Customer Reviews: The Wealth of Nations : Books 1-3 : Complete And Unabridged
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on February 11, 2007
If you're wondering which Wealth of Nations to purchase, get the Bantam paperback. This is Smith's complete and unabridged final version of the Wealth of Nations. It provides footnotes on Smith's wording, the historical context, and the differences between Smith's 5th edition and previous editions. In addition, the margin of the pages contain useful notes which summarize Smith's writing. For the price, this is clearly the superior choice.

Now, if you're wondering whether you should undertake such an endeavor, let me just say that Adam Smith was a professor of rhetoric. He explains everything so precisely, yet so comprehensible. Smith's writing is by no means difficult; I actually found it a surprisingly easy read given its antique nature. Once you get through the first chapter, you get quite used to Smith's writing style. If you put adequate time and energy into it, it's not hard at all.
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on October 20, 1999
Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations brilliantly analyzes how a nation's living standards can be raised. In large part his wisdom still applies today. To briefly summarize Smith's thinking:
1. Standards of living are determined by the productivity of workers.
2. Productivity of workers is greatly enhanced by specialization (see the famous example of the pin factory in the first chapter!).
3. Greater specialization is possible only if the market size grows. Thus, government laws that prohibit growth of the market hurt specialization, and thereby keep living standards from rising. This is why Smith opposed laws that restricted trade or created monopolies. Smith actively worked to keep Britain from going to war against its American colonies over trade issues. The Wealth of Nations is a political tract designed to sway the British parliament (obviously it failed in that regard).
4. Productivity of workers is enhanced by raising their wages.
5. Productivity of workers is enhanced by publicly funded education.
6. The role of markets is exquisitely analyzed by Smith. Self-interest leads people to carry out private activities that lead to social betterment, as if by an "invisible hand."
7. It is a serious misinterpretation of Smith to assert that greed or selfishness is the same as self-interest. Smith labored hard to avoid any such confusion. Please see his other book which addresses this specific issue: The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
8. Clearly Smith favored limited government. But Smith was NOT a strict advocate of laissez-faire. He ended his illustrious career as commissioner of customs, a job he took seriously, and which he would not have taken had he not thought this level of intervention in the economy warranted.
Read the first three chapters of WN: they contain the essence of the arguments above. Then look in the index to find reference to the "invisible hand" "monopoly" "colonies" and other subjects of interest.
Buy the GLASGOW EDITION of the Wealth of Nations. This is the most up-to-date annotated version. It is available (very cheaply) from the Liberty Fund Press in America. If you only want one copy, that is the only one to buy today.
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on June 19, 2002
I have no criticism with Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations." My criticism is with the Great Minds Series edition of the book. The Great Minds Series is an abridged version. Huge chunks have been edited out of the book, yet nowhere do they let you know this before making the purchase. I bought this book specifically because I wanted to cite it, and I can't because the parts I wanted to quote have been edited out.
Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" is a worthy book for any private library, but purchase an edition other than the one offered by the so-called "Great Minds Series."
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on September 26, 1999
I was origionally reading the text version of this book on the internet until the printed version came. I was downtroden, sickened, and even frightened to find that the Great Minds Series version of The Wealth of Nations is incomplete, yet gives no indication whatsoever of being so.
The introduction and chapters 2, 3, and 4 of book 3 are simply not there. They are not even listed in the table of contents. There is no discrepency in the page numbers, or any other teletale indication that it is incomplete. It is not written anywhere that it is an abrigement.
I want to point out how careless it is and how misleading to the reader in comprehending the philosophy of Adam Smith to print an incomplete book without any warning.
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on July 6, 2005
Using a vast historical database and plenty of everyday examples Adam Smith lays the foundations of modern economics without the formalization which would come later.

He starts by exploring the need for specialization of labour once societies advance beyond the hunter gatherer phase. As a result each individual is incapable of sustaining his basic needs and thus must purchase these using his labour which Smith views as the source of all value. As a result demand and supply is created for such labour.

He makes the natural assumption that each individual pursues their best interests.

He foreshadows the concepts of marginal utility and scarcity in determining the shapes of demand curves for commodities. ( He never actually mentions curves ).

Similarly, he describes the three factors determining supply prices for commodities ( rent of land, wages and capital costs ) and the various factors which influence them ( the equivalent of modern supply/demand curves for each factor ).

He puts these together under ideal circumstances to show how supply and demand meet to clear markets ( equilibrium in modern language ).

He then turns to macroeconomics laying the foundations for GDP and shows how capital can be distributed to "unproductive labour" ( that labour used to maintain productive labour ) such as doctors lawyer entertainers etc and "productive labour" ( that labour used in the manufacture and distribution of raw and finished products ). He explores the consequences of various distribution of each from both the micro and macroeconomic perspective.

He concludes by emphasizing the importance of government in providing international and domestic security as well as providing public works and institutions especially education.

Naturally this requires state revenue and he devotes almost one entire "book" to taxes.

He delves briefly into political economy especially merchantilism and it's detrimental effects to society at large.

