I said something about “Adam Smith sermonizing” in The Wall Street Journal back on this post.
Speak of the devil, I just happened to read a book review in that paper this morning about the book, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (I am not making this title up), By Nicholas Phillipson.
Talk about your gushing. The reviewer writes, breathily,
Even his appearance is a mystery. The only contemporary likenesses of him are two small, carved medallions. We know Adam Smith as we know the ancients, in colorless stone.
It is a measure of Nicholas Phillipson’s gifts as a writer that he has, from this unpromising material, produced a fascinating book. Mr. Phillipson is the world’s leading historian of the Scottish Enlightenment. His “Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life” animates Smith’s prosaic personal history with an account of the eventful times through which he lived and the revolutionary ideas that inspired him. Adam Smith finally has the biography that he deserves, and it could not be more timely.
Smith’s fame, of course, was made by the “Wealth of Nations.” The book appeared in 1776, a good year in the annals of human liberty. Its teachings are so fundamental to modern economics that familiarity often dulls our appreciation of its brilliance.
He’s so wonderful, but so unknowable! His ways are so far above our ways, and his thoughts so far above our thoughts, that we know him only through colorless stone! Quick, a paper bag — I’m hyperventilating…
Of course, I must admit, I haven’t read Wealth of Nations. For two centuries and more, I’ve been holding out for the movie version. Maybe it’s all that and more. But at the moment I’m giving myself a break from nonfiction to reread O’Brian’s The Wine-Dark Sea, which of course actually is wonderful. (Speaking of the movie, I watched “Master and Commander” last night on Blu-Ray. If only someone would undertake to make a separate film on each book in the Aubrey/Maturin canon! As soon as it came out on Netflix, you wouldn’t see me for a year…)
After that, I’m going to read the books I got for my birthday, starting with Tony Blair’s new political autobio. Then there’s Woodward’s Obama’s War. Only then will I allow myself the pleasure of reading the latest Arkady Renko mystery, Three Stations.
Then, before I read Adam Smith, I will go back and finish Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary, which I set aside to read Bob Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow and Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed, back-to-back. Then, sometime after Trotsky, I’ll go read Adam Smith — right after I poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick. Twice. Colorless stone, indeed.