The Washington Post
Adam Smith: An Enlightened Lifeby Nicholas Phillipson
Adam Smith is celebrated all over the world as the author of The Wealth of Nations and the founder of modern economics. A few of his ideas - such as the 'Invisible Hand' of the market - have become icons of the modern world. Yet Smith saw himself primarily as a philosopher rather than an economist, and would never have predicted that the ideas for which he is now
Adam Smith is celebrated all over the world as the author of The Wealth of Nations and the founder of modern economics. A few of his ideas - such as the 'Invisible Hand' of the market - have become icons of the modern world. Yet Smith saw himself primarily as a philosopher rather than an economist, and would never have predicted that the ideas for which he is now best known were his most important. This book, by one of the leading scholars of the Scottish Enlightenment, shows the extent to which The Wealth of Nations and Smith's other great work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, were part of a larger scheme to establish a grand 'Science of Man', one of the most ambitious projects of the European Enlightenment, which was to encompass law, history and aesthetics as well as economics and ethics. Nicholas Phillipson reconstructs Smith's intellectual ancestry and formation, of which he gives a radically new and convincing account. He shows Smith's interactions with the rapidly changing and subtly different intellectual and commercial cultures of Glasgow and Edinburgh as they entered the great years of the Scottish Enlightenment. Above all he explains how far Smith's ideas developed in dialogue with those of his closest friend, the other titan of the age, David Hume. This superb biography is now the one book which anyone interested in the founder of economics must read.
The Washington Post
Nancy F. Koehn
Named a Best Book of 2010 by the Atlantic
"For scholars. . . Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life should prove a very valuable resource. For more general audiences there is much to appreciate herefine prose, erudite consideration of Enlightenment thought, and a consistently engaging narrative."—PopMatters
“Lively [and] well-observed. . . . It would take a ‘skilful pencil’ to bring Smith to life, warned one of his friends. In bringing Smith’s ideas to life, Phillipson shows that his pencilwork is skilful indeed. ”—The Economist
"Remarkable, often brilliant. . . stuffed with acute philosophical observations. But no less fascinating is the portrait of the milieu in which Smith lived. . . . Phillipson's exposition of [Smith's] 'enlightened life' can scarcely be bettered."—The Times (London)
"[A] great achievement. . . . Few books have shed better light on what Smith 'meant' and why he wrote as he did."—Scotland on Sunday
"The myth of Adam Smith is that he was the hard-nosed high priest of self-interested capitalism. [Phillipson] shows that his intellectual goals were far greater and nobler. . . . Phillipson has portrayed an Adam Smith for our times."—New Statesman
"The Smith who emerges from this thoughtful study. . . had an intellect of extraordinary brilliance, and it is the life of that intellect that is finely portrayed in this book."—Sunday Telegraph (London)
"Phillipson's path-breaking biography shines new light on the complex development of this much-misunderstood thinker."—The Independent (London)
"Phillipson has been studying [the Scottish Enlightenment], this explosion of genius, all his life, and is a trustworthy guide to the life of Adam Smith."—Financial Times
"Having failed so royally to predict or ameliorate our present distress, some economists may come to examine their assumptions and be drawn to this fine book and its mighty subject."—The Guardian (London)
"Drawing on Smith's published works and student notes from his lectures, Phillipson shows how Smith's thinking on social theory and ethics influenced his system of economics. . . . what Phillipson calls a 'vast intellectual project.' "—Bloomberg Business Week
"A fascinating book. . . . Adam Smith finally has the biography that he deserves, and it could not be more timely."—Jeffrey Collins, Wall Street Journal
"An unabashedly intellectual biography. . . . It is indeed enlightening to understand the broader sweep of [Adam Smith's] vision."—Nancy F. Koehn, New York Times
"[Nicholas Phillipson] tries, very successfully, to pull together the two Smiths, letting us see how the man of feeling became the little god of finance. . . making it plain that Smith was more moral-man than market-man."—Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
"One good reason to read Nicholas Phillipson's excellent intellectual biography is to gain a more nuanced understanding of Smith and, in particular, of his vision of an all-embracing science of man. . . . When Phillipson discusses The Wealth of Nations, it's hard not to discern parallels between Smith's time and our own."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post
Named a Best Business Book of 2010 by Tyler Cowen, NPR's "Marketplace"
Named a Favorite Business Book of 2010 by James Pressley, Bloomberg BusinessWeek
