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Home / Archive / Book Reviews - February 2008

The Wealth of Nations,
Adam Smith

Review by Nels Jensen

In 1776 Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. It is one of the world’s greatest classics and is often cited and quoted, but seldom read. This is understandable, since the book is over 1,000 pages and is written in sophisticated language. Allow me to explain three reasons why it’s worth the time and effort required to read it.

First, once every few generations, a classic emerges and starts a tidal wave of new thought that sweeps over the earth and reshapes everything in its path. The Wealth of Nations is such a book. It founded economics as a science. By sheer determination and acuity of thought the author dissects the complexities of market interactions that were never understood before in the history of the world. A few of the concepts that Smith explains clearly to the world for the first time (and backs up with examples) are: the division of labor, the laws of supply and demand, what determines price, the factors of production, how value is created, exchange, the invisible hand, natural liberty, why freedom creates prosperity faster than any other model, how to tax fairly and efficiently, the true economic determents of slavery and colonialism, and the list goes on. Any person who reads these concepts in their original clarity and power is greatly expanding his or her ability to see and understand the goings on of the world.

Second, one of the reasons to read the world’s best books is to learn to think, reason and write on a level with the great minds. Smith spent decades preparing and writing this book. We have the luxury of picking up an inexpensive copy and reading it in a relatively short time. We can read in an hour what it took Smith a month to write. He has done the hard work of demonstrating the hidden order behind the complexity and confusion of human interaction and dished it up for our immediate digestion. It is worth studying the work for no other reason than to examine and emulate the method of thinking that produced it. To read this book is to spend one-on-one time with one of the greatest thinkers ever.

Finally, we should read it to learn history. This is the book that spurred the Industrial Revolution. During the last 200 years the world has changed more quickly and to a greater extent than during any other time in history. Nearly every aspect of our modern lives is impacted by the fruits born from Smith’s writings. To read The Wealth of Nations is to see the blueprint for the amazingly high standard of living experienced by Western nations, and to understand the latent power waiting to be harnessed in less developed regions. Smith predicted that Americans would spill their blood rather than give up liberty. He knew that a new age of freedom was beginning to dawn over the earth and his book propelled it. Smith is one of the greatest advocates for liberty ever. He proved that freedom is more productive of happiness and virtue and quality of life than any force-based model. So much of what he said needs to be heard and spoken and implemented in the 21st century. A must-read for the liberally educated and a vital tool in furthering the cause of liberty—be one of the few who has read it!

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Nels Jensen is a full-time faculty member of George Wythe College. He holds a Masters degree in Political Economy from George Wythe. He and his wife, Suzanne, have three children.