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Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  556 ratings  ·  76 reviews
It is now more than three decades since the historic Supreme Court decision on desegregation, Brown v. Board of Education. Thomas Sowell takes a tough, factual look at what has actually happened over these decades -- as distinguished from the hopes with which they began or the rhetoric with which they continue, Who has gained and who has lost? Which of the assumptions behi ...more
Paperback, 164 pages
Published December 17th 1985 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1984)
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TJ Shelby
Nov 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I marvel at the coincidence in my decision to read George Orwell's 1984 as I simultaneously read Sowell's "Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality" which he wrote in 1984. Both deal with the issue of revisionist history and with those of capable thought processes to debate whether certain things did or were happening.

As a self-professed "Stat Geek" this book blew me away. It tore down a few walls that I harbored as fact and/or opinion regarding the role of government in the civil rights movement. One
Mar 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
Jamie King
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
If feel that there is no way I could ever do justice trying to explain Thomas Sowell's intellect. On this topic alone I have gone through an exhaustive amount of material of his, yet each time go goes about explaining this it is intriguing and far from redundant.

Sowell admits this is no work of pleasure and hardly voluntary but a project of demand. One that is so crucially needed in dispelling so many of the accepted myths that have substitued a blind justice of equal opportunity, with one based
Drew Robbins
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book with numerous examples leading the argument that differences between groups of people (whites/blacks/ isn’t necessarily discrimination based. He also argues that more advancement in civil rights happened before it became a political movement and some of those advancements were greatly hindered or destroyed (and continue to be so).
Thomas Sowell should be on every American bookshelf.
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wrongthink
Sowell makes good arguments for civil rights as negative rights vs. "outcomes", and makes a case for different outcomes for individuals or groups without requiring either discrimination or genetic inferiority. He also does a good job of identifying costs to various interventions. ...more
Oct 04, 2019 marked it as to-read
Recommended here. ...more
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2017
I truly believe everyone should read this book or something else on a similar topic by Sowell. Aside from the specific information and arguments presented, enough in themselves to force any honest reader to think more rigorously about the topic and question many near-universal assumptions, I'll never look at statistics comparing various groups the same way again. I'll always have to ask: What level of aggregation are we looking at? What factors are not being considered? What unspoken assumptions ...more
Sep 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
For a man so concerned with numbers, he sure loves words and is as expressive as usual. Possibly more so... have his editors tempered his newer works?
Elizabeth StClair
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: life-changers
Reading this book shifted the way I look at presented statistics. Having minored in Poverty and Human Capability studies in college, I felt I knew broadly the various interpretations of the Civil Rights movement, as well as the continued struggle for equality today. This book changed that. While reading, at times I struggled to understand how an issue so obvious could get so out of hand, and muddled by pointless arguments and false or misleading numbers, but after watching CNN for a few moments, ...more
Mike Cheng
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Perhaps it's the salience of our current times or I’ve simply succumb to the Halo Effect, but I find myself always impressed by Thomas Sowell’s work. Unfortunately, hyperpartisan times and hypersensitivity preclude me from saying much without fear of reprisal, but in this book Professor Sowell makes several points that strongly resonate with me (though I recognize that I only speak for my own individual experiences and nobody else's); the strongest takeaway is the importance of recognizing how e ...more
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
A conversation about societal injustice led me to this book. I don’t know everything, I don’t pretend to have it figured out and know I'm only scratching the surface. All I know is that Civil Rights is a subject where emotions run high. It’s intimate, it's raw, and its painful and those emotions are powerful fuel for politics. I turned to Thomas Sowell for his expertise in Economics and his analysis of disparities pre and post-affirmative action. He admits he took no pleasure in writing the book ...more
Thomas Achord
May 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, politics, culture
Brown v. Board of Ed. “was not simply a decision but the beginning of a revolution that has not yet run its course, but which has already shown the classic symptoms of a revolution taking a very different path from the envisioned by those who set it in motion.

“The civil rights revolution of the past generation has had wide ramifications among a growing variety of groups, and has changed not only the political landscape and social history of the United States, but has also altered the very concep
Don Lim
May 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
It may surprise the reader to know this book was published in 1984, and yet the same misconceptions and fallacies exist in the public. It is also sad that Sowell felt it was his duty to write this book when time could have been spent doing other work. Sowell makes quick work of the two incorrect reasoning when attempting to explain the discrepancies of the black population: statistics and discrimination. Statistics alone does not necessarily mean there is a disparity in equality of opportunity. ...more
Sowell examines how the civil rights movement began, and what it morphed into. It started as desiring equal opportunity and developed into demanding equal outcome, a policy that actually discriminates in all sorts of ways and results in counterproductive unintended consequences. He persuasively makes the case that individual rights were abandoned to get group results. All kinds of progress was being made for minorities before the civil rights movement. Sowell is the iconoclast of reigning false ...more
Ryan Montour
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“If there are not equal results among groups presumed to have equal genetic potential, then some inequality of opportunity must have intervened somewhere, and the question of precisely where is less important than the remedy of restoring the less fortunate to their just position. The fatal flaw in this kind of thinking is that there are many reasons, besides genes and discrimination, why groups differ in their economic performances and rewards. Groups differ by large amounts demographically, cul ...more
Quintillis K.
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Sowell misses the point totally. This Economist does not accept, or include the sociological aspects that has affected people. As he states, one can take any number of factors and make them fit their conclusion, as I feel it is what he did in this book.
Sep 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Definitely Rhetoric!

