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Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell

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A biography of Thomas Sowell, one of America's most influential conservative thinkers.   Thomas Sowell is one of the great social theorists of our age. In a career spanning more than a half century, he has written over thirty books, covering topics from economic history and social inequality to political theory, race, and culture. His bold and unsentimental assaults on liber A biography of Thomas Sowell, one of America's most influential conservative thinkers.   Thomas Sowell is one of the great social theorists of our age. In a career spanning more than a half century, he has written over thirty books, covering topics from economic history and social inequality to political theory, race, and culture. His bold and unsentimental assaults on liberal orthodoxy have endeared him to many readers but have also enraged fellow intellectuals, the civil-rights establishment, and much of the mainstream media. The result has been a lack of acknowledgment of his scholarship among critics who prioritize political correctness.   In the first-ever biography of Sowell, Jason L. Riley gives this iconic thinker his due and responds to the detractors. Maverick showcases Sowell's most significant writings and traces the life events that shaped his ideas and resulted in a Black orphan from the Jim Crow South becoming one of our foremost public intellectuals.


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A biography of Thomas Sowell, one of America's most influential conservative thinkers.   Thomas Sowell is one of the great social theorists of our age. In a career spanning more than a half century, he has written over thirty books, covering topics from economic history and social inequality to political theory, race, and culture. His bold and unsentimental assaults on liber A biography of Thomas Sowell, one of America's most influential conservative thinkers.   Thomas Sowell is one of the great social theorists of our age. In a career spanning more than a half century, he has written over thirty books, covering topics from economic history and social inequality to political theory, race, and culture. His bold and unsentimental assaults on liberal orthodoxy have endeared him to many readers but have also enraged fellow intellectuals, the civil-rights establishment, and much of the mainstream media. The result has been a lack of acknowledgment of his scholarship among critics who prioritize political correctness.   In the first-ever biography of Sowell, Jason L. Riley gives this iconic thinker his due and responds to the detractors. Maverick showcases Sowell's most significant writings and traces the life events that shaped his ideas and resulted in a Black orphan from the Jim Crow South becoming one of our foremost public intellectuals.

30 review for Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell

  1. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Don't let the subtitle fool you. Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell contains very few details about Thomas Sowell the person. You won't walk away knowing if Sowell is religious, or married, or fond of his mother. The book sends curious readers to Sowell's early memoirs for such nonessential, biographical details. What this biography does offer is a comprehensive overview of Sowell's writings, philosophy, and intellectual mentors, usually in his own words. And surprisingly, the tradeoff works Don't let the subtitle fool you. Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell contains very few details about Thomas Sowell the person. You won't walk away knowing if Sowell is religious, or married, or fond of his mother. The book sends curious readers to Sowell's early memoirs for such nonessential, biographical details. What this biography does offer is a comprehensive overview of Sowell's writings, philosophy, and intellectual mentors, usually in his own words. And surprisingly, the tradeoff works really well. At 91 (and still writing!), Sowell and his books span literally generations of readers. Yet while the face of culture might change, the philosophies underpinning culture do not. And because Sowell tackles philosophies, his writing possesses a timeless quality that allows a book written in the 1980s to feel shockingly applicable in 2021. What makes Sowell great is not what he overcame (though that alone is incredible), but his written clarity and consistent, systematic approach to subjects as varied as economics, race, and culture. And that is what this biography manages to beautifully highlight. The fact that Sowell continues to contribute to the modern discourse in many ways undermines how much he already has written. It shocked me to realize that Friedrich A. Hayek and Milton Friedman were not his predecessors but his contemporaries. Sure, I've seen the YouTube videos with Friedman and Sowell discussing the welfare system. But it never clicked that Sowell was as much at his intellectual height then as now. Sowell is still with us and Friedman is dead! Maverick offers other reasons that Sowell has yet to receive true credit as an economist and political thinker. In particular, it blames the world of academia for turning its back on him when he refused to toe the party line. His willingness to take on current events and apply his own theory to reality also sets him apart. But mot significantly, the book emphasizes the challenges faced by Sowell as a black man for the most part ignored by "black academia." The biography spends significant time on the criticisms leveled against Sowell. At times, that frustrated me. It seemed like stooping to their level to even mention criticisms attacking Sowell's motivation over his ideas. But as the book goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that there isn't really much else to engage with. Most critics do not address what Sowell actually says. They question why he says it; they misrepresent what he says. But intellectual engagement doesn't really happen. Which is a pity, because it also manages to ignore Sowell's contributions. I suspect the situation will not last long. Maverick will serve as a cornerstone for increased academic interest in Sowell and his contribution to society for years to come. Perhaps most impressively, it will do so because it take a page from Sowell's book and doesn't prescribe how Sowell's writings will impact the future. It traces Sowell's intellectual heritage, explores the contours of his ideas, and leaves much left for future writers to explore in greater detail. This wasn't a perfect biography by any means. For one, this really isn't a "biography" in any traditional sense. And for two, by necessity, even summaries of Sowell's works can't compare to just reading Sowell. But it does an important job recognizing Sowell's place in history and affirming him as one of the greats who came out of the Chicago school of economics. Definitely worth reading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    T

    Disappointing hagiography which shoehorns in political gripes of the day between extreme flattery, and seldom cites any critics, despite pages of tirades against amorphous angry detractors of the subject ...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Parkison

