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Smith’s library

Summary:
The Econ Journal Watch have released a list of all the books owned by Adam Smith and as one of the last men said to know everything, it’s hardly surprising that there are some interesting reads in there.Smith had a vast range of books from the free verse epic poem Paradise Lost to the far more practical Horse-hoeing husbandry. From the Econ Journal’s list, it doesn’t take much to see the sheer number of books that Smith owned. The range and quantity reflective of his wealth of sources, which of course explained his wealth of knowledge.Being a true academic, he was able to read many languages. Smith’s range of French titles, such as Histoire de la ligue faite à Cambray or Considerations sur Considérations sur les corps organisés, only go to show the cultural strength of the Auld Alliance.

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The Econ Journal Watch have released a list of all the books owned by Adam Smith and as one of the last men said to know everything, it’s hardly surprising that there are some interesting reads in there.

Smith had a vast range of books from the free verse epic poem Paradise Lost to the far more practical Horse-hoeing husbandry. From the Econ Journal’s list, it doesn’t take much to see the sheer number of books that Smith owned. The range and quantity reflective of his wealth of sources, which of course explained his wealth of knowledge.

Being a true academic, he was able to read many languages. Smith’s range of French titles, such as Histoire de la ligue faite à Cambray or Considerations sur Considérations sur les corps organisés, only go to show the cultural strength of the Auld Alliance. Being both an intellectual and a Scotsman, the interest does not seem out of place. His possession of Institution du droit françois also reflects this fascination with France and its governance. 

Smith was a man of logic and reason so his possession of various books on law and legal systems e.g. Principles of Scots law, is in keeping with his character. Indeed Smith’s interest was once again not confined to his native Britain seen by Russian code of laws or Code of Gentoo law. Certainly not a narrow focus!

Smith’s library also served as a travel diary of sorts. He collected books from people he met throughout his life such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Quesnay. Smith had Voltaire’s philosophie de l'histoire, Rousseau’s Nouvelle Heloise and Quesnay’s Physiocratie, among others. Smith also had books from countries further afield, such as John Bell’s Travels from St Petersburg or Peter Kalm’s Travels into North America, showing his intellectual curiosity knew no bounds.  

As you would expect for an intelligent and educated man, he has a large collection of classic works in Latin and Greek (including lesser known authors such as Manilius). He has a wide range of literature and history but a comparatively tiny choice of philosophy. This lacuna is all the more surprising from philosopher and economist when you realise he did have books on philosophy such as Philosophy of rhetoric by George Campbell, just not classical philosophy. 

He did have compendia of Plato’s works (e.g. Platonis Opera) but not the individual dialogues that one might have expected from someone who had such an interest in moral philosophy, dialogues which deal with ethical issues for which Plato is known. Smith’s Aristotle collection is similarly thin for a man with such a vast collection, with no works of any pre-Socratics either. His possession of the compendium does not give a particular insight into the aspect of Plato that Smith was interested in.

The Econ Journal Watch’s report offers a fascinating insight into the material that helped to shape Adam Smith. 


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