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Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (2010)

by Nicholas Phillipson(Favorite Author)
3.69 of 5 Votes: 4
0300169272 (ISBN13: 9780300169270)
Yale University Press
review 1: A masterful and extensively researched book which acts as a great introduction to literature of the enlightenment. Some have accused the book of being overtly esoteric and thus, inaccesible to those who are not schooled in the Age of Enlightenment or general 18th century philosophy. For my part, I would propound that it is, rather than esoteric, intelligently written and, if anything, likely to inspire any reader to further investigate the morally complex, philosophically challenging and intellectually profound matters that are discussed within. Though officially a political economist by trade, the dialogue and debate that Smith puts forward, along with that of his contemporary and friend David Hume, clearly identifies him as a great thinker, moral philosopher and worthy s... morepokesperson for the age of enlightenment. A superb read about the life and work of a genuinely admirable man.
review 2: Clearly this was written with a specialist in mind, consciously or unconsciously. There are a lot of things that Phillipson seems to assume you know which I don’t think a regular educated (non-philosophy major) reader would know. Some examples—He mentions more than once that Smith was influenced philosophically by Euclidean geometry. Now, even though he states it influenced his method rather than his content, it still is not self-evident what that means. How could the method of geometry translate to philosophy? Then, I kept coming across the word “police,” which was clearly not being used as we use it. I assumed that it must be an archaic meaning so I checked the dictionary and did an internet search to no avail. Only after seeing this word used multiple times, does the reader get to this passage on page 173-4: ““Both versions of the lectures culminated in a discussion of ‘police,’ that self-consciously used neologism he had probably first employed in Edinburgh to consider the problems involved in maintaining what he called the ‘cleanliness’ and internal security of the state and, above all, ‘cheapness or plenty, or, which is the same thing, the most proper way of procuring wealth and abundance.” Wouldn’t it have been nice if he had put this paragraph with the first time he mentions the word?He also assumes a cultural-historical knowledge at times, such as when he cites an exchange between Samuel Johnson and Smith: “Smith was proud of the new city centre, although it was rash to commend it to Samuel Johnson in 1773. ‘Pray, sir, have you seen Brentford?’ the surly sage replied.” I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get the joke.This is not a bad book it was just a mismatch for me. I found it dry and difficult to follow but I don’t think someone with a stronger philosophy background would have. Be warned that it is very barely a standard biography since there is little information about Smith’s life. It is much more a biography of his intellectual life. Now, I usually like intellectual biographies but this one weighed too much on the side of ideas and not enough on the side of a life story. Given the lack of information, it might have been unavoidable. less
Reviews (see all)
Does a good job of placing Smith the context of his times but the prose is a little leaden....
Pretty tortuous to get through! Very academic and dry.
Author interview on "Econtalk" podcast of 22 Nov 10
Good but a little too academic.
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