Saturday, April 01, 2006

New Book on Adam Smith - read it!

James Buchan’s newest book, Adam Smith and the pursuit of perfect liberty, is strongly recommended by me. It is a literary, and therefore most readable, accurate short account of Adam Smith’s life and works to appear for many years.

It covers much that is interesting about Smith, both from its singular facts and from the new perspectives the author reveals in his tour through the known facts about Smith’s life

I concur with much of what Buchan writes about Smith’s contemporaries, such as the snobbish Alexander Carlyle; the dubious William Robertson; the rakish James Boswell; the embarrassing Lord Monbodo; and the pedantic Thomas Pownall (a former British Governor, first of Massachusetts, and later South Carolina, returning to Britain in 1760).

A potent feature of the book is it alerts reader to give more attention to Smith’s other, but largely neglected, essays that survived his instructions to burn everything else, published in Essays on Philosophical Subjects (those on the ‘Imitative Arts’, the ‘External Senses’, ‘Music, Dancing and Poetry’). These are published in a low-priced edition by Liberty Fund, along with his better known ‘History of Astronomy’(see Amazon).

If I have a quibble – more a question – it is James Buchan’s remark about Smith allegedly ‘abandoning Bernard Mandeville’s example in the division of labour in the Early Draft (the common labourer’s coat), which was not abandoned but is in the Wealth of Nations. The famous ‘pin factory’ appears to be straight-out of Diderot (1755) - along with an account of a small pin factory that Smith visited that had 10 men working in it, each doing one or more of the operations - and together with 'common labourer's coat provide a full description of the division of labour within a single workforce and between several workforces in separate places. See my article on this Blog, ‘The Myth of Murray Rothbard’ (who muddled his arithmetic) - under the ‘Articles’ button.

An excellent and authoritative read, it is an excellent route into Adam Smith, absent specialist jargon, and, as far as I can discern on a first reading, absent any of the grosser errors associated with Adam Smith and his legacy.

James Buchan’s Adam Smith and the pursuit of perfect liberty is to be published by Profile Books, London (ISBN: 978-1 86197 905-6) at £14.99 on 13 April.


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