Introduction to the Scottish Enlightenment

The best introductory books on the Scottish Enlightenment, compiled by the ASW Advisory Board.


December 16, 2019

The AdamSmithWorks team recommends the following titles for those looking to learn more about the Scottish Enlightenment:

(all descriptions via amazon.com*)






Berry, Christopher J. Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment. Edinburgh University Press, 1997.
An introductory primer that synthesizes the social thought of a number of major figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. Berry provides lucid accounts of these thinkers views on range of subjects including morality, social science, historical change and commerce. 

Broadie, Alexander. The Scottish Enlightenment: The Historical Age of the Historical Nation. Birlinn Limited, 2011.
An accessible primer on all the main figures of the Scottish Enlightenment from a variety of area- philosophy, economics, geography, mathematics, the fine arts, and more. Broadie characterizes the age as characterized by a faith in intellectual progress and tolerance. He explores both what is “enlightened” as well well as what is uniquely Scottish about this fascinating period.


Broadie, Alexander and Smith, Craig (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment. Cambridge University Press, 2019.
A distinguished team of contributors examines the writings of David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, Adam Ferguson and other Scottish thinkers. Their subjects range across philosophy, natural theology, economics, anthropology, natural science, and law and the arts, and in addition, they relate the Scottish Enlightenment to its historical context and assess its impact and legacy. The result is a comprehensive and accessible volume that illuminates the richness, the intellectual variety and the underlying unity of this important movement.


Buchan, James. Crowded with Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind. Broadway Books, 2002.
In Crowded with Genius, James Buchan beautifully reconstructs the intimate geographic scale and boundless intellectual milieu of Enlightenment Edinburgh. With the scholarship of a historian and the elegance of a novelist, he tells the story of the triumph of this unlikely town and the men whose vision brought it into being.

Herman, Arthur. How the Scots Invented the Modern World.Crown Publishers, 2001.
An intellectual history of the evolution of Scottish national character though the 18th century, Herman argues that the Scots created the very idea of modernity.


Hont, Istvan. Jealousy of Trade: International Competition and the Nation-state in Historical Perspective. Harvard University Press, 2010.
A collection of essays by an influential intellectual historian of the so-called ‘Cambridge school.’ Hont is particularly known for his pioneering work on the connections between politics and political economy in the Scottish Enlightenment. 

Sher, Richard B. Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment: The Moderate Literati of Edinburgh (2nd ed). Edinburgh University Press, 2015.
The classic study of the Moderate faction in the Church of Scotland and its links to the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Enlightenment. Sher covers the friendships ad politics that defined the core of the Scottish Enlightenment.









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