Book review: The Life of Adam Smith

The Life of Adam SmithThe Life of Adam Smith
by Ian Simpson Ross
Published by Oxford University Press (November 19, 2010)
Buy it at: Amazon

The best trivia

  • Even Adam Smith could be a slacker. In college, he wrote, “I am just recovered of a violent fit of laziness, which has confined me to my elbow chair these three months.”
  • Smith fought for oatmeal. As a professor, he fought to eliminate a tax on students’ oatmeal.
  • Want to know Adam Smith’s study secrets? Try a standing desk. Supposedly, he worked standing so often that his powdered wig rubbed an impression into the wall behind his desk.

The invisible man behind the invisible hand

We all know Adam Smith as the author of the invisible hand, but the rest of his life is more of a mystery. Even those who are aware of his The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments may not know much about his life.

The Life of Adam Smith seeks to change that, and diehard Smithians will be heartened by the in-depth look at the famous economist’s life. Make no mistake—it’s meant for true fans, but the thorough scholarship manages to unearth a lot about Smith’s life. He worked hard, had a few hobbies, and, in the process, changed the world.

Anecdotes are in short supply, but at least one good one deserves mention. In a hostile obituary published in 1790, one writer claimed that Smith once fell into a tannery pit. Yes, Adam Smith fell into a pit filled with hide fat, lime, and gas, and barely survived after being dragged out. The joke is obvious—did an invisible hand push him in?

What the book is

The Life of Adam Smith is an academic biography of the life of the famous economist. It tracks his travels, job posts, and life from birth to death using careful research.

What the book isn’t

Don’t expect summaries of Smith’s philosophy, an overview of his era, or paeans to his legacy. This is a straightforward biography that’s focused on packing in the facts.

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