Emma Rothschild was born in London, England, the daughter of Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild, and his wife Teresa Georgina Mayor. At the age of 15, she became the youngest woman ever admitted to Somerville College at the University of Oxford, from which she graduated in 1967 with a BA in philosophy, politics and economics. She was a Kennedy Scholar in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 1978 to 1988, she was an associate professor at MIT and also taught at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France. She is a fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge and a member of the Board of Directors of the United Nations Foundation. She has written books and scholarly articles on economic history and the history of economic thought, including Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age (1973); Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet and the Enlightenment (2001);
and The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century History (2011).