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On the Wealth of Nations: Books That Changed the World

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  958 ratings  ·  136 reviews
In "On The Wealth of Nations," America's most provocative satirist, P. J. O'Rourke, reads Adam Smith's revolutionary "The Wealth of Nations" so you don't have to. Recognized almost instantly on its publication in 1776 as the fundamental work of economics, "The Wealth of Nations" was also recognized as really long: the original edition totaled over nine hundred pages in two ...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published January 1st 2008 by Grove Press (first published 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,746)
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Brad
In these "interesting" economic times, everyone would benefit from the one-two punch of P.J. O'Rourke's "On The Wealth of Nations" for a historic basis of modern economics and "Eat The Rich" as the pragmatic practice of economics in today's world (okay, the world of 1999, when the book was written). Incredibly informative and funny as hell, you won't realize how much you learned until you're done laughing. This former Rolling Stone counterculture author is less Karl and more Groucho, but his res ...more
Upom
Reading the 900 pages of Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" just seemed daunting. So I did the next best thing: I had someone else summarize it for me. O' Rourke's book actually not only summarized all 5 books of "The Wealth of Nations," but provided a complete guide to understanding both Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," as well as his "Theory of Moral Sentiments." Smith actually wrote works for the betterment of society, and Smith's 2 works were actually part of an unfinished trilogy on the topi ...more
Bill
Some of Smith's most interesting and influential ideas channeled through the wit and insight of O'Rourke.
This is either a substitute for or prelude to reading Smith's bible of economic theory and observations, I haven't decided which yet. But it's remarkable how relevant Smith's ideas are to this day. Don't fall into the trap of discarding the pith of Wealth of Nations because of your politics. Smith's writing, though appropriated most recently by the American Right, are apolitical and transcend
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Will
Read because after his Eat the Rich I could not believe PJ was really that witless. Well, it turns out he’s not, he can write competently enough, although not without gratuitous jabs: "Even intellectuals should have no trouble understanding Smith’s ideas.” In this On the Wealth of Nations he wants to mould Adam Smith into an archetype for the 21st-century compassionate free-market libertarian. It's not a long book, but it is still just dull, and in setting up his hero as a present-day model, ...more
Brian
"The man of System...is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; as is often so enamored with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it..He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess board." TMS (A.Smith) pg 232

P.J. Comments on the above quote from Smith. "Barbwire always seems to be needed to keep the chessmen
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Pang
I really enjoyed the book, even though I expected it to be funnier. PJ O'Rourke interpreted and discussed Adam Smith's the Wealth of the Nation in his own words. I had never read Wealth, though I would like to attempt it once I find a bit more time to devote to it (not that it would be the longest book I've ever read, but I think the older English language might take me a while.) So, I took O'Rourke's interpretations as they were.

It amazed me how much of what Smith saw wrong about the English so
...more
Tony Hightower
I picked this book up as a white flag of surrender. If I ever read Adam Smith's original work, it won't be any time soon. Still, it seems like a good time to have at least a reasonable knowledge of economics and market theory, and this is a breezy, short read that claims to cover the gist of what Smith was really getting at.

Of course, because it's PJ O'Rourke, it's as much about O'Rourke himself and his personal prejudices as it is about showing how modern conventional wisdom has distorted Smith
...more
Keith Craig
This book was like a tribute album. Let me explain. You buy a tribute album and are excited because you like the band being tributed and/or you like the band doing the tribute. Either way it is somewhat of a disappointment because the songs aren't like the originals that you liked or the band playing it does not sound like the style you liked.

That is how this book is. I like PJ O'Rourke but I felt he was held back by having to talk about Adam Smith's book. The most enjoyable part was when he was
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Rob
To style this work as a commentary and then to impart no actual information (and to obscure any possible edification via the excerpted and cited original work) would be bad enough; but to approach the work from so heavy a bias, and then to judge Adam Smith's efforts on a pass/fail basis according to that worldview is of no more value than the eructation of a roach.

Mr O'Rourke was unable to refrain from his (to him) pithy bon mots long enough to allow any sort of coherency to appear in his work.
...more
Dale
Could have been so much more

As an economics teacher, Adam Smith's An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations has long been on my "to read" list. I downloaded a free copy of it to my Kindle e-reader, but I haven't seriously considered opening it. I've read summaries of his ideas, perused his quotes and espoused his ideas in class, but I have not had the gumption to read 600 pages of 18th century prose.

