Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life

Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life

by Nicholas Phillipson
     
 

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Adam Smith (1723–90) 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--that of the “invisible hand” of the market and that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own

Overview

Adam Smith (1723–90) 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--that of the “invisible hand” of the market and that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest” have become iconic. 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 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, and which was only half complete on Smith’s death in 1790.

Nick Phillipson reconstructs Smith’s intellectual ancestry and shows what Smith took from, and what he gave to, in the rapidly changing 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.

Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
…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.
—The Washington Post
New York Times
An unabashedly intellectual biography. . . . It is indeed enlightening to understand the broader sweep of [Adam Smith's] vision.—Nancy F. Koehn, New York Times
— Nancy F. Koehn
Wall Street Journal
A fascinating book. . . . Adam Smith finally has the biography that he deserves, and it could not be more timely.—Jeffrey Collins, Wall Street Journal

— Jeffrey Collins

The New Yorker
[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

— Adam Gopnik

Washington Post
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

— Michael Dirda

NPR's Marketplace
Named a Best Business Book of 2010 by Tyler Cowen, NPR's "Marketplace
— Tyler Cowen
The Atlantic

Named a Best Book of 2010 by the Atlantic

The Spectator
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)

— Blair Worden

PopMatters

"For scholars. . . Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life should prove a very valuable resource. For more general audiences there is much to appreciate here—fine prose, erudite consideration of Enlightenment thought, and a consistently engaging narrative."—PopMatters

The Economist

“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

The Times (London)

"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)

Scotland on Sunday

"[A] great achievement. . . . Few books have shed better light on what Smith 'meant' and why he wrote as he did."—Scotland on Sunday

New Statesman

"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

Sunday Telegraph (London)

"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)

The Independent (London)

"Phillipson's path-breaking biography shines new light on the complex development of this much-misunderstood thinker."—The Independent (London)

Financial Times

"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

The Guardian (London)

"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)

Bloomberg Business Week

"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

Journal of British Studies
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

— Samuel Fleischacker

Wall Street Journal - Jeffrey Collins

"A fascinating book. . . . Adam Smith finally has the biography that he deserves, and it could not be more timely."—Jeffrey Collins, Wall Street Journal

New York Times - Nancy F. Koehn

"An unabashedly intellectual biography. . . . It is indeed enlightening to understand the broader sweep of [Adam Smith's] vision."—Nancy F. Koehn, New York Times

The New Yorker - Adam Gopnik

"[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

Washington Post - Michael Dirda

"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

NPR's Marketplace - Tyler Cowen

Named a Best Business Book of 2010 by Tyler Cowen, NPR's "Marketplace"

Bloomberg Business Week - James Pressley

Named a Favorite Business Book of 2010 by James Pressley, Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Robert Skidelsky

"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

J.G.A. Pocock

"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

Steve Pincus

"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

David Hancock

"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

The Spectator - Blair Worden

"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)

Journal of British Studies - Samuel Fleischacker

"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

American Society for the 18th Century Studies - 2011-2013 Annibel Jenkins Prize

 Winner of the 2011-2013 Annibel Jenkins Prize, given by the American Society for the 18th Century Studies.

Atlantic Monthly

Named a Best Book of 2010 by the Atlantic

New Yorker

Named a Critics' Favorite Book of 2010—The New Yorker

Library Journal
Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith (1723–90) is known for his pioneering work in economics. Phillipson (Honorary Research Fellow in History, Univ. of Edinburgh, UK) places Smith in the context of the Scottish Enlightenment and describes his upbringing, appointments, and travels, painting Smith as an intellectual revisionist, able teacher, and sought-after adviser on finance. He traces the development of Smith's ideas from early lectures and his Parisian encounters with François Quesnay and his fellow économistes. Phillipson provides a brief but adequate examination of Smith's major works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, as the philosopher's call to readers to take moral, political, and intellectual control of their lives. On Smith's personal life, Phillipson says he was humble, enjoyed the quiet of his birthplace, Kirkcaldy, and had many lifelong friendships with peers such as David Hume. VERDICT Phillipson balances Smith's intellectual achievements and his personal life, largely obscured by a lack of surviving documentation. James Buchan's The Authentic Adam Smith gets bogged down in examining Smith's major works, while Phillipson spends less time on such analysis. Though an accessible work for undergraduates and others interested in economics or philosophy, this is not likely to tempt general readers.—Lawrence R. Maxted, Gannon Univ., Erie, PA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300174434
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
10/05/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
3 MB

What People are saying about this

Steve Pincus
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)
Robert Skidelsky
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
David Hancock
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
J.G.A. Pocock
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
Steve Pincus
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

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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