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Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History)
The great eighteenth-century British economist Adam Smith (1723–90) is celebrated as the founder of modern economics. 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. Thisbiography shows the extent to which Smith's great works,The Wealth of Nations ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 13th 2010 by Yale University Press
(first published July 15th 2010)
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I have to say that not only is this one of the better biographies that I have read and one of the few books that I couldn’t put down. It is well written and obviously well researched. Though the biography itself is only 284 pages long if you ignore the notes and sources, bibliography and index I was left with the impression that I knew everything there was to know about him. Not only is the subject’s life covered but that of the times he lived in as well. As one would expect since Adam Smith had ...more
Although I must admit that I lack just too much knowledge about Adam's Smith life, and his other mayor work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, I did get the impression of understanding a little bit more about Adam Smith's life and ideas. I cannot deny that this book had a lot of research, but, at times, it seems that it may had not been enough. However, I cannot deny what was said several times during the book, Adam Smith was a very private person. The fact that he burned most of his unfinished wr ...more
Clearly this was written with a specialist in mind, consciously or unconsciously. There are a lot of things that Phillipson seems to assume you know which I don’t think a regular educated (non-philosophy major) reader would know. Some examples—He mentions more than once that Smith was influenced philosophically by Euclidean geometry. Now, even though he states it influenced his method rather than his content, it still is not self-evident what that means. How could the method of geometry translat ...more
Feb 08, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anybody interested in Adam Smith, classical economics, or biographies of philosophers
Though his name looms large as the founder of modern economic theory, Adam Smith himself is in many ways a mysterious and unknowable figure. Faced with the challenge of writing a biography of a man who left only a little correspondence and only two books, Nicholas Phillipson provides a broader portrait of Adam Smith's intellectual world. In doing so, he sites Smith firmly within the context of the Scottish Enlightenment, showing how he took the explorations of his teachers and colleagues (most n ...more
A masterful and extensively researched book which acts as a great introduction to literature of the enlightenment. Some have accused the book of being overtly esoteric and thus, inaccesible to those who are not schooled in the Age of Enlightenment or general 18th century philosophy. For my part, I would propound that it is, rather than esoteric, intelligently written and, if anything, likely to inspire any reader to further investigate the morally complex, philosophically challenging and intelle ...more
What a great guy. If only all the shallow conservatives who talk about capitalism actually understood what Smith was trying to do--then we might have capitalism instead of some sort of distorted neo-fascist oligarchy. I'd give it a five except it is not a page-turner; no, it is not.
A really good read, this is well-written, deeply informed, and often surprising intellectual biography of the world’s first great free marketer. Phillipson argues Smith can best be understood as part of a team with his close friend David Hume that sought to create not a science of economics, but a science of man that sought to understand how man thought, spoke, understood his surroundings and sought to live his life. Seen through this prism of a quintessential Enlightenment effort, Smith’s THEOR ...more
This was a fine, contextualizing biography. I agree with the author that Adam Smith's life and works cannot be understood except in the milieu of the Scottish Enlightenment and Epictetian stoical philosophy. Adam Smith was not promoting the intrinsic value of selfish competition, but was instead writing a prescription for enlightened rulers to mold the forces of capitalism to the greatest benefit of the largest proportion of mankind. This was a part of Smith's larger project to describe a philos ...more
ADAM SMITH is not exactly a biographer’s dream. An intensely private man, he seemed to go out of his way to leave no trail for future chroniclers. His correspondence is dry and workmanlike, with few personal details or revealing moments. He made sure his private notes and unpublished works-in-progress were burned before his death. Having lived unmarried with his mother for most of his life, he left behind very few intimates who could relate his story for posterity.Read more...
There is not much surviving data on Smith's personal life, particularly his early life, so this author decided to focus on what is known about his environment in Scotland and those that did or may have taught him. Smith was a philosopher and educated man who also wrote a major work that is used in economics. However, there are about 200 pages that precede the Wealth of Nations section and while someone who is studying Smith would enjoy it, as a casual reader it failed to catch my attention. I th ...more
'It takes the literary genius of a Hume or Rousseau to make 18th-century moral psychology engaging. Equally, perhaps, it takes the scholarly flair of an Albert Hirschman or Deirdre McCloskey to make the intellectual history of moral theory absorbingly interesting. Phillipson, though amiable, is a bit pedestrian.'
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Read the full review, "Das Capitalist," on our website:
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