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On the Wealth of Nations: Books That Changed the World

3.53  ·  Rating Details ·  1,170 Ratings  ·  158 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 2007)
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Mary Lou
Sep 09, 2016 Mary Lou rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read every word of this book. Or at least my eyes swept over them all. Try as I might, even with O'Rourke's humor I just couldn't make sense of it. My take-aways: Smith was an absent-minded, brilliant, likable guy; a teacher; a bachelor; a bit schizophrenic in his philosophies. But I wouldn't know, because I really couldn't make sense of anything he wrote, as quoted by O'Rourke whose commentary only served to muddle things up more. The one thing I do know -- I'll not attempt to read The Wealth ...more
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
Oct 06, 2008 Brad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sam Reaves
This is an entry in the Books That Changed the World series from Atlantic Monthly Press, in which various pundits produce short and accessible interpretations of the type of fat, difficult book we all know we should read but just can't seem to get around to (Das Kapital, The Origin of Species...) Call it a sort of a high-brow Cliff Notes series. This one is from conservative curmudgeon P.J. O'Rourke, tasked with making Adam Smith's prolix masterpiece comprehensible to mopes like me, and in addit ...more
Mar 31, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The man of 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
May 22, 2011 Bill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 05, 2009 Pang rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recently-read
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
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
Dec 23, 2016 Devin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
I learned less about Smith's beliefs than about O'Rourke's kooky libertarian beliefs.
Jan 31, 2008 Adrienne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 18, 2014 Rob rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
David Shane
Sep 21, 2013 David Shane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Apr 03, 2007 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 15, 2017 Clifford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short and sardonic take on Adam Smith's two most influential works: "The Wealth of Nations" and "The theory of Moral Sentiments". I picked this up on a lark wishing to get a concise and accurate depiction of Smith's main themes without having to trudge through the notoriously convoluted and dated language of the original author. Overall as a non-expert on such things I found the book both entertaining and insightful but until I have a chance to read another critique I worry that some of O'Rour ...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
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
Rick Cagle
Aug 15, 2013 Rick Cagle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 03, 2016 Benjamin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having not read The Wealth of Nations, I am not competent to comment on the adequacy of O'Rourke's treatment of the book. But it does appear to me that this might well be a more useful (and enjoyable) introduction to the work than might more commonly be met with.

O'Rourke is honest enough to admit his own inadequacies for the task, but he certainly appears to have done his homework, and made use of the right kinds of friends. There are a couple of introductory chapters, a chapter on The Theory o
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
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
Mar 05, 2008 Frederick rated it really liked it  ·  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
Aug 28, 2009 Nate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
John Guthrie
I would give this 3.5 stars if I could. This is a good but not great book. O'Rourke does a nice job explaining Adam Smith's "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" and "The Wealth of Nations". The ideas presented in these books are still relevant, as nations that have followed (at least to a degree) the ideas presented by Smith have indeed been the ones which prosper. This book also gives the reader an appreciation for how deep and brilliant Adam Smith was. My criticism of this book, though it may have ...more
Mar 06, 2013 Yougo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political, economic
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
Feb 06, 2011 Stephen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
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
Dec 29, 2013 Dale rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 29, 2013 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 13, 2008 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, economics
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
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Patrick Jake "P. J." O'Rourke is an American political satirist, journalist, writer, and author. O'Rourke is the H. L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute and is a regular correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, The American Spectator, and The Weekly Standard, and frequent panelist on National Public Radio's game show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!. Since 2011 O'Rourke has been a columnist ...more
More about P.J. O'Rourke...

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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.” 9 likes
“When Adam Smith was being incomprehensible he didn’t have the luxury of brief, snappy technical terms as a shorthand for incoherence.” 4 likes
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