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After careful consideration of many excellent books, the Spengler committee decided that two contributions deserved this year’s award. The winners of the Spengler Best Book Prize 2021 are equally original and sophisticated studies in the history of calculation.

Both books go beyond the insight that seemingly neutral quantitative knowledge involves politics. Looking at calculation as practice and culture, they brilliantly engage with the intimate and manifold entanglements of calculative techniques, economic ideas, moral precepts, social ideals, and political values.

The winners are:

Calculated Values: Finance, Politics, and the Quantitative Age by William Deringer deals with the increasing importance of calculations within and through political dispute in Britain after the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688.

Exceptionally well written, the book demonstrates that it was precisely because numbers were morally laden, highly personal, and frankly partisan, that calculation became an authoritative form of public reasoning.

In the pamphlets, polemic articles, and personal notes of early modern British calculators, numerical facts and figures appeared as a creative and rhetorically compelling way of navigating politics.

Deringer provides a fresh reading of a variety of debates, including one about public accounting for government oversight, the “Equivalent”, England’s balance of trade with France, the politics of public debt, and the South Sea Bubble.

This series of case studies not only tracks the various types of calculative styles from the construction of lotteries to financial techniques and arrangements aiming at the regulation of international trade.

It also emphasizes the role of a variety of calculative personalities, including lesser-known figures (civil servants, accountants, mathematicians, politicians, bankers).

As Calculated Values formidably moves between intellectual, economic, political, and cultural history, it calls for a revival of a more heterogenous and straightforward politics of numbers.

SEE MORE: History of Economics Society