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P.J. O’Rourke – On the Wealth of Nations

P.J. O’Rourke – On the Wealth of Nations
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Author: P.J. O’Rourke
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The famous satirist headlines a new series of Books That Changed the World,” in which well-known authors read great books “so you don’t have to.” While irreverently dissecting Adam Smith’s 18th-century antimercantilist classic, The Wealth of Nations, O’Rourke continues the dogged advocacy of free-market economics of his own books, such as Eat the Rich. His analysis renders Smith’s opus more accessible, while providing the perfect launching pad for O’Rourke’s opinions on contemporary subjects like the World Bank, defense spending and Bill Moyers’s intelligence (or lack thereof, according to O’Rourke). Readers only vaguely familiar with Smith’s tenets may be surprised to learn how little he continues to be understood today. As O’Rourke observes, “there are many theories in [The Wealth of Nations], but no theoretical system that Smith wanted to put in place, except ‘the obvious and simple system of natural liberty [that] establishes itself of its own accord.” Libertarian that he is, O’Rourke would probably agree that one shouldn’t take only his word on Smith. Still, the book reads like a witty Cliffs Notes, with plenty of challenges for the armchair economist to wrap his head around. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The Washington Post
Reviewed by Daniel Gross

Back in 1776, a subject of the British Empire published a remarkably durable statement about the desires and striving of mankind and the deep human yearning for freedom. This document, whose verities echo and resonate throughout the generations, is regarded with something close to adoration.

Oh, and the Declaration of Independence was published that year, too.

An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, the lengthy tome penned by Adam Smith, then a 53-year-old Scottish logician and economist, has had nearly as great an impact on mankind as the much shorter document inked by Thomas Jefferson. A staple of Great Books courses, The Wealth of Nations is a sort of Bible for free-market devotees. Like the Bible, however, it is more cited than read — and frequently least read by those who cite it most. And so having a well-known, highly accessible writer introduce Smith’s great work to contemporary audiences is a great idea. The guide for the perplexed is P.J. O’Rourke — satirist, libertarian, author, wit.

It’s an incongruous pairing. Smith embarked on a systematic, lengthy, earnest examination of the economic world. “My job is to make quips, jests, and waggish comments,” O’Rourke states. But like chocolate and salt, this unlikely combination works well together. In this book, O’Rourke is a charming, highly literate blogger — one who thinks before actually writing — elucidating Smith’s arguments and making insightful comments along the way. It’s a safe bet the words “Talmud” and “P.J. O’Rourke” have never been used in the same sentence. Yet there is something slightly Talmudic to the approach.

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