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Adam Smith: What He Thought, and Why it Matters Reviews

Adam Smith: What He Thought, and Why it Matters by Jesse Norman

Adam Smith

What He Thought, and Why it Matters

Jesse Norman

4.80 out of 5

4 reviews

Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 5 Jul 2018
ISBN: 9780241328491

Adam Smith is now widely regarded as 'the father of modern economics' and the most influential economist who ever lived. But what he really thought, and what the implications of his ideas are, remain fiercely contested. Was he an eloquent advocate of capitalism and the freedom of the individual? Or a prime mover of 'market fundamentalism' and an apologist for inequality and human selfishness? Or something else entirely? Jesse Norman's brilliantly conceived book gives us not just Smith's economics, but his vastly wider intellectual project.

2 Prizes for Adam Smith: What He Thought, and Why it Matters

Parliamentary Book Awards
2018 Winner

Winner: Best Non-Fiction by a Parliamentarian

Meryl Halls, Managing Director of the Booksellers Association, said: “The winners reflect that complexity, highlighting the constant questioning of our political system and those working within it. With winners as topical and carefully considered as these, the Awards continue to highlight the importance of books, bookshops and reading to our political and civil discourse, and reinforce the symbiosis between politics and bookselling.”

Parliamentary Book Awards
2018 Shortlist

Best Non-Fiction by a Parliamentarian

Stephen Lotinga, the Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, said: “Great political writing offers us a lens through which we can examine our society and the world around us. This year’s shortlist of authors provides us with many profound insights into the tumultuous events of the last year, touching on important themes of gender, equality and the nature of power. I look forward to celebrating all of these important books at the House of Commons in December.” ​


  • Financial TimesBook of the Year
5 stars out of 5
John Kay
25 Jul 2018

"...a remarkable and intensely readable book"

In a remarkable and intensely readable book, Jesse Norman dispels “five myths” about Adam Smith. Norman is a Conservative MP, and the very existence of the book, which draws on his background as a philosopher but also displays wide knowledge of economics and the history of the Enlightenment in 18th-century Edinburgh, is a rejoinder to those who fear that the intellectual has disappeared from politics, along with respect for facts and contact with reality.

4 stars out of 5
Allan Massie
17 Jul 2018

"The book is lucid, comprehensive and sympathetic"

The book is lucid, comprehensive and sympathetic. He defends Smith from his detractors, and even more importantly, rescues him from his most zealous, and therefore mistaken, admirers. He insists that The Theory of Moral Sentiments is every bit as important as The Wealth of Nations; the books complement each other...He writes of economic questions in a manner admirably free of jargon, and his work is properly based not only on his intellectual understanding of Smith’s work but on the sympathetic nature of his engagement with it.

4 stars out of 5
Richard V Reeves
1 Jul 2018

"Norman is a member of an endangered species: the thinking politician"

Norman’s discussion of Smith’s ideas on the development of social norms and moral codes provides his strongest intellectual showing. But readers looking for illumination on contemporary politics are likely to skip forward to the third section, where Smith’s ideas are brought to bear on the political challenges of today. Norman does not mince words: ‘As an ideology, neoliberalism is dead.’ ... Norman is a member of an endangered species: the thinking politician. For the moment, the backbenches are supplying him with some refuge from the shambles of the Conservative government. He is also a fine writer

5 stars out of 5
Edward Lucas
30 Jun 2018

" ...in his masterly book on the Scottish sage... the author abundantly fulfils his promise"

As Jesse Norman explains in his masterly book on the Scottish sage, this simplistic picture is wrong in every respect. For a start, mainstream economics — an arid, arrogant, overly mathematical affair, based on flimsy premises about individual utility and equilibrium — has little to do with Smith’s work. Indeed, it subverts most of its premises... The author abundantly fulfils his promise, explaining what Smith really thought and why it matters now, especially in light of the uninvestigated, unpunished, financial crash of 2008 (about which Norman is scathing). The book tells the reader something else too: that amid the superficiality and hysterics of modern British politics, an admirably thoughtful brain is lurking.