Adam Smith was a moral philosopher who taught philosophy and logic at Edinburgh. Smith is known for publishing the first in depth book of economics, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" in 1776. Commonly called, "The Wealth of Nations," was to be part of a trilogy Smith planned that was a complete philosophy of life. "The Theory of Moral Sediments," published in 1759 was the first, and his notes to the third book of the series were destroyed after his death. The two books are complementary, and reading both will give a more complete understanding of what he meant in both.


Adam SmithCredit: Public Domain by James Tassie

"An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," took Adam Smith 10 years to write, and it is over 1100 pages in some editions. It's a dense book, and verbose when compared to modern writing style. Many people have read portions of it, but few people, including economists, have read the complete book. The most popular section is called "The Invisible Hand," that moves to produce and distribute goods. Not as well known are the sections that discuss how the wealthy use government to get their wishes, the evil of what are now called lobbyists, and Smith's views of taxes.

P. J. O'Rourke wrote "On the Wealth of Nations" as part of books that changed the world series. O'Rourke writes it with an ear towards humor as well as fact. He read the complete book and condensed it into 200 pages. It isn't possible to condense an 1100 page book into 200 pages, but O'Rourke gives it a good try.

P. J. O'Rourke is a conservative that has written several books with a humorous bent. He continues this in "On the Wealth of Nations," and is able to present the necessary information. He points out to read "The Wealth of Nations" in conjunction with "The Theory of Moral Sediments."

Even with the abbreviated coverage, O'Rourke does a fair job of covering the subject. His humorous asides make some of the material more readable. The book is generally easy to read, informative and enjoyable.

I enjoyed "On The Wealth Of Nations," and recommend it, but it has some flaws. I expected it to be somewhat superficial, which it is. I would have liked a little more detail in the explanations, and have O'Rourke hold back a little on the jokes, and his political views. While they make the subject more readable, they sometimes take away from the point Smith intended to make. I feel he sometimes picked a section so that he could make jokes about it. Sometimes his humor distracts from the point Smith was trying to make.

I do recommend this book and think it is worthwhile. It is a good way to get a brief overview of Adam Smith's ideas.