When I discovered P.J. O'Rourke had written a commentary on the book I was
...more
David Shane
"A central bank is the institution that controls the supply of a country's money. This would be a straightforward matter if it weren't for three facts: Money is imaginary. Banking doesn't involve money. And a central bank isn't a bank."

That sentence may give you some sense of the wit of P.J. O'Rourke - read this book to hear much more. It was surprisingly lighthearted (at least surprisingly for someone like me who had never read O'Rourke), but it also served its purpose - I now feel like I have
...more
Nate
A few months back author and blogger Russell Roberts asked his readers a thought provoking question concerning the wealth of a talented, resourceful Nepalese man vs. that of a lazy, unskilled American. He later answered himself beautifully and gave me one of the best economic lessons I have ever received. If I had already read O'Rourke's splendid summation of The Wealth of Nations I could have scored well on the question in one simple sentence, "wealth depends on division of labor; division of l ...more
Adrienne
Adam Smith's A Wealth Of Nations is something I've always wanted to read but known I wouldn't make it through it. Even reading a sentence of Smith is grueling. So when I heard one of my favorite authors was doing a cliffs notes version, I was so excited to get my hands on it.

The main deficiency in the work is O'Rourke's constant references to current events and scandals. They make sense now, but what about when my kids read this in 10 years? A lot will go over their heads.

I was also disappoint
...more
Iowa City Public Library
P. J. O’Rourke, author of Eat the Rich, Parliament of Whores and Give Peace a Chance, has written a satirical take on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. And if anything calls for humor it is economics. O’Rourke’s book is part of the Grove Press series Books That Changed the World.

Smith’s, The Wealth of Nations, a seminal work of economic writing by the 18th century moral philosopher, weighs in at 1211 pages, more than most of us want or care to read. On the Wealth of Nations at a comparative sl
...more
Rick Cagle
Taken as an analysis of Smith's "On The Wealth of Nations", PJ O'Rourke's entry into this proposed series is uneven and light. Topics are treated more for humor, and he seems to vary between updating the sarcasm already present (and arguably better presented) in Smith's original, and subverting Smith's intent to support injected humor drawn from modern circumstance.

Take this instead as lighthearted entertainment, and a noted humorist's treatment of Smith's life and philosophy through the lens of
...more
Christopher Fox
Part of an on-going series presenting Books That Shook The World (The "Qur'an", "Das Kapital", etc.), this exploration of Adam Smith's magnum opus is enlivened by O'Rourke's trademark humour and a writing style that veers toward the colloquial and accessible. Despite this popularization, he plumbs the wisdom of Smith's theories, always mindful of their historical context as well as their relevance to present conditions. Smith's is a heavy work but O'Rourke leavens his text with humour: "Chapter ...more
Alex
This was truly an entertaining read, despite my earlier comments; you just have to get used to the author's style. He interjects passages with his own quips, and the resulting back-and-forth settles into a good rhythm.

Adam Smith wrote two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. They are incredibly large, and tedious to read. But if CliffsNotes are responsible for sucking the life out of vibrant works of art, then this book is the polar opposite. It makes economic theo
...more
Angel
After moving from Houston to Tyler, I finally got a new public library card. While I was browsing around, I came across this book in a small display the library had on books about current affairs. I have read O'Rourke's books in the past; I enjoyed his Parliament of Whores very much, so I figured this might be a good bet. If nothing else, it would be a nice way to get exposure to Adam Smith's big book with some sense of humor thrown in. We'll see how it goes.
* * * *

Well, now that I finished r
...more
Adrienne
Many parts of O'Rourke's summary of 'The Wealth of Nations' was interesting, but maybe because I had to take Economics, I felt that the information presented from the actual 'Wealth of Nations' was simple common sense (in a capitalistic society, at least), which is what Adam Smith meant it to be, really. Because modern economics is basically based off of what Smith had said, there weren't very many "Aha!" moments, which I was sort of hoping for.

The significance of 'Wealth' is astounding, though
...more
Frederick
Mar 05, 2008 Frederick rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Students of humor and students of the economy
I saw P.J. O'Rourke promoting this book on THE DAILY SHOW. I realized it might be the one book in existence which might give me a sense of economics, so I made the economy of buying it.
This book is about a book, that being Adam Smith's THE WEALTH OF NATIONS. O'Rourke has a very clear mind. He gets and gives the gist of Adam Smith. I felt my intelligence increase as I read his recontextualization of Smith's great work. I was imagining things, I'm sure. What I was NOT imagining was the elation I f
...more
Greg Western
This is a well written and informative book about Adam Smith and the most famous of all economics texts, "The Wealth of nations." O'Rourke provides an excellent summary of the book in his usual humorous way. This is not the typical book by the author who is usually a bit more snarky, but the subject matter lends itself to a little more seriousness. But of course it is not completely serious...just partially. Interesting subject matter and a great introduction to economics. recommended.
Stephen
After enjoying quote after quote from O'Rourke in other people's essays, I finally decided to read one of his books. I settled on the wealth of nations because I enjoy reading and discussing economics, haven't read every word of Wealth of Nations (I never intend to), and my wife objected to adding a book with the word Whores in the title to her cart on Amazon (Parliament of Whores was in my wish list).

