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Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History) Paperback – January 10, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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 --Steve Pincus

Named a Favorite Business Book of 2010--James Pressley, " Bloomberg BusinessWeek
"--James Pressley "Bloomberg Business Week "

"[Adam Smith] 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"The New Yorker" (10/18/2010)

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

"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--Robert Skidelsky

"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 "Ocean

"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--J.G.A. Pocock

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

"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 "Wall Street Journal "

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

"An unabashedly intellectual biography . . . [written] in graceful prose. . . . For all that subsequent generations, no less our own, have taken from Smith''s economic contributions, it is indeed enlightening to understand the broader sweep of his vision."--;i>New York Times"--Nancy F. Koehn "New York Times "

"This year, my favorite business book was Nicholas Phillipson''s biography of Adam Smith. It showed that Smith is still the greatest economist of all time, wise about human nature, and that he understands the power of capitalism."--Tyler Cowen, NPR''s "Marketplace"--Tyler Cowen "NPR's Marketplace "

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

"[An] excellent intellectual biography. . . . 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 "Washington Post "

"[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"The New Yorker" (10/18/2010)

"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 "The Spectator "

About the Author

Nicholas Phillipson is one of the leading scholars of the Scottish Enlightenment. An Honorary Research Fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh, he has held visiting appointments at Princeton, Yale, the Folger Library, and the Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (January 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300177674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300177671
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #298,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on September 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A solidly written biography of one known by most of us only as the Scottish author of an unread great book. Professor Phillipson's fine effort should lead many to go back and read "The Wealth of Nations."

Adam Smith's thoughts still have direct relevance to today's bucketful of economic problems--and resulting strident political debates--over government's proper role in terms of expenditures, debt, taxation, and business regulations.

While this book concentrates on the scholarship of Adam Smith, the author also intelligently traces the era within which Smith lived and his private life that included such striking people as David Hume, James Boswell, and Voltaire.

In this current age of instant and empty celebrities, Smith still stands, after about 250 years, as a man worth knowing.
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I have read five book-length biographies of Adam Smith and concluded that the one by Ian Simpson Ross was definitive. I purchased the latest by Nicholas Phillipson because of his reputation rather than an expectation to learn much that is new. Reading it has proven that labeling a work as definitive does not mean it is the final word on the subject. Quite the contrary, Phillipson's work is aptly titled: Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, as it traces the development of Smith's thought in the milieu of the Scottish Enlightenment and British geopolitics during the second half of the eighteenth century. What was especially enjoyable was to learn more about the great debt Smith owed Hume as an intellect in shaping his works and as a friend. Phillipson expresses puzzlement about why Smith may not have held up his end of the friendship. After reading E. C. Mossner's The Life of David Hume and the Smith biographies, it seems clear Smith was too prudent to do so. If given a change, this reviewer would rather have kept the company of Hume than Smith.
Yale has done justice to this wonderful work. The production is a delight to see and to hold. It provides the best answer to e-books because we buyers will surely enjoying pulling it from our shelves, looking at the illustrations, and reading it again.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a great, thoughtful & engaging biography on the elusive Scottish academic & philosopher, Adam Smith, titled "Adam Smith : An Enlightened Life" by professor Nicholas Phillipson. Adam Smith is well known for his description of the market's/capitalism's "invisible hand" that guides the economy, keeping 'everything' under control. But there is more to this elusive philosophical man than meets the eye : he was a private man, a hypochondriac who lived with his widowed mother most of his life. His popular lectures at the University of Glasgow turned Adam Smith into an 'institutional figure of note'. He wrote two great influencial books, "The Wealth Of The Nations" which took him 10 years to write on colonial America & the philosophical, "The Theory Of Moral Sentiments". By drawing from his published works & lecture notes, his thinking on social theory & ethics influenced his theory of economics & human behaviour.

Adam Smith instructed his executors to destroy all his lecture notes, but seven upublished philosophical essays & 193 letters survived to give us a glimpse of this elusive Scottish academic & philosopher, making the market's "invisible hand" come alive again, even if it's only at an intellectual level. This is a highly recommended reading on the 18th century's influential philosopher & academic that is Adam Smith.
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Format: Hardcover
I was hoping for a general overview of the political, social, and geographic climate that Smith lived in as well as some analysis of the influences in his work. Unfortunately, this book is far too scholarly for the general reader. Unless you grew up in the British school system, you'll need to brush up on Scottish/English history and keep Wikipedia handy to have any chance of understanding what's going on.

The book assumes the reader already has a thorough understanding of "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" and "The Wealth of Nations". If you don't, you'll very quickly become lost and start skimming paragraphs or finish reading a page and not remember a single thing that was discussed.

I may return to this tome after reading TWoN and TToMS; we'll see.
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Poor Adam Smith: so revered but so often unread. Economists hail Smith as the founder of their discipline, but, given their vision of economics as a branch of applied mathematics, they no longer seek inspiration from Smith's history- and philosophy-dense masterwork, The Wealth of Nations. Conservatives and Tea Party types (who also neglect his books) treat Smith almost as a cult figure, but they do so by ignoring his religious skepticism and his unsparing view of business. Both groups lose sight of the man even while they wear his profile on their neckties.

In reality, Smith was one of the greatest figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, a disciple of David Hume, and a profound philosopher of human nature and social order. "Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life" restores him to history. It is excellently written and handsomely produced. I enjoyed it a lot. I took off one star for two main reasons: First, it assumes that the reader has considerable knowledge of 18th century British letters and politics; second, it doesn't do justice to the detailed arguments in The Wealth of Nations -- an omission which will disappoint those readers (probably most) who take up a Smith biography in order to learn more about the history of economics.
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