    “There is nothing new under the sun.” I think it’s no exaggeration to say if everyone who is invested in discussions of social justice—who are interested in actual solutions and not just idealogical confirmation—would carefully sift through Thomas Sowell’s corpus, there would be exponentially more clarity around the conversation. The reason why Christians, especially, should care about the work of Sowell is that we are ministers of reality. We believe God created the cosmos with a nature, and kn “There is nothing new under the sun.” I think it’s no exaggeration to say if everyone who is invested in discussions of social justice—who are interested in actual solutions and not just idealogical confirmation—would carefully sift through Thomas Sowell’s corpus, there would be exponentially more clarity around the conversation. The reason why Christians, especially, should care about the work of Sowell is that we are ministers of reality. We believe God created the cosmos with a nature, and knowing him involves knowing our place in his world as his creatures. Sowell may not be a Christian, but he is a *scientist* in the true sense of the word—he describes the world as it is. The reason why social engineering or egalitarian utopias are not possible is not because they are bad ideas in the abstract, it’s because they do not correspond to reality. The cosmos is not an egalitarian neutral blob, and people and their wealth are not figures that social engineers can move around to no effect. People create wealth, not governments, and they create wealth when they have the opportunity to do so, and when they are culturally incentivized to do so—but cultural incentives cannot be artificially exported from the government. Without fail, with almost no exception, impoverished demographics that rise out of poverty do so without the help of government intervention, and government intervention, without fail, with almost no exception, worsens poverty. Sowell didn’t arrive at that conclusion because he was philosophically compelled to by well-reasoned conservatives. He was a Marxist socialist all the way through graduation with his PhD, after having trained under the Chicago School of Economics giants like Milton Friedman. Rather, Sowell was compelled to reach this conclusion by the hard facts of data. It is mind-boggling to me how much this giant has been ignored by the intellectual elites. There is no way—no WAY—he isn’t vindicated by history as one of this generations most important and well-versed public intellectuals. The man cannot stop: there’s not a topic he has approached without garnering recognition from that topics’ leading experts as top tier. There are some people who are experts in one area, and some who are generalists and therefore novices in many, but there are few folks like Thomas Sowell who becomes an expert in multiple fields: he was a trained economist, a leading socialist, commentator on politics and race, an expert on education, early childhood development, and the history of ideas. It’s no wonder the elite establishment ignores him: he is so cogent, his opponents simply do not have answers. The thing that was most striking about this intellectual biography is Sowell’s fearlessness. He had an unyielding allegiance to truth and never compromised his analysis for any special interest group. I was also challenged by his reflections on the importance of academic standards. My future students may well rue the day I came across this biography...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tom Stamper

    I was first aware of Sowell in the 1990s, reading his syndicated column when I became interested in politics. There was clarity in what he wrote that set him apart from other people on the editorial pages. He would often tackle conventional wisdom, and then explain how such thinking lacked empirical evidence. I went to the library looking for anything by the man and picked Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality. I chose it because it was a short book and I figured it might take me a lot of time to di I was first aware of Sowell in the 1990s, reading his syndicated column when I became interested in politics. There was clarity in what he wrote that set him apart from other people on the editorial pages. He would often tackle conventional wisdom, and then explain how such thinking lacked empirical evidence. I went to the library looking for anything by the man and picked Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality. I chose it because it was a short book and I figured it might take me a lot of time to digest it. Surprisingly, the book was breeze to read. I didn’t fully appreciate what a good writer Sowell was until I began a Masters Degree in Political Science. Thomas Sowell wrote clearly like the masters of political theory. He fit in with Tocqueville, Plato, Mill, and Burke. But it wasn’t until later when I read Sowell’s, A Conflict of Visions, that I saw that he really did belong to the greats. Why do the same people wind up on opposite sides of political issues even when those issues seem unrelated? It was a question I had never asked, and then I immediately needed to know the answer. That book became a lens by which I tend to examine most every political issue since. I even ran the idea by my wife on our first date. I don’t think she was the least bit interested, but found me cute enough to let it pass. Jason Riley also explains how he came to read Sowell and what Sowell’s work means to him, and to the political discussion of our times. Sowell takes complex ideas and writes about them in such a straightforward manner, that you come away better educated. Even when you disagree, a worthy adversary such as Sowell makes you strengthen your own arguments. I hated Plato’s vision for the community of wives, but it made me think and articulate why it was a bad idea. Sowell is a writer of that class. Riley's book helps you to understand Sowell’s intellectual progression and it will help you appreciate Sowell’s work even more when you tackle it directly.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This was interesting from an outsider looking into the world of economics study. That's how I took it. But it was not at all what I thought it would be. Which was a personal or pivotal to his long life study or detailing for the person. This is at least 75% the progressions of Thomas Sowell's determinations over the years within the groups and institutes for which he has been a pivotal part. Which to me, is quite different than a life biography. If you want more than a thorough lecture in Econom This was interesting from an outsider looking into the world of economics study. That's how I took it. But it was not at all what I thought it would be. Which was a personal or pivotal to his long life study or detailing for the person. This is at least 75% the progressions of Thomas Sowell's determinations over the years within the groups and institutes for which he has been a pivotal part. Which to me, is quite different than a life biography. If you want more than a thorough lecture in Economic Theory and data for the various past movements of theory belief? Or if you want a more succinct progression of how Sowell almost universally uses outcome data and reality stats that are provable? Or want a hard look at the personal life progressions and setbacks? I suggest his own Personal Odyssey. This was good in targeting Sowell Economics study and progression. But to me, it was also nearly the opposite of Sowell's writing. Thomas Sowell's writing is exquisite. Understated and exact at the same time as it eliminates all dual definition and subjective equivocation. And this was nearly the opposite. The author is very smart, for sure. But he doesn't have the Sowell gift for expression toward the core immediate. Way too many sidebars and run arounds. As an aside- I read the hard cover copy which is not listed here. This is a difficult read and you need to understand many different Economic theory schools or past group associations. I did get this nuance for this particular read. And at essence this is that from his boyhood Thomas Sowell has NEVER been influenced by the glam or prestige quotient of anything anywhere. He only went to Univ. of Chicago because he followed a mentor there during and after his PhD work. Any publication by Thomas Sowell is like a classical piece of orchestra- while this is more a 5 piece afternoon Tea ensemble. I did like to learn which Sowell's works are his own favorites. And that little surprises me. Analytical supreme gems- everything he writes.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sheila McCarthy

