Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On The Wealth of Nations by PJ O'Rourke

PJ O’Rourke is an American humourist who is no longer funny. He’s been tasked with writing a commentary on The Wealth of Nations. Let’s see how he does.

To start with, not badly. I actually laughed at some things, and found others, such as PJ’s explanation of how we came to have a trading class in the first place, insightful without being dull. All good. Plus we have some context setting in terms of the era in which Adam Smith was writing.

Then it all goes wrong.

The first half of the book is marred only by O’Rourke’s insistence on comparing certain parts of The Wealth of Nations with certain parts of The Bible, as though that were the only book around, or worse, the only yardstick. It gets far worse in the second half of the book, the pile of biblical reference teeters ever higher and gets really pungent. The chapter ‘Adam Smith in Heaven’ is truly execrable. I don’t think even the greeting card industry would pay for that crap.

The descent into a fourth-rate Bible class leaves only a poor impression of this book. In fairness I will point out that I liked this book to begin with. However as I read on I liked it less and less, before finally reaching dismissive derision. No doubt there is a definitive commentary to be written on The Wealth of Nations, but this is not it.

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