An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is the magnum opus of Adam Smith, published in 1776. It is a clearly written account of economics at the dawn of the industrial revolution. The work is broken down into five books between two volumes.
Nations is often mischaracterized and politicized. Many people are confident in their opinions regarding the author, the work, and the subject matter -- yet have never read it. Left-wing writers have characterized it as advocating the status quo, yet the work clearly discusses what Smith sees as the inefficiency, and inappropriateness of tariffs, apprenticeships, immigration control and cartels - arrangements favourable to special interest groups. Right-wing politicians have often used a sleight of hand - erroneously equating "pro-business" with advocacy of free markets, thus using/abusing the Wealth of Nations to support their own protectionist objectives.
It has been described as a critique of mercantilism and a synthesis of the emerging economic thinking of his time. The book is usually considered to be the beginning of modern economics. It was written for the average educated individual of the 18th century rather than for other economists. Thus, for today's readers interested in an accessible introduction to economics, this book continues to be much more useful even than many recent books on the subject.