The book was what I expected - a quick and enjoyable read with thoughtful chapters, all peppere
...more
Joe
Cutting criticism and praise of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith with it's application to modern day as well as a thorough background in understanding what the economic system was before and during Smith's time in order to understand what kinds of points Smith entailed to write. It not only covered all of the books of Wealth, but discussed the Moral Sentiments and at the end, gave a sweet overview of Smith's life, his work and eventually, his death.
Although O'Rourke is cutting in his criticis
...more
Yougo
I'm not quite sure how to reate this. I found the first two or thee and last couple chapters more annoying than intersting, it seemed that the author was trying too hard to inject humor that it was very distracting from the topic. Once he delved into The Wealth of Nations, it picked up quite a bit and it was inciteful commentary for the most part.

One of the big things that I learned though is that perhaps Smith didn't have it ALL together in every way. We frequently give Smith kudos for putting
...more
Kelly
Apr 17, 2014 Kelly marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
i really tried with this one but couldn't get into it. i guess that happens when other people pick the books you read.


Smith said, in a paper...that progress required 'little else...but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice'. But those three things were then--and are now--the three hardest things in the world to find" (25)

"Smith insisted that in order to take care of ourselves, we must be free to do so" (36)

"we must treat other people with respect due to equals not becaus
...more
Mike
Brief walk through Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations . I felt that the author did a good job of combining the themes of Smith's earlier work The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations into a larger narrative and how they both reflected Smith's worldview about how humanity can better itself.

A synopsis like this also underscores the importance of reading the source text (I'll get there someday), because with a book as notable as this one, the meaning tends to be twisted and th
...more
Nicole
Part of a forthcoming series "on" books so you don't have to read them, it's good in that I probably (let's be honest) will never manage to read The Wealth of Nations, and O'Rourke does a pretty good job with it. He doesn't rely only on himself to explain Adam Smith to you; he brings in scholarly work on Hume and economics and includes an extensive bibliography. All the same, at times I felt this book was a bit all over the place. There's an awful lot of material on Hume's other writings, which ...more
Donald Plugge

A layman's interpretation of the famous book "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith. O'Rourke explains how Smith's book is obviously about Capital, however the overarching goal for Smith was the betterment of life. The roots of this subject stem from his book "Theory of Moral Sentiment".

O'Rourke sets the stage with a history of economics and its beginnings with The Physiocrats, namely Francois Quesnay. Then goes on to explain how capital is made and distributed.

O'Rourke covers each of the 5 sect
...more
Ryan
I definitely come away from this book confident that I have an understanding of the basic principles of Adam Smith and his life. O'Rourke tackles some serious info here and lays out fairly clearly and concisely. The only detriment to this, in fact, is the wit that he's famous for. He makes some startlingly obscure references that are fantastic when you catch them, but are more likely to just be weak or silly. He a few funny lines, but only that many. Also, I don't think you learn much here about ...more
Shea Mastison
Having never sought out any of P.J. O'Rourke's articles, or earlier writings; I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book! I have previously read one other book in this "Books that Changed the World" series, Karen Armstrong's "The Bible," which I enjoyed quite a lot. Happily, I can say that this book was an even stronger follow-up in the series.

O'Rourke is one of the wittiest satirists that I have the pleasure of reading. We share very similar political beliefs, and a dry sense of hu
...more
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P. J. O’Rourke was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, and attended Miami University and Johns Hopkins. He began writing funny things in 1960s “underground” newspapers, became editor-in-chief of National Lampoon, then spent 20 years reporting for Rolling Stone and The Atlantic Monthly as the world’s only trouble-spot humorist, going to wars, riots, rebellions, and other “Holidays in Hell” in more tha ...more
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“The complexity of economics can be calculated mathematically. Write out the algebraic equation that is the human heart and multiply each unknown by the population of the world.” 10 likes
“When Adam Smith was being incomprehensible he didn’t have the luxury of brief, snappy technical terms as a shorthand for incoherence.” 5 likes
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