Wealth of Nations
Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, which appeared in London and Edinburgh in March, 1776, is to the modern intellect as important as the United States Declaration of Independence signed in Philadelphia that summer. At least 12 years in the writing, and 25 in the thinking, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations established an entirely modern way of looking at history and society.
Up to then, the rise and decay of states had been a theme for moralists or factional politicians, who peddled class and national loyalties, every sort of special pleading and odd bits of the supernatural. In contrast, as Irish philosopher Edmund Burke put it, Smith presented "a compleat analysis" of society not just in its industrial and commercial life, but in the arts, finance, justice, the military, the religious and educational establishments and the public administration.
Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher of peculiarly beautiful character and old-fashioned bachelor habits, was born in 1723 in a windswept country that was then one of the most backward in Europe, misruled by a delinquent aristocracy and a fanatical church just longing for the world to end. Scotland had lately been frog-marched into a forced union with its powerful neighbour to the south.
Smith used his deep knowledge of history and his profound curiosity to address Scotland's plight through a pair of interlocking questions: Why are some countries rich and others poor? What is wealth anyway?