    Not a biography of Sowell but a biography of his ideas, which are sure to shock those unfamiliar with them. Of course, Riley stresses that too often Sowell's critics refuse to take on his ideas and resort to ad hominem attacks. Even readers who disagree with Sowell have to admire his logic and clear writing. Riley's style, too, is straightforward and reflects, like Sowell, an uncanny ability to explain complex ideas. Having said all that, I hope both men are living under Salman Rushdie-like prot Not a biography of Sowell but a biography of his ideas, which are sure to shock those unfamiliar with them. Of course, Riley stresses that too often Sowell's critics refuse to take on his ideas and resort to ad hominem attacks. Even readers who disagree with Sowell have to admire his logic and clear writing. Riley's style, too, is straightforward and reflects, like Sowell, an uncanny ability to explain complex ideas. Having said all that, I hope both men are living under Salman Rushdie-like protection.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bill Powers

    This is the third Jason Riley book that I have read. The first “Please Stop Helping Us”, followed by “False Black Power?” and now “Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell”. I have enjoyed all three, but with Maverick, Riley has clearly staked his claim as a major serious thinker among black conservatives. I also follow Riley’s Opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal and highly recommend them. Maverick focus more on Sowell’s evolution as an economist and how he has applied economic analysis to is This is the third Jason Riley book that I have read. The first “Please Stop Helping Us”, followed by “False Black Power?” and now “Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell”. I have enjoyed all three, but with Maverick, Riley has clearly staked his claim as a major serious thinker among black conservatives. I also follow Riley’s Opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal and highly recommend them. Maverick focus more on Sowell’s evolution as an economist and how he has applied economic analysis to issues related to race, not only in the United States, but globally. • “Intellectuals have romanticized cultures that have left people mired in poverty, ignorance, violence, disease and chaos, while trashing cultures that have led the world in prosperity, education, medical advances and law and order,” he wrote in Intellectuals and Society.” • “They have encouraged the poor to believe their poverty is caused by the rich—a message which may be a passing annoyance to the rich but a lasting handicap to the poor, who may see less need to make fundamental changes to their own lives that could lift themselves up, instead of focusing their efforts on dragging others down.” • “The black community has long been plagued by spellbinding orators who know how to turn the hopes and fears of others into dollars and cents for themselves.” Here, Sowell was speaking not only as a scholar but also from personal experience. “The current militant rhetoric, self-righteousness and lifestyle are painfully old to me,” he continued. “I have seen the same intonations, the same cadence, the same crowd manipulation techniques, the same visions of mystical redemption, the same faith that certain costumes, gestures, phrases and group emotional release would somehow lead to the Promised Land. And I have seen the same hustling messiahs driving their Cadillacs and getting their pictures in the paper.” • “After Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then President Lyndon B. Johnson’s assistant secretary of labor, noted, in a 1965 government study of the black family, that the growing number of black children born to single mothers was bound to hinder the future social and economic progress of blacks, civil rights leaders, politicians, commentators, and other critics denounced Moynihan as a bigot who was “blaming the victim.” And when two well-regarded social scientists, Christopher Jencks and David Riesman, published a frank and comprehensive critique of black colleges in a 1967 issue of the Harvard Educational Review, they received similar treatment.” • Sowell’s growing suspicion was that colleges and universities weren’t really serious about educating blacks. Rather, they wanted more blacks matriculating on campus for the sake of appearances, and they were setting up black studies departments haphazardly as a “pay-off to prevent campus disruption.” • “Actually, some of the most relevant studies for dealing with ghetto needs would be medicine, law and business administration,” he wrote. “Black people must be able to provide for themselves, cure themselves and defend themselves against injustices, under integration, separation, or whatever.” Instead, too many of these programs were steering black students into faux “disciplines” where they didn’t have to meet the same academic requirements as their nonblack peers. He feared that black studies would become “merely a euphemism for black political centers housed on college grounds,” with shoddy standards for faculty and students alike. “Like many other things, black studies can be good as a principle and disastrous as a fetish,” he warned. “It cannot take the place of fundamental intellectual skills, or excuse a copping-out from competition with white students.… There are many ways of serving black people, abandoning black people, and exploiting the suffering of black people. Black studies can play any of these roles.” • “It is considered the height of callousness to tell blacks to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. But the cold historical fact is that most blacks did lift themselves out of poverty by their own bootstraps—before their political rescuers arrived on the scene with civil rights legislation in the 1960s or affirmative action policies in the 1970s. As of 1940, 87 percent of black families lived below the poverty line. This fell to 47 percent by 1960, without any major federal legislation on civil rights and before the rise and expansion of the welfare state under the Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson. This decline in the poverty rate among blacks continued during the 1960s, dropping from 47 percent to 30 percent. But even this continuation of a trend already begun long before cannot all be attributed automatically to the new government programs. Moreover, the first decade of affirmative action—the 1970s—ended with the poverty rate among black families at 29 percent. Even if that one percent decline was due to affirmative action, it was not much. The fact that an entirely different picture has been cultivated and spread throughout the media cannot change the historical facts. What it can do—and has done—is make blacks look like passive recipients of government beneficence, causing many whites to wonder why blacks can’t advance on their own, like other groups. Worse, it has convinced many blacks themselves that their economic progress depends on government programs in general and affirmative action in particular. Nevertheless, it is a pragmatic individualism.” Near the end of the book, Sowell is quoted as saying, “Today at least we know that there are lots of other blacks writing and saying similar things—more than I can keep track of, in fact—and many of them are sufficiently younger that we know there will be good people carrying on the fight after we are gone.” If you only read one biography this year, read Maverick. This is a 5-Star read, only because I cannot give a 6 Star rating! Thomas Sowell is now 90 years old and still a prolific writer and contributor. My only sadness is that he has never been awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics. In 2015, Forbes magazine said: "It's a scandal that economist Thomas Sowell has not been awarded the Nobel Prize.” So True!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dwayne Roberts

