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on October 17, 1999
I have heard a lot of good things about Thomas Sowell. I have no doubt that he is a brilliant man. And I admire his conservative/libertarian principles. But this book was so difficult to understand, I wondered what use is an abundance of knowledge if one is unable to dispense it to others? Since I have read other Sowell books, I have concluded that it is the subject matter and not the author, which contributes to its lack of readability. If you're an experienced economist, you'll probably enjoy this book. If you're a novice in economics, don't bother. Instead, I would recommend Henry Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson" to get an understanding and appreciation for classical economics.
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on December 31, 2009
This is not a long book. In fact, I believe you can buy this with "On Classical Economics" as it forms the first four chapters of that book. But it's a good one. It definitely requires a grounding in economics or you will quickly be in over your head with all of the jargon and concepts, and the more you are acquainted with classical economics the better. It helps to read Todd Bucholz' New Ideas From Dead Economists, which is a history of economic thought from Smith to Rational Expectations theory, and it doesn't hurt to read some classical economics. What makes this book important is how many myths it dispels about the classical economists and classical economics, and how it concisely lays out their differences. I gained a newfound respect for Malthus from this book, and my respect for Ricardo actually shrunk a tad. I was introduced to economists I'd never heard of but who made important contributions, I learned that the "labor theory of value" doesn't really mean what I thought it did (Sowell helped me out by pointing out Smith's inconsistencies, which are numerous in Wealth of Nations), and frankly I saw how many of the concepts in economics which I thought of as being marginalist, neoclassical, or otherwise post-classical, can indeed be found in the classical economists.

So, for econ nerds, especially those of you who aren't as well-versed in classical economics as you should be, this is a great book, whose densely-packed insights belie the small number of pages.
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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2011
This man's depth of knowledge is amazing and this book does a great job of diving even deeper into the thoughts of the Classical Economists. I found that he seemed to focus more on Ricardo and Marx than Adam Smith but Sowell's ability to make difficult concepts understandable is his real strength. Not that he "dumbs down" concepts, but it's the way he circles around and completes the relationship between economists that is impressive. This book isn't for the novice reader but if you are seriously interested in the "wisdom" of the classics, this is a book for you.
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Thomas Sowell (born 1930) is an economist, social theorist, political philosopher, columnist, and author (known particularly for his books on race and economics, such as Black Rednecks and White Liberals,Race And Culture: A World View,Ethnic America: A History, etc.), who has long been associated with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

He wrote in the Preface to the 1994 reprint of this 1974 book, "For a slim volume of four essays to survive for more than a decade, and then to be re-issued 20 years after its original publication, is not simply a matter of personal gratification for the author but, more importantly, a tribute to the continuing vitality of the enduring questions addressed by the classical founders (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, and Jean-Baptiste Say) of economics."

Karl Marx was the one who coined the term, "classical economists," but John Maynard Keynes' use of the term (in his The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money) is perhaps the most famous. But Sowell argues that there were "serious questions" raised as to whether ANY economists "had ever believed the things attributed by Keynes to the 'classical economists.'" (Pg. 5)

Sowell observes that although Ricardo and James Mill served briefly in Parliament, "they were essentially anti-politicians in a political institution, and their distaste for it was apparent." (Pg. x) He also notes the participation of these economists in progressive movements of their day: e.g., schools for the poor, birth control, and child labor laws. (Pg. 29)

He states that Malthus, Ricardo, and Mill "all recognized that any specific, empirical measure of value was arbitrary, and ultimately had to be justified by its usefulness rather than its logic alone." (Pg. 102)

Sowell's book (his second; written long before his more famous books of later times) seems more like an "academic" work (e.g., like something written in pursuit of a graduate degree), but it is nevertheless an interesting survey of these thinkers---even if the insights it gives into Sowell's own ideas is rather minimal.
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