"In a feast of both writing and erudition, Nicholas Phillipson has recreated the intellectual and mercantile world of Adam Smith, and shows how it shaped Smith's two masterpieces, the Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations. He sets Smith's economics firmly in the philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment – and especially of his great friend David Hume – and argues compellingly that for Smith material improvement was not an end in itself, but a necessary condition for human ennoblement, which was the grand aim of his life's work. A wonderful, thought-provoking book."—Robert Skidelsky, biographer of John Maynard Keynes
"Nicholas Phillipson's lifelong study of Adam Smith has been well worth waiting for. Phillipson treats Smith's The Wealth of Nations as the sequel to his Theory of Moral Sentiments. Political economy and the history of society were handmaids to the moral philosophy which Enlightenment thinkers intended as the replacement of religion. This story has never been better told than in this deeply sympathetic biography of an intellectually ambitious but personally modest man, and it is a superb portrait of the Scotland, Britain and Europe he lived in."— J.G.A. Pocock, Johns Hopkins University
"This stylish biography brings to life Adam Smith's breathtaking ambition to create a Science of Man. Phillipson's elegant prose and erudition make clear the necessary relationship between Smith's moral philosophy and his political economy. The reader is left with a deeper appreciation for Smith's project and for the eighteenth-century Scottish world in which he lived. This book is both a delight to read and agenda-setting. A real achievement!"—Steve Pincus, Yale University
"This is easily the best book on Smith I’ve read: a wonderfully accessible, thoroughly researched, full-bodied drama examining the philosopher and economist. Phillipson’s biography presents Smith as a living personality, not just an imposing intellect, tracking his social, economic, and political moves from his birthplace Kirkcaldy, to Glasgow and Oxford, through his various lectures and professorships, travels around Europe, preparation of The Wealth of Nations, and finally to his work for the government. In doing so, it makes a strong case for the importance and complexity – perhaps primacy – of the Scottish Enlightenment and the men who contributed to it. In clean and clear prose, Phillipson explains what Smith was writing and why he was writing it, whether moral philosophy, jurisprudence, rhetoric or political economy. This beguiling blend of Smith’s intellection and experience should appeal to anyone interested in the making of the modern world."—David Hancock, author of Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste
"An absorbing and elegant account of Smith's mind and of the Scottish context, social and intellectual, that produced it."—Blair Worden, The Spectator (London)
"Nicholas Phillipson’s new biography, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, is a pleasure to read, and it provides us with a clear and thorough account of Smith’s life."—Samuel Fleischacker, Journal of British Studies
Winner of the 2011-2013 Annibel Jenkins Prize, given by the American Society for the 18th Century Studies.
Named a Best Book of 2010 by the Atlantic
Named a Critics' Favorite Book of 2010—The New Yorker
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Meet the Author
Nicholas Phillipson is Honorary Research Fellow in History at Edinburgh, where he has taught since 1965. He has held visiting appointments at Princeton, Yale, Tulsa, the Folger Library, Washington DC and the Ludwigs-Maximilian Universitat, Munich. He is co-director of a three-year Leverhulme-funded project on the Science of Man in Scotland. He was an associate editor of the New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a founder editor of the journal Modern Intellectual History, published by the Cambridge University Press, and is a past president of the Eighteenth Century Scottish Studies Society.
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No other book is as closely identified in the public mind with capitalism and free markets as Adam Smith’s classic, Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Published in 1776, The Wealth of Nations – with its imagery of an “invisible hand” at work moving markets – confirmed this quiet bachelor professor’s reputation as the pre-eminent thinker of his time. The modern era sees Smith as the patron saint of fiscal conservatism, but his worldview went far beyond the foundations of economics. He believed human beings could advance in all aspects of society to attain lives of freedom, choice and respect. And he saw the potential embodiment of his dreams in a new country called the United States of America. Historian Nicholas Phillipson’s “intellectual biography” of Smith delves into his prolific work and meagerly documented life, starting with his childhood as a widow’s son in a small Scottish town. The result is a dense, scholarly book that presumes a reader’s grounding in 18th-century philosophical history. Though it’s hardly a breezy read, getAbstract recommends Phillipson’s work, which notably clarifies Smith’s role as a catalyst for political and economic change in a turbulent era.