Friday, July 07, 2006

Which Edition of Wealth of Nations Do you Use?

Sandra Peart carries a piece on her always good value (but, alas, too infrequently posted – she is an extremely busy teacher and researcher) Blog: ‘Adam Smith Lives!’ that reports on a question asked by Doug Mackenzie (sorry, I do not know of this gentleman): 'which edition of Wealth of Nations works best for an undergrad class?'

From the published responses these editions were mentioned:

1 Paperback of the 2-volume, Oxford 1976 edition, reproduced by Liberty Fund in a cheap edition; edited by R. R. Campbell, A. S. Skinner (textual editor, W. B. Todd);

2 Paperback Penguin 2 volume edition, 1986 and 1999, , London,, edited and introduced by A. S. Skinner

3 Heilbroner’s World Philosophy, and his Essential Adam Smith (numerous editions).

Sandra plumps for The Liberty Fund reprint of the Oxford edition (aka: Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith)

I always recommend the Liberty Fund edition – well within a student’s budget (buy online from Liberty or Amazon or AbeBooks) and likewise to induce sceptical academics to read the man they quote from).

I prefer the full set of Wealth of Nations, not abridgements, which can be selectively misleading (e.g., Heilbroner). Reading beyond the famous quotations into his many so-called diversions reveals his method of using actual data available to him to demonstrate points he is making can be enlivening to the curious and stimulating to the 'expert'.

The other edition I use regularly – just to check footnote about what other editors may have missed - is Edwin Cannan’s New York edition (1937), which until the Oxford edition appeared was the main text used by of Smith scholars, judging by their abundant references to it in books and articles. Cannan found and edited the 1895 edition of 'Lectures in Jurisprudence' (now LJ(B)) and had unrivalled knowledge of Smith’s works – and often critical he was too, e.g., Cannan, E. Theories of Production and Distribution, 1893, 3rd edition 1924.

Sandra Peart also recommends that Wealth of Nations (WON) be taught along with some reading of Smith’s 'Theory of Moral Sentiments'. I agree, but undergraduate teaching agendas are usually already crowded with things to read and, unlike Sandra, most economics lecturers are ill equipped to add Moral Sentiments to their lectures (if they were taught by their tutors the ‘Chicago’ Smith and not the ‘Kirkcaldy’ Smith they are also probably ill-equipped to teach WON – though this situation is slowly changing as renewed interest in reading Smith for themselves spreads).

Read the piece at: (and if you do not know of her Blog, search the archives too.


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