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Conquests and Cultures: An International History Paperback – April 30, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Another tour de force by one of America's leading public intellectuals. Conquests and Cultures continues in the tradition of Sowell's superb books, Race and Culture and Migrations and Cultures. The series attempts to understand the meaning of cultural differences, including how these differences have influenced the economic and social fates of civilizations, nations, and ethnic groups. This particular installment focuses on how military conquest both destroys culture and spreads it by examining the histories of the English, the Africans, the Slavs, and the indigenous people of the New World. Sowell rejects the cultural relativism that is currently so fashionable in the universities and forthrightly believes that some cultures--understood as "the working machinery of everyday life"--are clearly superior to others. He marshals a massive amount of scholarly material to support his ideas, and capably turns this mountain of data into straightforward prose. --John J.Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Sowell presents this as the final volume in a trilogy that includes Race and Culture (1994) and Migration and Culture (1996). Like its predecessors, the book incorporates two principal themes: that racial, ethnic and national groups have their own particular cultures, and that those cultures are mutable. Sowell offers four case studies?the British, the Africans, the Slavs and the American Indians?in evidence for his argument that the antecedents, processes and consequences of conquest generate broad-spectrum interactions and responses. Cultures in contact with each other usually influence each other even if the matrix is based on domination/submission, he explains. Brutal conquests can lead to the spread of advanced skills. Cultural borrowing is accompanied by genetic diffusion, and both make a mockery of biological racism and behavioral stasis. The key distinction among human communities is, for Sowell, "human capital"?the spectrum of individual and collective learned behaviors that produce distinctive patterns of skills and attitudes. The positive form of this capital is based on flexibility?receptivity to cultural transfers and willingness to apply those transfers in different contexts. Sowell, an economist by training and a conservative by conviction, emphasizes the wealth-creating aspects of human capital and argues for the centrality of achievement to developing group self-esteem. He references his arguments to a wide range of sources from a broad spectrum of disciplines. Academic specialists are likely to join critics of Sowell's emphasis on cultural malleability in accusing him of using the tools of scholarship to support his preconceptions. Sowell's conclusion that the course of history is determined by what peoples do with their opportunities is nevertheless an emotionally and intellectually compelling challenge to determinism in all its variant forms, from Marxism to multiculturalism.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 516 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465014003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465014002
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #331,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Sowell has taught economics at Cornell, UCLA, Amherst and other academic institutions, and his Basic Economics has been translated into six languages. He is currently a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has published in both academic journals in such popular media as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine and Fortune, and writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on June 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a remarkably thorough, well-researched work on major regions and civilizations around the world -- African, Aztec, Inca, Slav, (bative) American Indian. Sowell documents the case of how geography (harbors, arable land, navigable rivers, freedom from monsoons and tropical disease) and ideas (fundamental beliefs and principles widely shared or disseminated) combine to make the world what it is today.
"Culture" triumphs if it is sustainable and based on a credible concept that can be embraced by others. Other "cultures" fail or disappear when they are conquered by more dominant cultures or collapse from within due to a fundamental weakness or failure to transmit the culture across people and generations.
Much like David Landes' "Wealth and poverty of nations", Sowell shows that societies or cultures that can produce things of value, that educate their young, that innovate, and that encourage personal freedom, initiative, private ownership and advancement based on merit, these cultures are more likely to survive.
Sowell dispels myths about racism, diversity and the equality of all cultures. His research is encyclopedic and well-documented.
An excellent book for a university course on culture, diversity and global development.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Lemas Mitchell on January 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
I can't think of anything that I've read like it before or since.

Essentially, it does the job of filling in some of the details about what happened after some of the conquests of one group by another. It was not a text that evaluated whether conquests were "good" or "bad," but about the actual results of what happened. For example: He details at some length the differing responses to colonization of Irish and Scottish people (the former didn't take to it well while the latter did). This is something that goes a long way to explaining why Ireland became a separate country and Scotland stayed part of the Kingdom.

It was well worth reading because it gave CONCRETE information about what actually happened in many of these cases rather than babbling about "colonial powers" or "rights of self determination."
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
It's always delightful to read cogent, well-thought-out and carefully written books. This is no exception, as Dr. Sowell continues to apply a broad education and extensive experience to derive insights that, once made, are startlingly clear and obvious.
Unlike several of the prior reviewers, who seem to feel that their unworkable personal ideology or limited ability to think actually have relevance in a review, I read this book to gain information and insights supported by impeccable research from an intelligent source. It may offend those with little or no education or experience, because it does not run along the same track as their favorite hobby horse(s), but then, reality and truth rarely do. (i.e., if you don't like accurate statistics, nor agree with a sequenced and relevant protrayal of factual information, don't read this book. It might upset any sense of "oughta be this way", or "I wanna believe X -- in contrast to actual events").
Dr. Sowell's insistence on his statements having a factual basis and extensive examples to support his conclusions can be daunting, nonetheless, as with any exercise (mental or physical, for that matter), the more effort you put into something, the greater the result.
Highly recommended, as are all of his books.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By it on December 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book has several threads that interact.

One is that the geography of a country has a strong effect on its history. The western hemisphere did not have beasts of burden until Europeans arrived and therefore stayed in a primitive culture. England had iron ore near coal and both near the seacoast which provided cheap transportation.

Another thread is that some cultures learn from contact with other cultures and some do not. Scotland was invaded by England and when the English left Scotland outclassed the English in engineering and medicine even thought they were behind in the beginning. Earlier the Romans invaded England and improved conditions. When the Romans left the English retrograded for centuries.

Another thread is that human nature is the same all over the earth. All nations have dominated other nations and mistreated them.
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38 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Craig Spinharney on April 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Despite their best efforts, those who reviewed this book negatively or dismissed it as "been there, done that" expose that either their own preconceived notions ran afoul with Sowell's book. Or, their sacred cows were stripped down to expose the cheap hamburger of ideas.
As usual Sowell writes another well-crafted, researched, and documented book. He makes NO conclusions but rather, lets his reader form their own conclusions.
As evidenced by the fact that none of the so called "Politically Incorrect" panel shows NEVER invited Sowell on because no one on the left can counter Sowell's ease of analysis and myth-shattering and that includes lofty lefties like Hitchens, Chomsky, Schlesinger, and goes the list of those who rail at the idea of a free-thinking minority having the audacity to stray from the Liberal Plantation (Not that Sowell was ever on the plantation in the first place).
A good measured read with plenty to challenge the reader (who doesn't wear idealogical blinders). A good book to add to your library.
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