Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Life of Adam Smith

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Life of Adam Smith

Article excerpt

The Life of Adam Smith by Ian Simpson Ross

Oxford University Press. 1995. 492pp. $35.00.

Few would argue that Adam Smith was one of the great minds of the eighteenth century. He is perceived, through his best-known book, The Wealth of Nations, as the founder of the science of economics, and his ideas about the free market and the role of the state continue to powerfully affect the modern world. Yet Smith was also a distinguished man of letters and historian.

The Life of Adam Smith, the first full-scale biography of Smith in a hundred years, is a competent account of Smith's life and work, encompassing a career that spanned some of the defining moments in world history, including the American and French Revolutions. Author Ian Simpson Ross examines Smith's family life, education, career, intellectual circle (including David Hume and Francois Quesney), and his contemporaries (such as Immanuel Kant, Voltaire, and Thomas Jefferson). He portrays Smith as a student at a lively Glasgow University and later at a more sedate Oxford; as a freelance lecturer delivering popular classes on rhetoric; an innovative university teacher ("by far the most useful, and therefore," Smith wrote, "by far the happiest and most honorable period of my life"); a tutor traveling abroad with a duke; an acclaimed political economist; a policy advisor to governments during and after the American Revolution; and finally, perhaps most significantly, as a Commissioner of Customs coping with free traders in the smuggling business. …

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