The British politician and philosopher Jesse Norman has written that rarest of things, a wise book accessible to the general reader ... If you want to understand Adam Smith’s 'obvious and simple system of natural liberty' (as Smith himself put it), his 'liberal plan of [social] equality, [economic] liberty and [legal] justice,' you’ll want to devour Mr. Norman’s Adam Smith: Father of Economics ... In fact, you’ll want to read Mr. Norman and then Smith if you have any thought at all of getting beyond the clichés of left and right to understand why we need a middle—or maybe something different ... he combines canniness with strict historical accuracy, philosophical depth and, episodically, economic sense ... Mr. Norman stays close to Smith’s texts, and among of the pleasures of the book is the collection of pithy turns of phrase ... The worst passages in Mr. Norman’s very good book, that is, come from accepting the axiom that markets are highly imperfect yet easily corrected ... If you are a compassionate conservative of Romney’s sort, father and son, you will delight in Adam Smith: Father of Economics. If you are what Americans call a 'liberal,' you can get along with it, too, unless you go to full socialism.
One would think that a biography of an economist would make almost as dull a read as a book on economics. This volume tells a story well in an easy prose but while passively challenging the reader with deep ideas on almost every page. The author explains ideas in comprehendible form, encouraging thought rather than confusion. At times, the story has distractions but even then Norman quickly returns to his subject ... Remarkably, the reader seldom needs to turn to a dictionary to understand a word, much less a commentary. The book, minus its illustrations and annotations, also does not make for a particularly long text.
Though Mr. Norman proceeds at a brisker pace, he covers much the same ground as Nicholas Phillipson did in his recent intellectual biography of Smith. And like Mr. Phillipson, Mr Norman peppers his high-minded discussion of Smith’s work with details about the economist’s day-to-day life ... Some readers will find Mr Norman’s busting of Smith-related myths to be the book’s most satisfying theme ... The book...does an unsatisfactory job of dealing with Smith’s critics ... The author is on safer ground when he explains the relevance of Smith’s ideas today. Economists, especially in America, increasingly worry that capitalism has become too cozy ... Smith got there first.
Norman...turns his attention to economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723–90), creating a splendid introduction to his life and lasting influence. The author draws on established scholarship...but provides a balanced synthesis that challenges historiographical 'myths' and offers new insight by placing Smith in far-ranging historical, philosophical, and political-economic contexts, including the Scottish Enlightenment ... This scholarly and well-crafted book will impart pleasure and knowledge to a range of readers, from the uninitiated to seasoned scholars and policymakers. Highly recommended.
To counter this vision of the boy from Kirkcaldy as a market fundamentalist, Norman provides a thoughtful and accessible overview of Smith’s work interspersed with historical context on the Scottish Enlightenment. He argues convincingly that Smith’s greatest insight was his notion of mutual sympathy ... This is a stimulating introduction to an often misunderstood figure in the history of economic thought.
It’s hard to imagine an American politician writing with the same depth and grasp of an inordinately complex subject, but Norman pulls it off quite capably. A worthy addition to the literature surrounding Smith and that of modern conservative thought.