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A Personal Odyssey Paperback – February 5, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 90 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Thomas Sowell is known for speaking--and writing--his mind, even when his opinions won't win him any popularity contests. In thoughtful, straightforward books like The Quest for Cosmic Justice and Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality? he questioned affirmative action and expressed frustration with government bureaucracy, elaborating on his ideas of personal freedom and responsibility in the process. In A Personal Odyssey, we're shown glimpses of the man behind the ideas, and while the narration is sometimes frustratingly distant, it's an enjoyable history of a fascinating man. Beginning with his early life in North Carolina, where his encounters with white people were so limited that he didn't really believe that "yellow" was a possible color for hair, Sowell details his childhood with humor and appreciation for the adults who raised him with love, attention, and high expectations. Throughout the experiences that follow, from the U.S. Marines to Howard and Harvard Universities to his fellowship at Stanford's Hoover Institute, Sowell's strong opinions make him stand out from the herd. His brother sums up this trait in describing Sowell's son: "Tommy, when I see a dozen kids, all doing the same thing, and in the midst of them is one kid doing something entirely different, I don't have to guess which one is our mother's grandson." You don't have to be familiar with Sowell's scholarly works to appreciate his life--this is a read for any freethinking iconoclast. --Jill Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A nationally recognized economist and scholar, Sowell recounts his long, steady climb from a hardscrabble North Carolina childhood to the top ranks of influential conservatives within the Republican Party in Washington. Sowell, who is African-American, racked up a series of notable accomplishments through sheer determination and a refusal to let his race prove an obstacle to a productive life. His grit and focus became evident during his early years as a rebellious schoolboy in Harlem, an unremarkable stint in the Marines, his later studies at Howard University and his frustrating time at Harvard. Of particular note is his unwavering approval of leading economist Milton Friedman, who taught Sowell at the University of Chicago. Known for his attention to detail and the nuance of his theoretical writings, Sowell doesn't consistently display those skills to advantage: he often seems to race through key periods in his life, leaving the reader to wonder what elements of significance have been left out. However, he pulls no punches in his conservative stance on the thorny issue of race, which has frequently put him in opposition with the African-American community, and demonstrates his steadfast belief in meritocracy. He earns points for his revelations about his personal disappointments, his painful divorce and his frustrations with an unkind media, dispelling a common belief that he was a close adviser of President Reagan. Offering only a controlled, muted look at the author's inner world, Sowell's account occasionally seems arrogant, but often reflective and always provocative. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 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: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (February 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684864657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684864655
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I genuinely enjoyed this autobiography. Sowell is a scholar whose works I've admired for twenty years. I was pleased to learn, in the course of reading this book, that my favorite of Sowell's books - Knowledge and Decisions - is among his favorites of his own works.
All that this book reveals about Sowell is consistent with what I'd previously known of him - for example, that he's uncompromising, crusty, and wholly unafraid to speak what he believes to be the truth. But the book puts interesting bulk on my previously thin knowledge of the man, his background, and his experiences.
Nothing I learned about him from this book shocked me, although I didn't realize just how many scholarly institutions Sowell has been associated with. Nor did I realize that Sowell's well-known disdain for the modern academy dates back to his earliest years in college. He did not, contrary to my previous assumption, grow disgruntled with academic life only in the 1970s.
True to lifelong form, Sowell did not write this book in an effort to win hugs and kisses. As this book makes quite clear, he's obviously not a huggable guy, and nor does he care to be. But he is a genuinely courageous man of integrity, in addition to being a fine scholar.
For years I had the final lines of his Knowledge and Decisions taped to my office door. They nicely capture a principal theme of his policy works: "Freedom is not simply the right of intellectuals to circulate their merchandise. It is, above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their `betters.'"
Bravo for Thomas Sowell! May he live and work for many decades to come.
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Format: Hardcover
I have recently been interested in reading more of Thomas Sowell's books, having just finished his eye-opening "Inside American Education (1993)" before reading this one. Having read his autobiography, I now have a better appreciation for this man - his love of scholar, intellectual excellence, and most importantly, the truth.
Although this entire book is a must-read, I would like to touch on a couple of areas therein that really got my attention. One was Sowell's view on race-based affirmative action. From the very beginning Sowell saw the inherent flaws in this policy, particularly in college admissions. Granting academically underqualified and underprepared minority students to elite and academically intensive universities all in the name of "equality" was, as Sowell saw early on, basically a case of putting students in academic settings there they were sure to fail. It was a recipe for disaster from the outset. In particularly, he saw many college and university administrators bypassing the most qualified minority students in favor of the most ideologically and politically "pro-black" younsters who were just not prepared for the rigors of, say, a Cornell University, where Sowell taught for a time. He adamantly spoke out against this time and again, but to no avail.
Which brings me to another aspect of Sowell's life and personality that appealed to me: He was not afraid to question or challenge authority. True, he made many an enemy as a result, but this didn't shake him. In fact, as he points out, the thing that hurts people the most is the truth. He was not afraid to tell the truth, whether anyone like it or not.
Thomas Sowell is one of the greatest intellectual minds of our time. I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
The beauty of Dr. Sowell's life as chronicled in the book is its witness to the fact that clear, honest thinking puts one in a minority, regardless of race or class or "station" in life, and that ultimately people come around to respect you for it and you can accomplish so much if you stay that course.
So many times Dr. Sowell came to a place where the stated mission was later found contrary to the real priorities of his superiors, who thwarted so many of his efforts to accomplish the stated mission. When he would finally corner them into admitting their ulterior motives and obstructionism, they had the choice of changing policies or accepting his resignation. Few people have resigned from so many places, and fewer still were later sought by the same places with promises that, really, it will be different this time.
It is also wonderful to behold someone who thinks like an economist virtually ALL THE TIME. He asks, why should blacks spend any energy protesting against a fifth-rate school for not admitting them? Especially when the best schools WERE admitting them? Can not that energy be better used elsewhere? Good questions. This kind of thinking is so prevalent in the book it inspires one to emulate it as a matter of lifestyle.
True, this is not a tell-all, and some things are left mysteries (like why exactly he parted with his unnamed first wife). Perhaps some such things are best left unanswered. After all, we are talking about DR. Thomas Sowell, not MR. Geraldo Rivera. I think we learned enough to understand the man and allow him to keep his dignity, and yes, respect the privacy of the other players, guilty or not.
This is a compelling story which is not easily put down once started.
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