THE LIFE OF ADAM SMITH by Ian Simpson Ross
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A principal virtue of this scholarly but animated and accessible biography of the Scottish polymath Adam Smith is that it puts paid to any notion Smith was either a single-issue crusader or an ivory-tower intellectual. As Ross (coeditor of the great Scot's correspondence) makes clear, Smith was an engaged man of the world equally at home with clergy, literati, peers of the realm, merchants, and politicians. Nor did Smith confine himself to classical economics, an academic discipline he helped establish and define, but also lectured and wrote on astronomy, ethics, jurisprudence, philology, rhetoric, and other of the liberal arts. A lifelong bachelor, he was born in Kirkcaldy in 1723. Educated at Glasgow University and Oxford's Balliol College, Smith was invited to Edinburgh in 1748 to give courses in belles lettres and history. Appointed a professor at Glasgow three years later, he became an intimate friend of philosopher David Hume, whose empiricist doctrines influenced his first published book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1760 and began his magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, soon after. Published in 1776, it proved a landmark treatise that expounded on division of labor, free trade, self-interest, and a host of other precepts of laissez-faire capitalism. Though wary of government and opposed to mercantilism, Smith became Scotland's commissioner of customs, a financially rewarding post. He died in 1790, and at his behest, more than a dozen unfinished manuscripts were burned to prevent posthumous publication. With a minimum of pedantic intrusions, Ross makes a masterly job not only of putting Smith in the context of his turbulent times, but also of shedding light on his humane subject's wide-ranging contributions to Western thought.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0199550034
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.