On The Wealth of Nations

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This book is an early entry in a series from the Atlantic Monthly/Grove Press, "Books That Changed the World". Other entries, by other authors, are devoted to Clausewitz's On War, Darwin's Origin of Species, the Bible, and the Qur'an (or, if you're a hick like me, the Koran). I will irresponsibly speculate on a bunch of books I never read, and say that none of them is as funny as this one, on Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.

For example, from the chapter titled "Why is The Wealth of Nations So Damn Long?":

All explanations start out brief. But pretty soon Smith gets enmeshed in clarifications, intellectually caught out, Dagwood-like, carrying his shoes up the stairs of exegesis at 3:00 a.m., expounding his head off, while that vexed and querolous spouse, the reader, stands with arms crossed and slipper tapping on the second-floor landing of comprehension.
But it's not just a laff riot, as people who've read some of the recent O'Rourke works know; he's not just one of America's funniest writers, he's also a decent thinker on serious topics. Here, P. J. wades through each section of Smith, picking up and explicating the good bits, and is suitably derisive when Smith, rarely, wanders off into tall grass. He fits The Wealth of Nations into the context of Smith's life, his other works, and the state of the world in the late 18th century.

If I had to pick a flaw in the book, it's that a few of P. J.'s witticisms are very timely. Will a crack about Britney Spears make any sense to most readers in 2017? (I hope not.)


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:42 AM EST