Albert Hirschman, 97, who worked at prestigious colleges and institutes and wrote some of the most perceptive works of social science in his era, has died.

Through his books, lectures, and essays, Dr. Hirschman, who died Dec. 10, sought to apply rigorous and rational social-science scholarship to clashes of political ideology and economic impasses - conflicts that have often fueled violence and repression. Having learned the stakes firsthand, he devoted his career to advancing economic development and the spread of democracy. He acquired a devoted following of economists, political scientists, and journalists.

Raised in Germany in the aftermath of World War I, Dr. Hirschman witnessed the rise and spread of fascism in Europe in the 1930s and was credited with helping save hundreds of lives through his work with the anti-fascist underground before and during World War II.

His death, in Ewing Township, N.J., of undisclosed causes, was confirmed by a spokeswoman at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He had been on the institute's faculty from 1974 until retiring in 1985.

Dr. Hirschman was born in Berlin to an assimilated family of Jewish origin. He was baptized a Protestant.

He received a doctorate in economics from the University of Trieste in Italy in 1938, the year Benito Mussolini's regime enacted anti-Semitic laws.

He served in the French army at the start of World War II and went underground after the French surrender to the Germans in 1940. He made his way to Marseille, where he became second-in-command to Varian Fry, an American journalist who orchestrated the escape from Europe of 2,000 Jews and other refugees. When fascist authorities learned of Dr. Hirschman's activities, he had to flee.

His admirers found him remarkable in part because he maintained a fundamentally optimistic view of human nature despite the tumult he had seen. He rejected the notion that societal problems are intractable. His life, his biographer Jeremy Adelman once wrote, "can be seen as a parable of the horrors and hopes of the 20th century."

His wife of 70 years, the former Sarah Chapro, died in January. A daughter, Lisa Hirschman Gourevitch, died in 1999. Survivors include a daughter, Katia Salomon of Paris; a sister; four grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. - Washington Post