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The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought Hardcover – September 12, 2017
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One of Project Syndicate’s Best Reads in 2017 (chosen by Kaushik Basu)
Selected for Bloomberg View’s “Must-Reads of 2017: From Space to Chinese Noir”
One of The Guardian’s Best Books of 2017
One of The Australian Review’s 2017 Books of the Year
"Dennis Rasmussen . . . tells the story of Smith and Hume's bond, arguing convincingly and engagingly that there is ‘no higher example of a philosophical friendship in the entire Western tradition.’"--Ruth Scurr, Wall Street Journal
"Lively and accessible--of broad interest to readers in philosophy, economics, political science, and other disciplines."--Kirkus
"Masterly. . . . Easy to digest and smart. Recommended."--Mark Spencer, Library Journal
"In The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought, Dennis Rasmussen . . . tells the story of their friendship well. Fourteen nicely-judged chapters take the reader through the overlapping lives of the two men, including such incidents as Hume's notorious falling-out with Rousseau, through to the natural climax of their friendship at Hume’s death, and Smith’s own demise 14 years later. . . . A short and lively book that sustains the interest not merely of the general reader but the specialist to the end. That is a considerable achievement."--Jesse Norman, Prospect
"[Rasmussen] deftly examines not only Hume and Smith's personal relationship, but also the indispensable part that they played in shaping the Scottish Enlightenment. The result is a valuable study of the rise of the liberal tradition."--Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest
"The Infidel and the Professor is a lean, easy to digest read that is rich in interesting detail. It is anchored in weighty scholarship but not burdened by excessive demonstrations of it. . . . [Rasmussen] makes the distinctive qualities of each more evident. Pick up his book and you might find yourself agreeing with Hume that ‘reading and sauntering and lownging and dozing, which I call thinking, is my supreme Happiness'."--Julian Baggini, Literary Review
"A beautifully written book, with wonderful balance, about a beautiful friendship. Recommended."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"What his book does offer . . . is a clearer, more exhaustive picture of the common ground that existed between the two thinkers, a map of the intersections, echoes and mirroring perspectives that connect their works. The Infidel and the Professor is written in a style that makes it accessible to non-specialists, who can discover through it the story of two exceptional and very engaging personalities. But it is also of interest for those who are already familiar with Hume's and Smith’s lives and works, as it allows us to see them as part of a collective intellectual project. Above all, it reminds us of what the social sciences were originally meant to be: a broad critical reflection on the condition of human beings exposed to the bewildering transformations that modernity brought to their lives."--Biancamaria Fontana, Times Higher Education
"This is a chatty account of the friendship between David Hume and the 12-years younger Adam Smith, discussing the extent to which Smith's thought was influenced by Hume (a lot, Rasmussen argues) and analysing the differences between them (he identifies four areas of disagreement: the nature of sympathy, the role of utility, the foundation of justice, and the effects of religion). As a total Hume fan, I enjoyed reading it, and it’s a well-written book. You don’t need to be an expert on either to enjoy it, and get some flavour of the milieu of the Scottish Enlightenment."--Enlightened Economist
From the Back Cover
"This engagingly written book tells the story of a remarkable friendship between two giants of eighteenth-century thought and heroes of the Scottish Enlightenment. Rasmussen is a historically and philosophically astute guide to the lives and ideas of Hume and Smith--as well as those of a large cast of supporting characters. His highly readable narrative offers great insights into an influential intellectual and social world."--Steven Nadler, author of A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age
"After Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith are the two most important philosophers and social scientists in the English-speaking world. This cleverly constructed, learned yet eminently readable account uses their friendship to illuminate the ways in which their ideas converged and diverged. An appealing introduction for the novice, with plenty of added value for the well versed."--Jerry Z. Muller, author of Adam Smith in His Time and Ours: Designing the Decent Society
"In this impressive account of the close relationship between the two giants of the Scottish Enlightenment, Dennis Rasmussen brings out the full significance of the warm lifelong friendship and intellectual dialogue between David Hume and Adam Smith."--Leo Damrosch, author of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius
"A remarkable combination of page-turner and serious intellectual history, The Infidel and the Professor is enormously enlightening and impossible to put down."--William Easterly, author of The Elusive Quest for Growth
"Adam Smith and David Hume were two of the world’s greatest thinkers. The joy of their friendship infuses every page of this marvelous book, which will make you love them both, as thinkers and people. If only one could have been at one of Hume’s dinner parties!"--Angus Deaton, Nobel Prize-winning economist
"The Infidel and the Professor is the first book on the fascinating subject of the friendship between David Hume and Adam Smith. Masterfully weaving together the historical evidence, Dennis Rasmussen does justice to both the ideas of these two men and their larger social and intellectual context. The resulting account is erudite, absorbing, witty, and smoothly narrated."--Andrew Sabl, author of Hume's Politics
"This account of the friendship between two of the most important and famous thinkers of the eighteenth century―David Hume and Adam Smith―also provides an accessible introduction to their thought and writings."--John T. Scott, coauthor of The Philosophers' Quarrel
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Professor Rasmussen writes clearly, knowledgeably, and with grace. He has produced a lively book that should be of interest to any reader desiring to learn about Hume and Adam and the motivations, impulses, and struggles over basic questions of life that are common to us all and to the societies in which we live. Is free trade by a nation an unalloyed good? Is faith in God necessary for a good life?
