Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rediscovering Dr. Johnson via Vernon Smith via Russ Roberts via EconTalk

Macon pointed me recently to Russ Roberts, of EconTalk, who on a weekly basis interviews fascinating people on an enormous range of topics that, one way or another, deals with  "economics."  These interviews go up on podcasts, and I have had the pleasure of listening to at least three dozen of them over the last couple of months, podcasts that I have plundered from the EconTalk archives.   This amazing resource is not to be missed.

You cannot listen to Mr. Roberts' very long before Adam Smith is introduced in one way or another.  Roberts has written a book on the 17th Century economist/sociologist. (I would like to take the opportunity to announce that the book is on my Amazon wish list.)  I've listened to two interviews in which Roberts interviews Vernon Smith, a Nobel Prize winning economist, during which they discuss Adam Smith and his two major works, The Wealth of Nations and A Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Adam Smith's use of words is very important in these discussions, because he  used words in a very precise and important way.  Vernon Smith states that he uses an 18th Century dictionary to understand what  a given word that Adam Smith uses actually meant to Adam Smith and, therefore, should mean to us, rather than what the 21st Century use of that word might convey.  What a marvelous idea!  And the dictionary Vernon Smith said he uses is Samuel Johnson's.

So I started reading around about Samuel Johnson and came upon another great website, A Dictionary of the English Language.  The site is an ongoing project to digitize Dr. Johnson's dictionary and make it accessible to all of us, although I'm putting a set of the first edition of the dictionary also on my wish list.  So I doubt that I will need to use the site after Christmas, but the rest of you can.  The home page of the website has, among other things, a BBC documentary on Dr. Johnson that is a good introduction to the man.  And to James Boswell, his biographer.

I already have Boswell's biography, but haven't read it until now.  I'm well into it already.