Adam Smith


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An Enlightened Life

Nicholas Phillipson

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This fascinating intellectual biography of Adam Smith dramatically rewrites the economist’s life and offers new insight into his iconic concepts

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. This biography shows the extent to which Smith's great works, The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, were part of one of the most ambitious projects of the Euruopean Enlightenment, a grand “Science of Man" that would encompass law, history, and aesthetics as well as economics and ethics, and which was only half complete on Smith’s death in 1790.

Nick Phillipson reconstructs Smith’s intellectual ancestry and shows what Smith took from, and what he gave to, in the rapidly changing intellectual and commercial cultures of Glasgow and Edinburgh as they entered the great years of the Scottish Enlightenment. Above all he explains how far Smith’s ideas developed in dialogue with those of his closest friend, the other titan of the age, David Hume.

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.

"A fascinating book. . . . Adam Smith finally has the biography that he deserves, and it could not be more timely."—Jeffrey Collins, Wall Street Journal

“Lively [and] well-observed. . . . It would take a ‘skilful pencil’ to bring Smith to life, warned one of his friends. In bringing Smith’s ideas to life, Phillipson shows that his pencilwork is skilful indeed. ”—The Economist

"Remarkable, often brilliant. . . stuffed with acute philosophical observations. But no less fascinating is the portrait of the milieu in which Smith lived. . . . Phillipson's exposition of [Smith's] 'enlightened life' can scarcely be bettered."—The Times (London)

"[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

"One good reason to read Nicholas Phillipson's excellent intellectual biography is to gain a more nuanced understanding of Smith and, in particular, of his vision of an all-embracing science of man. . . . 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

"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"

"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

"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

"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

"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 Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste

"[A] great achievement. . . . Few books have shed better light on what Smith 'meant' and why he wrote as he did."—Scotland on Sunday

"The myth of Adam Smith is that he was the hard-nosed high priest of self-interested capitalism. [Phillipson] shows that his intellectual goals were far greater and nobler. . . . Phillipson has portrayed an Adam Smith for our times."—New Statesman

"The Smith who emerges from this thoughtful study. . . had an intellect of extraordinary brilliance, and it is the life of that intellect that is finely portrayed in this book."—Sunday Telegraph (London)

"Phillipson's path-breaking biography shines new light on the complex development of this much-misunderstood thinker."—The Independent (London)

"Phillipson has been studying [the Scottish Enlightenment], this explosion of genius, all his life, and is a trustworthy guide to the life of Adam Smith."—Financial Times

"Having failed so royally to predict or ameliorate our present distress, some economists may come to examine their assumptions and be drawn to this fine book and its mighty subject."—The Guardian (London)

"Drawing on Smith's published works and student notes from his lectures, Phillipson shows how Smith's thinking on social theory and ethics influenced his system of economics. . . . what Phillipson calls a 'vast intellectual project.' "—Bloomberg Business Week

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

"An unabashedly intellectual biography . . . [written] in graceful prose. . . . An Enlightened Life delivers on its original promise: to trace the intellectual development of Smith's mind through the making of his own, essentially philosophical texts. 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."—Nancy F. Koehn, New York Times

"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)

"Smith was very much a man of his time, and in a very real sense Phillipson's biography is as much a portrait of European social theory in the 18th century as it is a study of Smith."—PopMatters

"Phillipson adds much to the current project of discovering the real Smith, who does not fit the common image of a laissez-faire advocate promoting unfettered self-interest."—The Christian Century

"This engaging and detailed biography by historian Nicholas Phillipson gives readers a clear sense of the intellectual dialogue going on among the thinkers of Smith's time while presenting insights into the cultural climate and social customs of 17th-century Scotland. . . . This book should find a place amount the best biographical material on Smith."—James Halteman, The Christian Century

"Nicholas Phillipson’s new biography, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, is a pleasure to read, and it provides us with a clear and thorough account of Smith’s life."—Samuel Fleischacker, Journal of British Studies

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

Named a Best Book of 2010 by the Atlantic

Named a Critics' Favorite Book of 2010—The New Yorker

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

Recipient of the 2011 San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention in Biography

 Winner of the 2011-2013 Annibel Jenkins Prize, given by the American Society for the 18th Century Studies.
ISBN: 9780300177671
Publication Date: January 10, 2012
384 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
4 b/w + 29 color illus.

Sales Restrictions: For sale in the United States only (and dependencies and the Philippines)
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