    Sowell is an intellectual of integrity and ability. His approach to writing and socioeconomic issues is scientific and convincing. I have a huge respect for Sowell and people like him, including Walter Williams. Long may he live!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    Terrific book! Jason Riley is a superior writer. Written in the style of the WSJ's big Saturday interviews, Riley mixes quotes from Sowell, his friends, colleagues, and critics to weave a history of Sowell's professional life and his intellectual pursuits as an academic and author. The book quickly skips through Sowell's early life. The action picks up when Sowell is admitted to Harvard to complete his undergraduate degree. I didn't know anything about Sowell's personal history until reading this Terrific book! Jason Riley is a superior writer. Written in the style of the WSJ's big Saturday interviews, Riley mixes quotes from Sowell, his friends, colleagues, and critics to weave a history of Sowell's professional life and his intellectual pursuits as an academic and author. The book quickly skips through Sowell's early life. The action picks up when Sowell is admitted to Harvard to complete his undergraduate degree. I didn't know anything about Sowell's personal history until reading this book. I now hold him in ever greater regard than I did prior to this read. My admiration was built on reading Sowell's articles and one of his books over the years. One must respect Sowell's intellect, which is matched only by his spine. Riley weaves the narrative through the theme or major argument of each of Sowell's many books with what Sowell was doing professionally as he researched and wrote each book. There is a third thread to this weaving, as Riley pulls in how each of these themes or arguments remains relevant today. What Sowell was writing in the 1970's and 80's applies to many of today's "new" movements, i.e, BLM, wokism, and equity at the expense of equality. Riley is a truly excellent wordsmith. My only complaint about this book is that the final curtain's drop is a bit abrupt. I'd have liked more. I hope Riley finds a place to write a lengthy essay about what researching and writing this book meant to him. Excellent narrator.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eric Baldwin

    Excellent book about Thomas Sowell including many extended quotes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David Steele

    Illuminating biography about Thomas Sowell, a great American intellectual.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mars Cheung

    This isn’t an biography of Thomas Sowell’s life but a general overview of his intellectual contributions ranging from writings on economics, political philosophy and race dynamics. I’ve read some of Sowell’s work and have discussed much of it with others. His books themselves are very, very rich with content and data making them impossible to truly summarize in their entirety here. Read for an overview on what Thomas Sowell is about and then dive into one of his books for a rich intellectual jou This isn’t an biography of Thomas Sowell’s life but a general overview of his intellectual contributions ranging from writings on economics, political philosophy and race dynamics. I’ve read some of Sowell’s work and have discussed much of it with others. His books themselves are very, very rich with content and data making them impossible to truly summarize in their entirety here. Read for an overview on what Thomas Sowell is about and then dive into one of his books for a rich intellectual journey.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tim M

    Fantastic and important book. This intellectual biography is well-structured and spends minimal time on Sowell's personal life - a good decision given that many readers interested in this book will likely already be familiar with Sowell's life or could get those details straight from his autobiographical works. The main sections of the book are broken out into the major themes of Sowell's writing over the last five decades. Riley shows absolute mastery of the subject matter. Even those who have Fantastic and important book. This intellectual biography is well-structured and spends minimal time on Sowell's personal life - a good decision given that many readers interested in this book will likely already be familiar with Sowell's life or could get those details straight from his autobiographical works. The main sections of the book are broken out into the major themes of Sowell's writing over the last five decades. Riley shows absolute mastery of the subject matter. Even those who have followed Sowell's career closely will find fresh and original information via the first-hand interviews Riley conducted for the book. I believe this will be a highly enjoyable book for anyone already interested in its subject, but more importantly will serve as an excellent guide for those in the future who come across Sowell and desire to learn more. Riley clearly not only deeply understands Sowell's work, but also has the journalistic talents to relay the significance of that work in a compelling and deeply contextualized manner that is highly rewarding for the reader.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Leib Mitchell