As an aside, I recommend "Adam Smith: His Life. Thought, and Legacy" (2016) edited by Ryan Patrick Hanley for those seeking more about Adam Smith.
Hume was born in Edinburgh and spoke with a decided Scottish burr, while Smith, who was born a few miles to the north, in Kirkcaldy, Fife, did not. Both were highly gifted students. Hume attended Edinburgh University, but did not graduate. Smith attended Glasgow University, and did. Both suffered temporary breakdowns as a result of overstudy. Hume did not teach, and spent most of his adult life writing, which came easily to him. Smith taught at Glasgow U, and struggled with the pen. Neither married (few great philosophers do), although Hume did fall madly in love with a lady of Parisian society but ended the relationship fearing it would draw him away from his true passion, study and writing. Hume wrote about human behavior, ethics, religion, political theory, economic theory, and a stellar six-volume history of England. Smith wrote two books, one concerning political theory, and one concerning economic theory.
At various times, Hume and Smith called London home, and spent considerable time in Paris, where Hume and later Smith were the toast of the town. Hume was born in 1711 and died in 1776, age 65. Smith was born 1723 and died in 1790, age 67. Hume did not believe in God (thus the sobriquet, “infidel”) while Smith presumably did. They maintained a lively correspondence over the years, of which about half of their letters survive (most of Smith’s letter were burned on his instruction after his death). Compared with other Enlightenment writers, particularly Parisian “philosophes”, neither Hume nor Smith were radicals. They did not advocate grand schemes for radically restructuring society. They embraced the benefits of the rule of law, limited government, religious tolerance, freedom of expression, private property, and commerce, while insisting that necessary societal changes should be implemented in a gradual, measured way. Unlike revolutions to come, this was exactly what the American Revolution ushered in--gradual rather than sweeping change.
“The Infidel and the Professor” is almost as much about Hume’s and Smith’s friendship as it is about their books. The author devotes approximately two chapters to Hume’s writings and two chapters to Smith’s: one to “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” and one to “The Wealth of Nations.” Of the two, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” was more popular in Smith’s day. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Hume’s and Smith’s books were widely studied in America by the Founding Fathers, which brings us back to Hamilton and Madison. Thanks to the scholarship of historian Douglass Adair, we know that Madison was greatly influenced by the political theories of David Hume. Writes Adair: “It was David Hume’s speculations on the ‘Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth’ . . . that most stimulated James Madison’s thought on factions.” He goes so far as to say Madison had a copy of Hume’s book at his side while writing Federalist No. 10. For his economic ideas, Madison drew upon Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations.” According to historian Forrest McDonald, it was the opposite with Hamilton. For his economic theories, Hamilton drew more upon Hume’s economic theories, and for his political theories drew more upon Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments.” Unfortunately, Rasmussen does not discuss in any depth the actual influence Hume and Smith had on America's founding. That said, I enjoyed his book, and recommend it to anyone desiring to know more about two of the greatest and most influential writers of the 18th century Enlightenment. To learn more about their impact on America’s founding, I suggest “Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution” by Forrest McDonald; “Explaining America: The Federalist” by Garry Wills; and “Fame and the Founding Fathers” by Douglass Adair.
Nevertheless, the real joy of reading The Infidel and the Professor is being reacquainted with work of these extraordinary men and inspired to take down long-shelved volumes or their works and revisit them.
Dennis Rasmussen's books reminds us of how important works of Hume, Adams and their contemporaries are to our 21st century political and economic systems. Their thoughts and words are harbingers of today's headlines. Our politicians should all be required to read Hume and Adams (as well as a few others of their ilk). Since that's unlikely, perhaps they could be convinced to read The Infidel and the Professor. It would improve them immeasurably.