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The Wealth of Nations
The Wealth of Nations
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"Every individual ... neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it ... he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention."
The Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith, 1776

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The Wealth of Nations
Adam Smith, 1776
SMITH, Adam (1723-1790). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776.

First edition of "the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought" (PMM). Smith's Wealth of Nations is the first major expression of the theory of free trade. Exalted equally as a compassionate conservative and sympathetic liberal, the author propounds individual liberty and the accumulation of wealth, while arguing strongly for moral fairness and a duty to society. He describes a system of natural liberty and justice which strives towards improvement in the living standards of the population at large, equating higher wages with a healthier and more productive workforce. He illustrates his belief that the limits to growth are political, not economic, and sets out principles to guide legislators. Smith also provides a history of economic theory, an historical analysis of the wealth of nations, including China, and forecasts for the future.

Smith gave up his chair at the University of Glasgow in 1764 to serve as travelling tutor to the third duke of Buccleuch on the Continent. His observations on his travels of absolute monarchy and the ensuing fiscal problems laid the ground for his economic thought, as did meetings with intellectuals and economists such as Voltaire, D’Alembert, Mirabeau and Turgot. After two decades of preparation, Wealth of Nations was published in 1776. The first edition likely had a press run of either 500 or 750 copies and was sold out within six months. Four further editions appeared in Smith’s lifetime, as well as various translations. Goldsmith 11392; Grolier, English 57; Kress 7261; PMM 221; Rothschild 1897.

Two volumes, quarto (280 x 220mm). With the half-title in volume 2 only, as issued, without the final blank in volume 1, ads printed on verso of last leaf in volume 2. Cancels: M3 and 2Z3 in vol. 1 (gatherings 2Z, 3B and 3T in vol. 1 and C in vol 2 spotted, vol. 1 with blank corner torn from F2, neat repaired marginal tear to 2E4). Contemporary sprinkled calf ruled in gilt, spines gilt in six compartments, with red morocco gilt lettering pieces and green morocco gilt numbering pieces (light rubbing and wear to extremities, joints previously strengthened, starting again on vol. 2); green quarter morocco clamshell box.

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Heather Weintraub Specialist, Books, Manuscripts, & Archives

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