How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life by Russ Roberts
  • Title: How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life
  • Subtitle: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness
  • Author(s): Russ Roberts
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Year: 2014-10-09
  • ISBN-10: 0698139615
  • ISBN-13: 9780698139619


“How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life” by Russ Roberts is a captivating exploration of the life and ideas of the renowned economist and philosopher, Adam Smith. In this unique and thought-provoking book, Roberts offers readers a fresh perspective on Smith’s seminal work, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” which is often overshadowed by his famous treatise, “The Wealth of Nations.” Roberts highlights the timeless wisdom embedded in Smith’s lesser-known work, emphasizing its relevance to modern-day personal and societal challenges.

Throughout the book, Roberts reveals how Smith’s insights on human nature, sympathy, and virtue can have a profound impact on how individuals approach their lives. He presents Smith’s perspective on self-interest, arguing that while self-interest is a natural human inclination, it can be channeled toward virtuous actions that benefit both oneself and others. Roberts emphasizes the importance of empathy and compassion, drawing from Smith’s ideas on sympathy, which encourage individuals to understand and care for others, fostering stronger relationships and a sense of communal responsibility. In this way, Roberts demonstrates how Adam Smith’s ideas can be applied in personal and professional contexts, inspiring readers to lead more fulfilling and purposeful lives by integrating ethics and compassion into their daily interactions and decision-making processes.

Book Review

“How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life” by Russ Roberts is a delightful and enlightening exploration of the timeless wisdom of Adam Smith, the renowned Scottish economist and philosopher. In this thought-provoking book, Roberts brings to the forefront Smith’s lesser-known work, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” revealing its profound insights into human nature, morality, and the pursuit of a meaningful life.

One of the book’s central themes is the idea that self-interest, which is often associated with selfishness, can be aligned with virtuous behavior. Roberts delves into Smith’s concept of the “impartial spectator,” an imaginary figure that allows individuals to observe themselves from an outside perspective, considering the impact of their actions on others. By adopting the impartial spectator, individuals can recognize the consequences of their behavior and act with greater virtue and consideration for the well-being of others. For example, Roberts discusses how Smith’s ideas can be applied to our daily lives, such as in the realm of customer service. He cites the example of a waitress who goes above and beyond to ensure a pleasant dining experience for her customers. Though her actions are driven by self-interest in earning tips, her genuine care and empathy for her customers exemplify how self-interest can be harnessed for virtuous behavior, ultimately benefiting both her and her patrons.

Another valuable insight from Smith’s work is the concept of sympathy, which plays a crucial role in forming and maintaining social bonds. Smith argues that humans have an innate capacity for empathy, enabling them to share the joys and sorrows of others. Roberts illustrates this concept by referring to a famous experiment conducted by psychologist Daniel Batson. The experiment demonstrated that individuals who were exposed to a situation where someone needed help were more likely to assist when they felt a sense of empathy or connection with the person in need. This finding echoes Smith’s belief in the power of sympathy to promote compassionate and caring actions within a community.

Throughout the book, Roberts skillfully weaves together historical anecdotes, philosophical discussions, and relatable examples to illustrate how Smith’s ideas can be applied in our lives today. He encourages readers to consider the broader implications of Smith’s moral philosophy on issues like income inequality, charity, and the role of government in promoting the well-being of society.

In conclusion, “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life” is an engaging and thought-provoking read that unveils the enduring relevance of Adam Smith’s ideas. Russ Roberts skillfully reveals how the moral insights from Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” can shape our understanding of human behavior, morality, and personal fulfillment. By emphasizing the potential harmony between self-interest and virtue and the importance of empathy and sympathy, Roberts provides readers with valuable lessons that can positively influence their relationships, decisions, and contributions to society. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking wisdom and guidance on leading a more compassionate and meaningful life, while appreciating the enduring relevance of Adam Smith’s ideas in our complex and interconnected world.

Word Count: 498

Target Audience

The book “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life” by Russ Roberts is targeted at a broad audience, including individuals interested in philosophy, economics, ethics, and personal development. It is recommended reading for the following audiences:

  • General Readers Seeking Personal Growth The book offers valuable insights and practical wisdom that can be applied to personal growth and self-improvement. By exploring Adam Smith’s ideas on empathy, virtue, and the pursuit of a meaningful life, readers can gain a deeper understanding of human nature and how to lead more fulfilling and compassionate lives. The book’s accessible language and relatable examples make it an engaging and insightful read for anyone seeking inspiration to cultivate a greater sense of purpose and well-being.

  • Business Leaders and Professionals The book’s exploration of self-interest, empathy, and ethical behavior has relevance in the business world. Business leaders and professionals can benefit from understanding how Adam Smith’s concepts can be harnessed to foster a more compassionate and inclusive organizational culture. Smith’s ideas on the role of sympathy and understanding the needs of others can lead to better decision-making and employee engagement, ultimately contributing to more successful and socially responsible businesses.

  • Students and Scholars of Philosophy and Economics For students and scholars interested in philosophy and economics, “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life” provides a fresh perspective on Adam Smith’s work beyond his famous treatise, “The Wealth of Nations.” The book sheds light on the often overlooked “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” offering a deeper understanding of Smith’s moral philosophy. It encourages readers to reflect on how economic principles and human behavior are interconnected and how ethical considerations can influence economic decisions.

  • Individuals Interested in Societal Impact and Ethics The book’s exploration of empathy, sympathy, and moral behavior has implications beyond personal growth and organizational culture. It touches on broader societal issues such as income inequality and the role of government in promoting social well-being. Readers interested in ethical considerations and their impact on social and economic systems will find this book thought-provoking and relevant.

In summary, “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life” is recommended reading for a diverse audience, including general readers seeking personal growth, business leaders, students and scholars of philosophy and economics, and individuals interested in societal impact and ethics. Russ Roberts’ engaging exploration of Adam Smith’s moral philosophy offers valuable lessons and perspectives that can enrich readers’ understanding of human nature, ethical behavior, and the potential for a more compassionate and purposeful life.