    Book Review Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell 4/5 stars "The intellectual journey of a first-rate empiricist" ******* No matter how interesting a person you might be, it's probably not a good idea to write a book describing your own intellectual and philosophical development lest you come out sounding like an egomaniac. And in that way, Riley serves the function of being a disinterested party who can chronicle the trajectory of the very interesting intellectual, Thomas Sowell. "Autobiography, if Book Review Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell 4/5 stars "The intellectual journey of a first-rate empiricist" ******* No matter how interesting a person you might be, it's probably not a good idea to write a book describing your own intellectual and philosophical development lest you come out sounding like an egomaniac. And in that way, Riley serves the function of being a disinterested party who can chronicle the trajectory of the very interesting intellectual, Thomas Sowell. "Autobiography, if there really is such a thing, is like asking a rabbit to tell us what he looks like hopping through the grasses of the field. How would he know? If we want to hear about the field on the other hand, no one is in a better circumstance to tell us-so long as we keep in mind that we are missing all those things the rabbit was in no position to observe." Sowell is someone who is simultaneously vindicated by time-- and yet not heeded by the right people. I see several overarching themes in this biography: 1. Actual life experience is a great way to disabuse people of silly academic notions. And in this case, it is Sowell being disabused of Marxism / leftism / obsessive concern of the Civil Rights Movement with equality-of-public-accommodation by studying things that actually did happen/ have happened. (I have read similar journeys with people such as Eric Hoffer and Ernest Van den haag.) 2. Some ethnic group as the plaything of intellectuals. Or, some intellectuals somewhere co-opting the problems of some human beings as a way to sell books / fill lecture halls. In this case: The talking heads of the Civil Rights Movement had goals that were directly antithetical to the people who should have benefited. Similar stories have been told with Native Malays (bumipitra) in Malaysia/Native Indonesians (pribumi) in Indonesia. 3. A list of a number of forgotten black scholars who predicted the same things that are actually happening even before Sowell himself came along. (E. Franklin Frazier. Frederick Douglass. WEB Dubois.) Others of these black trailblazers experienced the devaluation of their accomplishments in real time. (Clarence Thomas. Randall Kennedy.) 4. Hoffer has written that "The tragic figures in the history of a mass movement are the intellectual precursors who live long enough to see the downfall of the old order by the action of the masses. There’s an idea that mass movements arise from the resolve of the masses to overthrow an oppressive tyranny & win freedom, all inspired by the words of an intellectual. But they often result in less individual freedom that the order they overthrow & replace." And even though Sowell was nothing like an intellectual precursor to these movements, he is tragic in the sense that he lived to see the idealism the Civil Rights Movements get mocked to death by time and generate into folly. -His sympathies were shown to be misplaced when he got actual, dreadful experience working at a historically black college. (Lots of cheating, low standards, and generally sorry performance.) -He was not an advocate for any type of affirmative action, but just the same the country took that foolish path (same as many other countries did) and blacks were forever smeared with the taint of "only being there as an affirmative action admit." -He was educated at a time when universities served a disinterested role as educators and lived to see them degenerate into what they have become (mouthpieces for the Democratic party /echo chambers for the Latest Stupid Academic Idea). It happens that he went to The Chicago School for his PhD, and that is as empirically driven as it gets In the economic sciences (such as they are). 5. Riley provides a little bit more context about Sowell's life experiences and how they shaped him into the first rate empiricist that he is today. And in that sense, I would say that Sowell is an extremely rare confluence of factors for three reasons: (i.): He pays attention to incorporates past AND present reality (<1% of all soft science academics) (ii.): He treats the model as something to be tested against actual reality, rather than reality as something to be ignored / shoehorned into one idea or another. (iii.) He translates what he has to say into well selling books that an average reader can understand. (<1% of all academics of all types). ****** Verdict: Ultimately, for me this book is fairly low value added. And that's because I have already read about 25 of Sowell's books and so all of this information is preaching to the choir. Also, if you are interested to read his books then the time that is spent reading this one is time that cannot be spent dealing with the actual books (and not just synopses of books). The most helpful books of his that I have read and the ones that I most strongly recommend are: 1. Knowledge and Decisions 2. Affirmative Action..... 3. Intellectuals and Society 4. Race and Culture Trilogy 5. Basic Economics For a picture of Sowell the man, his own 2 autobiographical books are quite good: 1. A Personal Odyssey 2. A Man of Letters

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Chandler

    This book is more a tribute than a biography. After briefly discussing Sowell's childhood and college career, the book is divided into the various topics Sowell has studied (economics, history of thought, race, etc). These perspectives are summarized, with quotes from his books, interviews, friends, colleagues, and a few from his critics. Excerpts from Sowell's books give a glimpse of his writing style and his ability to sum up viewpoints more concisely than anyone I can think of. A decent intro This book is more a tribute than a biography. After briefly discussing Sowell's childhood and college career, the book is divided into the various topics Sowell has studied (economics, history of thought, race, etc). These perspectives are summarized, with quotes from his books, interviews, friends, colleagues, and a few from his critics. Excerpts from Sowell's books give a glimpse of his writing style and his ability to sum up viewpoints more concisely than anyone I can think of. A decent introduction to Sowell, a contrarian "maverick" that took me too long to discover. I say "too long" not because I agree with all of his ideas, but because they are rationale enough to warrant consideration and thought, and how can that be a bad thing? (Well maybe it can be bad- after all, Ta Nehisi Coates stated in the Atlantic that he will not read any of Sowell's books due to some quotes from Sowell that he disagreed with enough to merit everything he has written as flawed. Not the open-minded response I would expect from an intellectual . . .) While this book was mostly so-so and written for fans, I do give it credit for clearing up mischaracterizations of Sowell's viewpoints that have made him difficult to swallow. I myself I realized I had made errors in logic after reading Sowells writings, and in some instances what he actually wrote was much different than my interpretation. Much less black and white than I originally thought. This book also unveiled Sowell's empirical way of attacking a subject or assertion, and how it is very effective at invalidating simple, broad-reaching viewpoints. For a particular concept, he looks at whether that concept is true if you break down the subject into subsets. If looking at racial inequality, Sowell would break down the category of african americans into various other categories (educated, uneducated, male, female, etc) to see if the general hypothesis held true for all these subsets. Or he would broaden the data set (look at other minorities like native americans, or asian americans) to see if the hypothesis holds. Or change the time period (was this true in the 70s? the 80s? the 90s?). In doing this, Sowell is able to invalidate many publicly-accepted, simple, dogmatic viewpoints. I think Sowell is tremendous at doing this, and the book offers many examples. I've always felt that Sowells viewpoints that replace the one he invalidated are sometimes too simple and overarching themselves, and I wish the book had spent more time on well argued attacks to Sowells thoughts. Despite this, for people who want a contrarian viewpoint that might make you uncomfortable, but definitely help you see that the world isn't as simple as you may have thought, its a good read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Greear

