On the Wealth of Nations, By PJ O'Rourke

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The Independent Culture

Adam Smith's hefty 1776 Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations can be boiled down, as it is in this lively, deceptively intelligent entry in Atlantic's "Books that Shook the World" series, to just three principles: economic growth arises from the pursuit of self-interest, the division of labour and freedom of trade.

It makes PJ O'Rourke's job easy. He's able to expound on the finer detail of Smith's insights; explain why his ideals must still be aspired to by those who'd attempt to control markets; give a good sense of the quality and flavour of Smith's writing; and still have plenty of space to make quips of his own. Too many quips are bafflingly US-centric and as it's not a critique, there's little thought spared for the ever-increasing number who slip through the fingers of Smith's famous "invisible hand". But as divisions of labour go, having O'Rourke read Smith so that you don't have to is still worthwhile and productive.

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