George Soros: A Life In Full

Peter Osnos (Edi­tor)

  • Review
By – April 4, 2022

When a sub­ject is still alive and tends to avoid the lime­light, a group-sourced Festschrift (or col­lec­tion of essays) rather than a stan­dard biog­ra­phy, makes a lot of sense. Schol­ars with exper­tise in finance, or Cen­tral Europe in the war years, or China’s pri­vate sec­tor can each dis­cuss the aspects of Soros’s career they under­stand best. While this pro­duces some over­lap, George Soros: A Life in Full almost seems to mir­ror a Soros project devel­op­ment meet­ing: many voic­es heard, all respected. 

Since Soros is an unknown quan­ti­ty to most of us, read­ers come to this vol­ume with many ques­tions, many of which the con­trib­u­tors address: did Soros inher­it his wealth? How does he make so much mon­ey? What does open soci­ety” mean and why is it so impor­tant? The book’s mis­sion is to under­stand the unique­ness of Soros’s approach to the world — to finance, geopol­i­tics, phil­an­thropy, and more. 

Three basic prin­ci­ples are defin­i­tive. The first is the role of mis­per­cep­tions, the idea that we do not always see things as they are; we see them as we (or oth­ers) want them to be. Econ­o­mists may tell us that exchange rates equi­li­brate trade flows; Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ish coun­cils may tell us to pla­cate the Nazis by sup­ply­ing reg­is­tra­tion infor­ma­tion. What­ev­er the cause, it is faulty to allow such mis­per­cep­tions to gov­ern our reac­tions. Sec­ond, our involve­ment in sit­u­a­tions — buy­ing cur­ren­cies, aid­ing dis­senters — changes out­comes, a prin­ci­ple Soros calls reflex­iv­i­ty.” Reflex­iv­i­ty leads nat­u­ral­ly to a third prin­ci­ple, the need for impro­vi­sa­tion. When sit­u­a­tions change, to look back, to study what has hap­pened, is less impor­tant than revis­ing future strat­e­gy. These three prin­ci­ples are denied in closed soci­eties, where out­comes are defined by the rulers. 

Open soci­eties accept the idea of error (aka mis­per­cep­tions) and allow dynam­ic adjust­ment. Still, these prin­ci­ples might remain mere talk­ing points in a per­son with no stom­ach for risk, which is where Soros’s per­son­al his­to­ry comes into play. Evad­ing the Nazis as a teenag­er in Hun­gary, after years of lis­ten­ing to his father’s sto­ries of escap­ing from Siberia, Soros built his own in-it-to-win-it rela­tion­ship to risk. 

Some­times one opens a book with a par­tic­u­lar ques­tion in mind, but the focus shifts mid­way. Many may start this book want­i­ng to know how a rel­a­tive­ly non-reli­gious man like George Soros became the world­wide incar­na­tion of the hat­ed Jew. And while the last pages do explore this, by the time they get there, many read­ers will have found infi­nite­ly more inter­est­ing aspects to the Soros story.

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

Discussion Questions