Lewis’s achievements were extraordinary, but they emerged from a haphazard rather than a planned process, and indeed his career can best be seen as a series of improvisations. Having planned to be an engineer, he became an economist. Having made a success of being an industrial economist, he was then overtaken by the challenge of constructing what at first he called colonial economics and then development economics. Having made a success of development economics, he felt an obligation to give something practical back to the Afro-Caribbean communities in Manchester, Ghana and the West Indies who were not fortunate enough to have the opportunities he had had, and in attempting to do so he got his fingers burnt more than once. Retreating from these bruising experiences, he did not return to development economics, but rather expanded his work on global economic history; in so doing, however, he did not scale the heights he had in the 1950s but was forced to settle for something more modest. The award of the Nobel Prize in 1979 took him by surprise when he thought he had been forgotten, and gave his career an appearance of inevitability that the reality completely lacks.
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