    This was quite an interesting but heavy read on one of the world’s greatest yet sadly unappreciated people, Thomas Sowell, who is at the ripe old age of 91 at the time of this writing. Thomas Sowell has for many years been a voice for conservative intellectualism (though he wouldn’t call himself a conservative), capitalism, and race. Jason L. Riley has quickly become my favorite journalist at the Wall Street Journal, often writing opinions that go against the grain. A maverick, if you will, like This was quite an interesting but heavy read on one of the world’s greatest yet sadly unappreciated people, Thomas Sowell, who is at the ripe old age of 91 at the time of this writing. Thomas Sowell has for many years been a voice for conservative intellectualism (though he wouldn’t call himself a conservative), capitalism, and race. Jason L. Riley has quickly become my favorite journalist at the Wall Street Journal, often writing opinions that go against the grain. A maverick, if you will, like Mr. Sowell himself. There is probably not a better person to write the first official biography on Thomas Sowell then Jason L. Riley. This isn’t a biography in the conventional sense, however. It’s more of an analysis of Sowell’s writings and views over the past half century, of which there are many. I think he’s published something like thirty books and also had a syndicated column for decades, which only ended in 2016. Sowell was born in poverty in Gastonia, North Carolina, not far from where I currently sit. He was raised by relatives, and grew up in the Jim Crow and Depression Era South, before moving to Harlam. In his early days he was a Marxist but rapidly changed his views as he grew older. He would earn a BA from Harvard, an MA from Columbia, and a PhD from Chicago, where he was a student of Milton Friedman’s. Sowell is a genius, far too smart for politics or much publicity, as he would gladly tell you. And that’s a shame, because we need people with his intellect and humbleness in leadership positions, now more than ever. He would even grow tired of teaching at the college level (probably because he actually likes to work), and became a full time writer and member of the Hoover Institution decades ago. Sowell’s writing is erudite and crisp at the same time. Economics and other topics he writes about are hard, but his writing itself reads like poetry. His viewpoints on constrained (tragic) and unconditioned (utopian) thinking are particularly interesting and can succinctly categorize the people of the world into two groups. I will say that it’s devastating that Thomas Sowell will pass away before his genius will ever be realized. But I do believe that one day he will be fully appreciated for his works and greatness. Serious people still read Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek, and dunces still read Karl Marx. One day, I hope all will read Dr. Thomas Sowell. I close with a short quote of Sowell’s: “When you want to help people, you tell the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    A nice short overview of the life and thought of Thomas Sowell. The book takes a very broad approach to Sowell's ideas. And that's saying a lot, because Sowell has written on a *lot* of topics. I've read a decent amount of Sowell's writings myself, but still learned a lot from this book because of its coverage of areas of his work that I wasn't familiar with. On the other hand, the broad approach combined with the short length of the book means that some ideas are treated more superficially than A nice short overview of the life and thought of Thomas Sowell. The book takes a very broad approach to Sowell's ideas. And that's saying a lot, because Sowell has written on a *lot* of topics. I've read a decent amount of Sowell's writings myself, but still learned a lot from this book because of its coverage of areas of his work that I wasn't familiar with. On the other hand, the broad approach combined with the short length of the book means that some ideas are treated more superficially than one might wish. Moreover, the treatment at times borders on the hagiographic. Criticisms of Sowell's views are generally dismissed as superficial or fallacious, to the extent that they're treated at all. Still, for someone looking for an excellent introduction to Sowell, or to put some of the works they already know in a broader context, I'd highly recommend this book. And if it leaves you yearning for more biographical details about Sowell's life, definitely check out his autobiography, _A Personal Odyssey_.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dan Marks

    Riley crafts a terrific survey of the life and major contributions of Thomas Sowell. I am familiar with his columns, but gained a new appreciation for the man himself. Sowell was born and spent his early childhood in NC, was orphaned, did not finish high school and then joined the Marines and fought in Korea. Sowell said his early struggles gave him direct experience with some of the facts that other economists only study in the abstract. I have added a few of Sowell’s books to my reading list.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jon Larson

    A Great introduction to Thomas Sowell. I knew of him, but not the breadth and depth of his work. As an intellectual, that doesn't follow conventional dogma, he is widely panned and not taken seriously by the left. I love that he is an objective thinker that follows the facts while discarding the groupthink that is prevalent today. Oh yeah, and by the way, he identified these trends decades ago. I am looking forward to reading his work! A Great introduction to Thomas Sowell. I knew of him, but not the breadth and depth of his work. As an intellectual, that doesn't follow conventional dogma, he is widely panned and not taken seriously by the left. I love that he is an objective thinker that follows the facts while discarding the groupthink that is prevalent today. Oh yeah, and by the way, he identified these trends decades ago. I am looking forward to reading his work!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Whittum

