its people. These years of dramatic political, economic, and social change have since become known as the Victorian Age.


This Week In History: The Roman Emperor Nero committed suicide in A.D. 68

99217737The notoriously brutal Roman Emperor Nero took his own life on June 9, A.D. 68. At that time, military commanders in some Roman provinces had revolted against Nero, and the Roman Senate had declared him a hostis publicus (public enemy).

Perhaps suicide was a fitting end for a man who already had killed so many other people. By the time of his death, Nero had committed or was suspected of committing fratricide (killing one’s brother), matricide (killing one’s mother), uxoricide (killing one’s wife), and just plain old murder. Nero had two of his wives, Octavia and Poppaea Sabina, put to death. He also had many Roman senators and aristocrats killed, including his former tutor, Seneca. He sometimes forced his opponents to commit suicide. In addition, Nero’s mother, Agrippina the Younger, was suspected of mariticide (killing one’s spouse) for Nero’s sake. Many historians believe that Agrippina poisoned her husband, the Emperor Claudius, so that Nero could succeed him. Add to Nero’s actions the rumored burning of Rome, and the persecution of Christians for allegedly setting the fire, and he had quite a rap sheet. The Roman biographer Suetonius (A.D. 69?-140?) wrote of Nero that “He had an insatiable desire to immortalize his name, and acquire a reputation which should last through all succeeding ages.” It would seem that Nero accomplished his goal with flying colors.

Nero was born in Antium (now Anzio, Italy) on Dec. 15, A.D. 37. His mother, Agrippina the Younger, was the great-granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus. After Nero’s father died, Agrippina married the Emperor Claudius, in A.D. 49. Claudius adopted Nero as his eldest son. Claudius died in A.D. 54, and Nero became emperor at the young age of 16. Claudius also had a biological son, Britannicus, who died from poisoning soon after Claudius’s death.

The young Emperor Nero had a greater passion for the arts and performing than for government. At first, Nero was guided by his tutor, Seneca, a well-known philosopher and writer, and by Burrus, the commander of the emperor’s personal bodyguard. Nero’s mother also had a strong influence over him, until he had her killed in A.D. 59. Sources indicate that his early reign was moderate, prudent, and fair. Later, after Agrippina and Burrus had died and Seneca had retired from political life, intolerance, self-indulgence, and cruelty became more prominent aspects of Nero’s rule. Although Nero enjoyed some popular support, he alienated upper-class Romans, some of whom conspired against him. Eventually, the Senate turned on Nero, declaring him a public enemy. Nero fled Rome and killed himself at a freedman’s (former slave’s) country villa.

An excerpt from Suetonius’s The Lives of the Twelve Caesars recounts Nero’s death as follows:

All who surrounded him now pressing him to save himself from the indignities which were ready to befall him, he ordered a pit to be sunk before his eyes, of the size of his body, and the bottom to be covered with pieces of marble put together, if any could be found about the house; and water and wood, to be got ready for immediate use about his corpse; weeping at every thing that was done, and frequently saying, “What an artist is now about to perish!” Meanwhile, letters being brought in by a servant belonging to Phaon, he snatched them out of his hand, and there read, “That he had been declared an enemy by the senate, and that search was making for him, that he might be punished according to the ancient custom of the Romans.” He then inquired what kind of punishment that was; and being told, that the practice was to strip the criminal naked, and scourge him to death, while his neck was fastened within a forked stake, he was so terrified that he took up two daggers which he had brought with him, and after feeling the points of both, put them up again, saying, “The fatal hour is not yet come.” One while, he begged of Sporus to begin to wail and lament; another while, he entreated that one of them would set him an example by killing himself; and then again, he condemned his own want of resolution in these words: “I yet live to my shame and disgrace: this is not becoming for Nero: it is not becoming. Thou oughtest in such circumstances to have a good heart: Come, then: courage, man!” The horsemen who had received orders to bring him away alive, were now approaching the house. . . . he drove a dagger into his throat, being assisted in the act by Epaphroditus, his secretary. A centurion bursting in just as he was half-dead, and applying his cloak to the wound, pretending that he was come to his assistance, he made no other reply but this, “‘Tis too late;” and “Is this your loyalty?” Immediately after pronouncing these words, he expired, with his eyes fixed and starting out of his head, to the terror of all who beheld him. He had requested of his attendants, as the most essential favour, that they would let no one have his head, but that by all means his body might be burnt entire. And this, Icelus, Galba’s freedman, granted.

He died in the thirty-second year of his age, upon the same day on which he had formerly put Octavia to death; and the public joy was so great upon the occasion, that the common people ran about the city with caps upon their heads. Some, however . . . for a long time decked his tomb with spring and summer flowers. Sometimes they placed his image upon the rostra, dressed in robes of state; at another, they published proclamations in his name, as if he were still alive, and would shortly return to Rome, and take vengeance on all his enemies.

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This Week In History: The British economist John Maynard Keynes was born in 1883

John Maynard Keynes, born on June 5, 1883, had a greater influence on economic theory and policy than any other economist of the 1900’s. Keynes emphasized the instability of the capitalist economy and assigned a much greater role to government in managing the economy than did previous economists.

Keynes was born in Cambridge, England. He wrote his most important work, General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936), during the Great Depression. The Great Depression had begun with the United States stock market crash of 1929. A major economic downturn quickly spread throughout the rest of the world. Millions of people lost their jobs, and after several years, the economy showed only gradual signs of recovery. Keynes believed that classical economic theory could not explain the depression. He sought to develop a new theory to address the crisis.

Keynes thought economists had been wrong in assuming that free-market economies tended towards full employment. He thought they had overlooked the importance of aggregate demand. Aggregate demand is the total amount of money that people are willing to spend on goods and services in the economy. Classical economists had assumed that aggregate demand always equaled aggregate supply (the total amount of goods and services offered by producers in the economy). They assumed people spent all of their income on either consumption or investment. But Keynes believed these economists had overlooked the fact that expectations and uncertainty about the future influence how people save and spend their money.

Keynes noted that people often want to have a certain amount of money on hand to cover both routine and unexpected expenses. The amount of money desired for such purposes depends on expectations about the future. If there is a lot of uncertainty as to whether investments will be profitable, people will want to hold onto more money. This could cause problems for the economy as a whole. If people held onto money instead of spending it, aggregate demand could fall below what the economy could supply—leading to unemployment. Keynes thought that only the government could ensure that the economy always operated at full employment. Keynes argued that the government should make up for declines in private spending during recessions by temporarily increasing public spending, lowering taxes, and running deficits.

Keynes died on April 21, 1946. His ideas greatly informed the policies of most countries from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. In the mid-1970’s, the United States and other countries experienced severe inflation and high unemployment. An increasing number of economists began to question some of Keynes’s ideas. Countries began to base more of their policies on other economic theories. However, when the Great Recession began in late 2007, many economists and policy makers once again looked to Keynes. His ideas continue to play an important role in understanding modern economic problems.