Oh Thomas, I have tried the exact same facts to no avail, have you wondered why people want to believe inaccuracies and outright lies. Why do people want to continue to brainwashed the low IQ into victimization. Why have they continued to ignore behaviors that come with low IQ, then we have the low IQ females raising the highest population crime rate and wonder why...well I do not.
Then to make further cultural biased when they have removed the law from each town and restrict
Kyle Carson
Sep 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Sowell did well to criticize areas where correlations are inaccurately treated as causal when referencing the policies and results of Civil Rights. It is true that more randomized trials are necessary to analyze and adjust Civil Rights policies. However, isn't this also true for the "war on terror" (military industrial complex), the war on drugs (criminal justice system), the education system, "trickle down economics" etc?

I also question Sowell's convenient changes in statistical granularity. I
Tanner Hawk
Sep 26, 2020 rated it liked it
"What is at issue is whether statistical differences mean discrimination, or whether there are innumerable demographic, cultural, and geographic differences that make this crucial automatic inference highly questionable" (48).

"Affirmative action hiring pressures make it costly to have no minority employees, but continuing affirmative action pressures at the promotion and discharge phases also make it costly to have minority employees who do not work out well. The net effect is to increase the de
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thomas Sowell may be the most thoroughly intelligent man alive. He is an expert in systematically dismantling shallow visions, false assumptions, and the pernicious appeal of fluffy rhetoric and ego-driven self-flattery that persists in media, politics, and culture surrounding race and ethnic discussions. The real-life consequences of policies and philosophies that hide behind the language of good intentions are given a sober, clear-eyed, devastating critique in Sowell's work. How this man isn't ...more
Brittany Whitehead
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
In terms of intellect and knowledge, Sowell is phenomenal. And the statistics he reviews in this book are fascinating. He makes some really incredible points and some really powerful statements. I think this is worth the read. 5 stars for knowledge/intellect/information.

What I struggle with is what comes across to me as a lack of nuance. Certainly discrimination cannot be proven as the reason for multiple disparities among different races and other distinguishing factors because that would invol
Jun 19, 2019 rated it liked it
We all know the sound bites of claims about the Civil Rights Movement. Thomas Sowell in Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality explains some statistics that refute many of those claims. He lays out his argument pretty well and makes sense most of the time. The epilogue is quite whiny complaining about people misrepresenting his work and sometimes I felt like he was trying to use as many big words as he could to show how awesome and smart he is. Overall, the book is decent and worth reading. There is ...more
Shane Hawk
Cogent and succinct is my favorite Sowell. I'd argue this was written at his prime in 1984 during the twentieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He offers a rational review of the public policies that had been implemented in the name of civil rights. These criticisms still hold water today. His arguments were logically sound and presented without an air of sophistication. He's straightforward and never veers off too far to make a point using other groups as a counterexample. I thorou ...more
Chris McCartney
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If all you read of this book is from page 117 to 121 you would know almost all you need to know about the failed state of social affairs we see around the world. No longer will I stay quiet on such affairs as we seemingly allow failed policies to continue time and time again. The world is a better place then we realize and those of us that are alive are pretty damn lucky we have factual information like this to educate us. Its past time to admit policy failure and start moving in the right direc ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When someone like Thomas E. Woods, Jr. recommends a book, you have to pay attention and then read that book.

This is one of those books, and it is as spectacular as Woods made it out to be. It is a must read, especially for anyone interested in "race" issues. As usual, Sowell uses his brilliant mind to pierce through the nonsense. No one does it more completely with more panache with more intelligence than Sowell. Read this! it will change your mind.
Jul 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Many of the ideas in this book are developed a lot more in "Race and Culture" (which is something of a masterpiece) but this has an urgency to it coming from its publication during a time of great social upheaval and debate on racial preferences and affirmative action. It's a quick read, and it seems like we're still having this debate almost 40 years later.
Mar 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is a plea to look to hard evidence rather than "visions" and rhetoric to discover the causes of and solutions for disparities of outcome for racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities. Summary: discrimination, although unfortunate were it exists, does not explain these disparities. He provides many counter examples to that proposal and instead proposes that cultural differences and values, and personal choices account for disparities. ...more
Paul Herriott
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I understand why the Sowell name comes with so much controversy. He writes in a way that flies in the face of many progressive ideas. This book challenges the common perception of Civil Rights and the change they claim, by pointing to the impact of the culture of people instead of color. He also shows how stats comparing people are so poorly manipulated to exaggerate and create discrepancies.
Glenn Naughton
Feb 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Another gem from Sowell who goes through the many contradictions and oversights of those who push for equity in the name of social justice. Examples from around the globe make short work of the mainstream narratives that push for affirmative action while glossing over the damage it has done over the years.
Michael Delaware
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thomas Sowell has again offered up an amazing fact based book that will change the way you look at the subject of civil rights. A brilliantly written account of what you think you know, and what the media says, and what actually is the case in our culture.
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Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social commentator, and author of dozens of books. He often writes from an economically laissez-faire perspective. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholars ...more

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“I'm in a weird place because the book is about to come out. So I'm basically just walking around like a raw nerve and I'm not sure that I...
32 likes · 6 comments
“However much history may be invoked in support of these policies (affirmative action), no policy can apply to history but can only apply to the present or the future. The past may be many things, but it is clearly irrevocable. Its sins can no more be purged than its achievements can be expunged. Those who suffered in centuries past are as much beyond our help as those who sinned are beyond our retribution.” 18 likes
“Cultural differences are real, and cannot be talked away by using pejorative terms such as “stereotypes” or “racism.” 3 likes
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