    Five Stars Great book about a great man. Five stars. One day I'm sure he will be much more appreciated than he is today. Unfortunately ideology will keep many of today's reading generation from knowing what a national treasure Thomas Sowell is. And Jason Riley has put together quite the case for it in this biography. Five Stars Great book about a great man. Five stars. One day I'm sure he will be much more appreciated than he is today. Unfortunately ideology will keep many of today's reading generation from knowing what a national treasure Thomas Sowell is. And Jason Riley has put together quite the case for it in this biography.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I love everything I have read by Thomas Sowell and now his biography by Jason Riley. He is the most common sense person I’ve ever read, TS that is. Many quotes and lots of people who think like he does that I can now read. Highly recommend it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    If you are looking for a biography this is NOT the book to read as the author explains in the introduction. It is more an overview of his work and ideas and the response to his work and ideas. If you want a general overview of his thought and the response to it this would be a good book to read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Mitchell

    This is a great intro to Thomas Sowell. It will make you want to explore all this different books. This is not about him personally as much as it is about him professionally. It also gives a bit of an intro, background and motivation behind many of his books.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Caroline David

    This is such a comprehensive look at Sowell's work. I absolutely loved the context of Sowell's philosophies. I can't wait to buy this when it's published and go highlighter happy. This is such a comprehensive look at Sowell's work. I absolutely loved the context of Sowell's philosophies. I can't wait to buy this when it's published and go highlighter happy.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alex Yauk

    PSA: Everyone go read Thomas Sowell.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David King

    The author helpfully introduces the book as a biography is Sowell’s thought rather than the typical bio. A fascinating man and thinker.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Nothem

    My first experience into the world of Thomas Sowell. This book did a great job of introducing the reader to Mr Sowell’s works including his economic theories and his work on Racism in the US. Mr Sowell is a name we should all know whether you agree with him or not.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Underconsumed Knowledge