A great introduction to modern economics that is often missed in didactic lectures. This book gives the motivation for many modern economic concepts that is often lost in mathematical formalism.
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on August 23, 2005
Just as some editions of The Wealth of Nations should

be avoided because of undisclosed abridgement (see

reviewers below), other editions ought to be sought out

and preferred.

Look for versions involving Edwin Cannan as editor.

These include the University of Chicago edition (1976) in

paperback and the Modern Library edition (1994) in

hardcover. (To my knowledge, neither of these editions

is abridged.) In 1904, Cannan, a professor at the

London School of Economics, did two things that greatly

add to the value of Smith's book.

First, Cannan prepared a detailed index. For example,

"invisible hand" appears in it. Just try to find the

one (and only one) appearance of that phrase without

an index. Most of the non-Cannan editions I've looked

at lack an index.

Second, Cannan wrote and added brief marginalia. His

words facilitate skimming, something most readers of

this thousand page book are apt to do. His words and

phrases are also easily ignored. They don't get in your

way once you've found the pages you want to read.

(Reviewer T. Grimes comments on the marginalia as


Finally, reading The Wealth of Nations shows Smith to

be different from his usual portrayal. He can be

wickedly satirical. Anyone who has been to college will

recognize much that is familiar in his thoughts (in

Book V) on "Education of Youth". And he also frankly

addresses the downsides of capitalism. The book begins

with the division of labor as a powerful means of

adding productivity. But later (pp. 839-41 in my Modern

Library edition), he recognizes the destructive effects

of division of labor and, in response, recommends

government investment in public education. As one who

once earned a good living as a computer programmer, and

who is now retraining, I am finding perennial relevance

in The Wealth of Nations.
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on July 2, 2006
A classic... mandatory but pleasant reading if you are into Economics... not boring despite the size. Read with a pencil handy to highlight the too many good quotes. Get the Bantam Classics edition--cheap, small and unabridged (doesn't get much better than this). Mind boggling how good Adam Smith is.
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on June 23, 2005
Beware of the Everyman's Library edition of this book (green hardcover, ribbon marker, isbn # 0-679-40564-X). Book V dealing with the revenue of the sovereign has been completely ommitted. According to the introduction, this was to limit the book to one volume and keep the price low. I wish I had known this BEFORE I ordered the book since now I have to buy a different edition in order to read Book V. What a ripoff.
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on August 20, 2006
This book is a modeling exercise about the components of a nation's wealth, whereby: Wealth of Nations = Land + Labour + Stock (ie Capital accumulated). This model serves as the foundation of the arguments in the entire book; and an excellent guide to analyze our modern market economies. Smith touches on various topics, ranging from market economics, history of colony establishments, state of opulence (briefly describing China in the 18th century), and of human nature and behavior in general.

Much of Adam Smith's ideas have been distorted by subsequent scholars, some of whom contorted his ideas to suit their own purposes, while others might have simply misunderstood. For example, in coining the word 'the Invisible Hand', Smith recommended free market competition as the foundation for progressive opulance. However, his implicit assumption was that people seeking their own benefits also embraced compassion and sympathy in their moral values. This 'moral value' part is often missing in contemporary economic analysis. As such, to gain an understanding of his complete doctrine, you should read this economics book together with his other book "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", which explores definitions of moral values and virtues.

Another issue worth mentioning is that lots of people thought that Capitalism was derived from Adam Smith's doctrine, and the current market economies in the USA is a descendent of this ideology. However, if we used his definitions and analysis to compare the current USA market system, you will find that parts of the US system seemed to match closer to the Merchantile System that Smith lambasted as inefficient and short-sighted.

A lot has been said about Smith's keen observations and eloquent quotes, however, most failed to mention his uncanny sense of humor. For example, in discussing about labor compensation, Smith remarked that "The public admiration which attends upon such distinguished abilities, makes always a part of their rewards; a greater or smaller in proportion as it is higher or lower in degree. It makes a considerable part of that reward in the profession of physics; a still greater perhaps in that of law; in poetry and philosophy it makes almost the whole."; when taken into contexts that Smith is a Scholar in Philosophy, and hence should expect `public admiration' as his total compensation package, this sentence is almost hilarious.

This book is an insightful read, albeit one that requires much pondering. It took Adam Smith ten years to complete the first edition of Wealth of Nations, hence I would strongly recommend taking a slow pace in this exploration of his wisdom.

You might ask whether there is an easier way to read this book, perhaps through some summary others wrote.

My opinion is really not to do that, because the gist of this book is on the thinking process and good learning does not come easy. Spend the time to reflect on his reasonings and you will gain significantly from his wisdom. Not to forget that you should get a copy of his other book "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" to fully appreciate the Wealth of Nations.
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on March 5, 2014
This is a timeless classic using fundamental economic concepts. It is interesting to observe the thought processes of an intelligent individual from over 200 years ago, thinking through the core basics of the foundations of economic theory. Modern humans tend to think of ourselves as smarter than previous generations. Actually, we are "standing on the shoulders of giants" to paraphrase a quote by Sir Isaac Newton, who actually borrowed it from several previous historical passages. Adam Smith saw clearly, and articulated eloquently the fundamental principals underlying what is wealth, how it correlates to actual physical processes and items, and how it is accrued in a fluid economic environment. I highly recommend this to any student of any age.
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