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Intellectuals and Society Hardcover – January 5, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 188 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

National Review Online
“Sowell takes aim at the class of people who influence our public debate, institutions, and policy. Few of Sowell’s targets are left standing at the end, and those who are stagger back to their corner, bloody and bruised.”

Washington Times
“Mr. Sowell builds a devastating case against the leftist antiwar political and intellectual establishment."

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 and in such popular media as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, and Fortune, and he writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Second Impression edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046501948X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465019489
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,810 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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A book with the title Intellectuals and Society can be expected to range widely, and Thomas Sowell's latest does not disappoint, covering ground from economics to criminology and foreign policy.

In each area, Mr. Sowell's complaint is that intellectuals -- "people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas - writers, academics, and the like" - are having negative effects. And, maddeningly, these intellectuals are "unaccountable to the external world," immune from sanction, insulated even from the loss of reputation that those in other fields suffer after having been proven wrong.

The reputation of certain intellectuals may not be quite so immune after Mr. Sowell has finished with them, because he is withering in assessing and recording their failures.

The newspapers take it particularly hard from Mr. Sowell, and not just the American ones. There was the Daily Telegraph's prediction that Hitler would be gone before the end of 1932, and the Times of London's description of the Nazi dictator as a "moderate." Add to this a New York Times column issued by Tom Wicker on the collapse of the Communist bloc, cautioning, "that Communism has failed does not make the Western alternative perfect, or even satisfying for millions of those who live under it."

This book does a wonderful job at marshalling facts to puncture commonly held notions of intellectuals and others who tend to be political liberals. It'd be hard to think the same way about income inequality ever again after reading Mr. Sowell's tremendously clear explanation of confusion between income and wealth and "confusion between statistical categories and flesh-and-blood human beings." By the time Mr. Sowell is done, the confusion is gone.
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Format: Hardcover
Intellectuals and Society is the latest in a series of books on Western `intellectuals', by Thomas Sowell. Intellectuals deal with ideas, but may not do so intelligently. Sowell is mainly concerned with the verifiability of ideas. The social visions of intellectuals like Rousseau, Marx and Engels, Galbraith, and Keynes have had dire consequences.

This book contains a plethora of examples of how many high profile intellectuals in the media and academia have been proven wrong- but without losing credibility among their peers or target audience. This is a serious problem because intellectuals affect public opinion, and with it public policy. Intellectuals of the past successfully agitated for defective policies: for so-called protectionism, living wages, and social justice has hindered economic progress. The naïve attitude that some intellectuals have had towards totalitarian movements proved disastrous. Yet many of the same defective arguments from earlier periods are still in use by today's intellectuals.

Sowell does a good job of illustrating the pernicious influence of leftist intellectuals. What is less clear is why opposing intellectuals, like Sowell himself, have not been more successful. Is there a simple lack of data among certain people? Does ideology cause a lack of cognitive dissonance? Are there self-serving reasons for spreading faulty theories, visions, or data? These are an important question, the answers to which will tell us if we need better education or a better vision (or maybe both). The fact of the matter is that this book does help to discredit certain intellectuals, and this is an important next step. Unfortunately, it will be read least by those who need to most urgently: those who are routinely swayed by defective ideas need to read this book, but how many of them will?
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Format: Hardcover
Let me start by first taking issue with the reviewer that gave this book a single star review. I suspect that the author of that review either didn't read the book or simply shut his mind off during the first chapter, where Mr. Thomas Sowell clearly defines what he means by Intellectuals. We could postulate that all intelligent people that effectively use their minds in the pursuit of their professions, be them scientists, engineers, doctors, or newspaper columnists, are intellectuals. However, Mr. Sowell is very careful to narrow the definition to those "people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas--writers, academics, and the like." He is not talking about people whose end products or services are tangible, such as inventors and doctors. That this person (the one-star reviewer) so misunderstood the definition leads me to believe that his post here is solely to attack a man whose logic is a clear and present danger to his own ideological leanings.

Mr. Sowell is further very careful to credit intellectuals who have made a mark in their specific core knowledge or field and only faults them when (believing themselves intellectually superior and apparently all-knowing) they opine on things over which they have no expertise (in some cases) or on which they are wholy ignorant (in others). Therefore, scientists that have created or discovered cures for previously deadly diseases are to be commended; similarly, writers whose "verbal virtuosity" separates them from the rest ought to be commended for their cleverness. When they apply that cleverness to mistaken notions is when they become dangerous.

It is precisely those notions that this book sets out to examine.* In the process, undeniably, Mr. Sowell slaughters many of the Left's sacred cows.
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