    I love Thomas Sowell. His scholarship depth and breadth is amazing. This book was okay; it is not really a biography. If you are familiar with Sowell's work (I have read 7 Sowell books including seminal classics such as "A Conflict of Visions" and "Knowledge and Decisions"), it is likely a lot of rehash for you. The book is worth a read for a handful of comments from author interviews with people who know Sowell and Sowell himself, as well as maybe less known newspaper column quotes and quotes f I love Thomas Sowell. His scholarship depth and breadth is amazing. This book was okay; it is not really a biography. If you are familiar with Sowell's work (I have read 7 Sowell books including seminal classics such as "A Conflict of Visions" and "Knowledge and Decisions"), it is likely a lot of rehash for you. The book is worth a read for a handful of comments from author interviews with people who know Sowell and Sowell himself, as well as maybe less known newspaper column quotes and quotes from talk shows; Riley did his homework. After reading this, I will likely get to (at some point) "A Man of Letters" (letters Sowell wrote) and "A Personal Odyssey" (his memoir) as well as Sowell’s culture trilogy books. This book reveals little about Sowell himself other than the fact that he is (gasp) divorced. I enjoyed anecdotes about Sowell being complimentarily stopped by African-Americans in his everyday life, including a security guard asking him "Are you Sowell?" Book illustrates examples of many homogeneous intellectuals to disparage work from people like Tom Sowell via character assassination, questioning his motives, and saying he does not "really care" about black people. If you want to fix a problem, you have to be willing to acknowledge first, accurately, what the problem is, a feat many are incapable of fully analyzing due to their emotional dependencies and insecurities. • “Wherever black people were going, and wherever we wished to go, we had to get there from where we were—which meant we had to know where we were, not where we wished we were or where we wished others to think we were.” • “An awful lot of effort goes into maintaining the image of blacks,” he told me. “You want to improve the reality, not the image. And sometimes the focus on the image gets in the way” • …more interested in questioning their motives than in addressing their arguments o “Sowell said that in some ways he finds the vitriol reassuring, because it demonstrates that his critics have no substantive arguments to offer. ‘I’m often amazed for someone who writes about so many controversial issues—not just race—how little real criticism I get. People ask what the civil rights groups say in response. They say nothing. And that’s their strategy. They cannot engage’” • “People who have been trying for years to tell others that Negroes are basically no different from anybody else should not themselves lose sight of the fact that Negroes are just like everyone else in wanting something for nothing” • “Everybody has asked the question… ‘What should we do with the Negro?’” said Douglass in 1865. “I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall!… And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs!” [Frederick Douglass] • “[T]he mass would remain as they are,” until the younger generation began to “try harder” and the entire race “lost the omnipresent excuse for failure: prejudice.” [DuBois] • “[A]rtificially extending the students’ adolescence,” [intellectual’s role in academia] o “The market can be ruthless in devaluing degrees that do not mean what they say. It should be apparent to anyone not blinded by his own nobility that it also devalues the student in his own eyes.” • [Sowell wanted to teach at Howard] on the purely emotional ground that it would enable him to make the greatest contribution to the improvement of members of his race. • “Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God.” • “I think that’s why people like Malcolm X made such an impact, because he wasn’t fearful. This is one of the reasons people are so ferocious against people like [Arthur] Jensen and [Charles] Murray” and others who have speculated about race and intelligence. “They are afraid in a sense that I’m not” • if a society’s resources are to be allocated efficiently, it follows that the decision-making process ought to be decentralized as well. [Hayek] • I’ve been a professor for thirty-seven years. I’ve spent my life at Harvard, Stanford, MIT. And I would certainly count Tom as one of the most brilliant people I’ve come across and one of the deepest thinkers. [Pinker] • “Groups with a demonstrable history of being discriminated against have, in many countries and in many periods of history, had higher incomes, better educational performance, and more ‘representation’ in high-level positions than those doing the discriminating,…” o “If we are serious about wanting to enlarge opportunities and advance those who are less fortunate, then we cannot fritter away the limited means at our disposal in quixotic quests. We must decide whether our top priority is to smite the wicked or to advance the less fortunate, whether we are looking for visions and rhetoric that make us feel good for the moment or whether we are seeking methods with a proven track record of success in advancing whole peoples from poverty to prosperity.” • [Regarding mass consumerization], “Those who deplore such things are also deploring the very process of cultural diffusion by which the human race has advanced for thousands of years.” • “…what is most needed is an understanding of existing realities, the history from which the present evolved, and the enduring principles constraining our options for the future” [the constrained vision] • “To pretend to disentangle the innumerable sources of intergroup differences is an exercise in hubris rather than morality.” • “Self-respect is the most important thing,” he’s written. “Without it, the world’s adulation rings hollow. And with it, even venomous attacks are like water off a duck’s back.” • “One of the things that struck me domestically as well as internationally among groups that have risen from poverty to affluence is that they almost never have so-called leaders of the prominence of those groups that remain lagging,” he said. “Who has been able to take credit for the Jews rising or for the Asian Americans? Where is their Martin Luther King?” • Sowell told Lamb that black strangers regularly stop him in public and compliment him for his views. They have read his books and columns, or seen him on television, and agree with what he has to say: “When I checked out of my hotel this morning, the black security guard came over and said, ‘Are you Sowell?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’ and he shook my hand warmly and we walked—he walked me the length of the corridor and talked about this and about that—and that’s not at all an uncommon experience for me. So, it’s not Sowell versus blacks. It’s the black intellectuals.” He further explained to Lamb that these intellectuals “have a very large, vested interest in certain beliefs, which underlie various programs from which they benefit enormously. o For the moment, the conventional black leadership has a virtual monopoly on expressing what blacks are supposed to believe. But it is an insecure monopoly. It is vulnerable to exposure to the truth. • “The sins of others are always fascinating to human beings, but they are not always the best way to self-development or self-advancement,” o “The moral regeneration of white people might be an interesting project, but I am not sure we have quite that much time to spare. Those who have fought on this front are very much like the generals who like to refight the last war instead of preparing for the next struggle.” • “Groups don’t learn to read well or open businesses; individuals do. Individuals don’t get civil rights legislation passed; groups do.” [Shelby Steele] • “[H]e’s a socialist, but he’s too smart to remain one too long” [Richard Ware, of Thomas Friedman and Stigler, referring to Sowell] o “Friedman ‘forced you to confront your own sloppy thinking,’ said Sowell. ‘There is nothing more important as a teacher.’” • [P]hilosopher Bertrand Russell’s calls for British disarmament in the 1930s [WWII ensued] • “Intellectuals give people who have the handicap of poverty the further handicap of a sense of victimhood. They have encouraged the poor to believe their poverty is caused by the rich—a message which may be a passing annoyance to the rich but a lasting handicap to the poor, who may see less need to make fundamental changes to their own lives that could lift themselves up, instead of focusing their efforts on dragging others down.” • “Nowhere in the world do you find this evenness that people use as a norm. And I find it fascinating that they will hold up as a norm something that has never been seen on this planet, and regard as an anomaly something that is seen in country after country.” [Why would people expect the same outcomes from different groups, as an a priori assumption]

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Thomas Sowell is a national treasure, and this book is an excellent summary of his body of work on economics, social and political issues, and race. I warn you though, this is a gateway drug. Once you start reading Thomas Sowell you won’t be able to stop. You’ll quickly become addicted to his logic and reason. You’ll start to see the world differently and things will make a lot more sense.

  30. 5 out of 5

    N

    Thomas Sowell is an incredible thinker and communicator. He speaks with incredible clarity about an impressive breadth of subjects. Maverick is a biography of Sowell by his ideas, and not focusing on the man. I was hopeful, but it did not land well on me. The book is written from the perspective of someone who loves Sowell. Sadly, if one restricts himself to talking about the ideas of Sowell, he will never manage to out-Sowell Sowell. Thus, most of the points of the book felt shallow and lacked t Thomas Sowell is an incredible thinker and communicator. He speaks with incredible clarity about an impressive breadth of subjects. Maverick is a biography of Sowell by his ideas, and not focusing on the man. I was hopeful, but it did not land well on me. The book is written from the perspective of someone who loves Sowell. Sadly, if one restricts himself to talking about the ideas of Sowell, he will never manage to out-Sowell Sowell. Thus, most of the points of the book felt shallow and lacked the natural crispness of Sowell's writting. I was also unimpressed by the interviews of friends of Sowell, which rarely (never) raised points of contentions about the ideas of the economist. Likewise, the author never brings any nucance to Sowell's thoughs. The author pointed out - fairly - that most of the critics of Sowell miss the mark by criticising the man instead of closely looking at what he is really saying, but I felt there was space to do so. A biography is surely the right place to bring nuance to a character. Sowell's life is worth at least one fairer biography of his ideas. Meanwhile, if you are interested about the ideas of Sowell, just read one of his books.

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