Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chicago, Edinburgh, and Gopnik

In case you haven't noticed, even a short piece by Adam Gopnik is roughly equal in intellectual content and stimulation to a semester's undergraduate college course. His review of a new biography of Adam Smith in the 18 October New Yorker is good on many levels, but as someone with family roots deep in both cities I especially enjoyed this:

Edinburgh [in the 1700s] was commonly called the Athens of Britain, though it really was more like an eighteenth-century Chicago. It had a slightly wounded, slightly imperious sense of secondness -- to London, in this case -- and was belligerently proud of being the place where thinking and teaching went on with less pretension and more common sense than elsewhere. Above all, Edinburgh's intellectual life, like Chicago's, was built around a distinctly city university, intertwined with the commercial life and the civic life of a merchant capital, rather than set off in a country town with country values.
There's a double twist here that he doesn't get to, since Chicago's university bears a certain responsibility for today's widespread misunderstanding of Adam Smith.

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