An insatiable reader, Antoine Augustin Cournot was born in France in 1801. Although relatively poor, he studied mathematics at one of the best schools in the country and completed a PhD in engineering. After spending some time as a private tutor and as a secretary for one of Napoleon’s generals, he became a university lecturer and then professor. Cournot was plagued by eye problems but managed to publish several works that pioneered the use of mathematics in economics, before going blind. His work was not well received in his lifetime because of its reliance on novel mathematical notation. Today he is regarded as a profound thinker who advanced prophetic ideas.

In 1838 he published the book Researches on the Mathematical Principles of the Theory of Wealth in which introduced the ideas of functions and probability into economic analysis. He derived the first formula for the rule of supply and demand as a function of price and in fact was the first to draw supply and demand curves on a graph, anticipating the work of Alfred Marshall by roughly thirty years. The Cournot duopoly model developed in his book also introduced the concept of a (pure strategy) Nash equilibrium, the reaction function and best-response dynamics, anticipating Nash by more that a century.

Key works: 1838 Researches into the Mathematical Principles of the Theory of Wealth, 1863 Principles of the Theory of Wealth

Link to History of Economic Thought Website