Adam Smith’s “An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations” (often called simply “The Wealth Of Nations”) is one of two great works from the Scottish economist and philosopher, the other being the lesser known “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”. “The Wealth Of Nations” was published on March 9th, of 1776, but there were additional editions in 1778, 1784, 1786, and 1789. I read the free Kindle version of “The Wealth Of Nations”, and while I do not recommend that version I do recommend the overall work.
The issues with the Kindle version are that it is poorly formatted, and it is painful to attempt to read the numbers in the tables at the of Book I. You are much better off getting a hard copy so that you can more easily flip to the section of interest, and to read the information in a better format. As for the rest, the content is all there, once you get past the poor formatting.
The work contains five books within. The first is “Of the Causes of Improvement in the productive Powers of Labour”. In this book he discusses the benefits of the division of labor, the origin and benefits of using money, a section on the “real” price of commodities (i.e. how much toil it takes to produce them), a discussion of the natural and market prices of commodities (the forces of supply and demand), the effect of controlling a commodity can have on the price, the wages of labor (again a case of supply and demand with the commodity of labor), the profits of stock, a discussion of the ill effects of groups who use their influence to manipulate the government (this would include banking conglomerations, trade unions, etc.), and closes with a section on rent.
The second book is “Of the Nature, Accumulation, and Employment of Stock” which deals with accumulating wealth which lasts a longer period of time. This book starts with how one divides their stock into what they need for personal use, and what they can dispose of in exchange for others available stock. He then moves into a discussion of money as a type of stock, and then how to use their excess money/stock to gain interest.
The third book is “Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations”, where he talks about the balance between the inhabitants of towns and those of the country areas and goes into how agriculture is discouraged over time, while cities and towns prosper.
The fourth book is “Of Systems of political Economy” in which Smith discusses the commercial system, along with importation which contains a detailed look at the effects of restraints on importation/exportation. Smith also discusses commerce treaties, and the role of colonies. This book also has a brief section on the agricultural system, but here he is referring to a specific system where the produce of land is the sole source of the revenue of a nation
The fifth book is “Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth” in which Smith deals with taxation. This is an important area to read and understand, as it is the one which many ignore when using Smith to try to support other areas. There are hints here of the progressive tax, as well as a discussion of the expenses of the nation, an important acknowledgement that the poor spend the greater part of their income on the fundamentals, such as food, and so he suggests luxury taxes as not unreasonable. Smith then closes the final book with a discussion of the costs of war, both for the actual fighting, and in terms of the loss of trade.