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Intellectuals and Society

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,873 ratings  ·  202 reviews
The influence of intellectuals is not only greater than in previous eras but also takes a very different form from that envisioned by those like Machiavelli and others who have wanted to directly influence rulers. It has not been by shaping the opinions or directing the actions of the holders of power that modern intellectuals have most influenced the course of events, but ...more
Hardcover, 398 pages
Published January 1st 2010 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published December 10th 2009)
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4.22  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,873 ratings  ·  202 reviews

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Jan 21, 2018 rated it did not like it
What Makes You So Smart?

“There has probably never been an era in history when intellectuals have played a larger role in society than the era in which we live.” True or not, for Sowell this is not a good thing. According to him “An intellectual’s work begins and ends with ideas.” But since ideas are not facts, intellectuals, particularly ‘public’ intellectuals, often speak unintelligently and when those to whom they speak have power, the rest of us suffer.

This widespread lack of intelligence am
Apr 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: worldview, essentials
Though I've read a number of excellent new non-fiction releases in the past couple years, this one beats them all. Not only that, it'll likely be the most fascinating, disturbing, and brilliant thing I read all year.

Sowell lays out a beautifully researched case for his theme of elitist intellectuals in the West constantly attempting to subvert democracy in favor of oligarchy. Sowell defines intellectuals as professionals who live by ideas, whose end product is abstract and often ideological, and
Dec 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a strange book. It's an intellectual speaking out against his profession. Sowell defines intellectuals as a people for whom ideas are the beginning and ending of their work. Tenured professors are the most ready example, but intellectuals can also be found outside academia. For example authors, commentators and public speakers who are paid to continue producing ideas. The key is that intellectuals need only continue to attract an audience for their ideas in order to remain relevant.

Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
I started this hoping that it would be a bit like Scott's _Seeing Like A State_, which is one of my favorite books, or if not exactly like that, at least like something Charles Murray, who is one of my favorite writers, might have written on the topic.

I was quickly disabused of both hopes. Sowell is not that great a prose stylist and has a gift for putting things in ways that irritate the hell out of me even when I already agree with him.

More importantly, the promise of the flaps and introductio
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The people who have reviewed this book negatively either A) have never read it, or B) are uncomfortable with the truths they have discovered. The key to understanding what Thomas Sowell means when he talks about intellectuals is that intellectuals are not simply "thinking people." Intellectuals are people whose *end product* is simply an idea, and this idea is not subject to traditional real-world validation processes, but is subjected to the weaker form of validation known as peer review. Why i ...more
Jun 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
The title of this work, and the thrust of its argument, may initially deceive. It is not a critique of the mind or of intellectual pursuits. It is rather a critique of the god-like mentality many intellectuals assume, wreaking social havoc in their arrogant presumption of knowledge. By "intellectuals," Thomas Sowell means those professional thinkers whose end products are ideas, as distinguised from the end products of other professional thinkers like architects or engineers.

Intellectuals and S
Jan 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Some of the criticism I've encountered accuse Sowell of being the very thing he is criticizing here. I disagree. Sowell uses FACTS and history to demonstate his thesis about the destructive role intellectuals have played. He quotes intellectuals from a variety of spectrums and times in history to support his ideas. This should be required reading for everyone in this media-infested country. We need to WAKE UP in this country. We've forgotten lessons of history and we are lulled into apathy by ou ...more
Travis Smith
Aug 27, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I wish I had a year to comb through this amazing book of selective bias and write a lengthy rebuttal. If you read this book, keep in mind that his arguments are constructs of half-truths and ironically, represents the perfect example of what he calls, "verbal virtuosity". I found this review on Amazon and I'm reposting it here, as I agree with it in its entirety:

In this unbelievable book, Thomas Sowell has produced what must be the most incomplete discussion of modern U.S. History ever written.
Петър Стойков
Интелектуалците са хората, чийто начален и краен продукт са идеи - идеи, които нямат връзка с практиката и за своята оценка зависят не от обективни критерии, а само от мнението на други интелектуалци. Такива области са философията, литературата (и изкуството като цяло), социологията, политологията и др.

Най-характерното за хората с тези професии е, че като цяло тяхната дейност няма никакъв практически измерител. За разлика от другите професии на ума (инженери, лекари, учени, програмисти, дизайне
Michael Malice
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
the most comprehensive attack on the evangelical left that I've read
Jeremy Hickerson
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
This recently published book (2010) makes a very thorough case against government action of most any kind, with the exception of war. I spent over an hour looking through Sowell's latest book at Borders. The blurb inside the jacket caught my attention because it mentioned how intellectuals influence our democratic process by shaping the thinking of the electorate, rather than directly persuading elected officials. I saw this as a significant insight into how our system works. I extend the theory ...more
Ilia Markov
Apr 01, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is so poor that it is hard to keep a straight face when discussing it.

For the better part it sounds like a 'rant' against 'smart people who assume too much' on the part of the author. Mixing wild examples, assumptions and generalizations on the basis of limited experiences, the author vents his frustration.

Just to make it worse the author does not make a critique of intellectuals in general, just of those who are 'liberal', 'left', etc. There are intellectuals, who are bad, and preside
Gary Foss
Jun 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
This is a fascinating idea: a study upon the nature and influence of intellectuals themselves upon society. What more appropriate group for study than the people dedicated to study? Many people have described the nature of academia, or the processes of research and development in American life, but as far as I know, nobody has turned the spotlight on intellectuals as a group. That lack means that such an analysis is not only warranted, but even needful.

Unfortunately, Sowell fails in this analysi
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In a free society with limited government, individuals make millions of decisions and live with the consequences. As our government has grown bigger and more intrusive, intellectuals have played a major role telling us what programs will work for our own good. However, they are often wrong, but that doesn't stop them. They pay no consequences. Here is the author quoting Eric Hoffer:

"One of the surprising privileges of intellectuals is that they are free to be scandalously asinine without harming
Aug 28, 2012 rated it did not like it
An incredibly biased book that attempts to disguise itself as a scholarly work. Sowell contemptibly describes those who disagree with his views as "intellectuals" and portrays them as know-nothing elites, while excusing those intellectuals who do agree with him from that labeling. The way he manipulates language in the book is ridiculous. When he is discussing something he wants the reader to dislike or disagree with, he uses exclusively negative language, while doing the opposite when he wants ...more
Nick Huntington-Klein
Apr 05, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2011
A terrible and poorly argued book. I didn't know who Sowell was when I picked it up but I certainly won't be reading anything else by him.

A common approach of his is to define a term, make grandiose and universal claims about it, no-true-scotsman any obvious exceptions (he'll often have one word for the "good" version of something and another for the "bad" as if they were fundamentally different things - what's the difference? Apparently, whether or not they agree with his politics), then make a
Nov 12, 2016 marked it as to-read
A friend of mine recommanded this book to me during this 2016 Presidential Election. Given the result is that Trump won, I think I shall recommand the book to all people I know, especially professors, students, media professionals, etc. It's time to rethink something.
Apr 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: neoconservatives
A very disappointing book that claims to analyze the role and influence of intellectuals in the larger society, but sets up intellectuals as having a misguided bent to liberalism, which Sowell restricts to contemporary political progressivism and those conservatives who are not in the neo-conservative camp. Of the many examples of intellectuals' interaction with society he might have chosen from, he prefers those in which the 'intellectual' under scrutiny did not do his or her homework and gets ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
I love books that address the problem of "experts" and elitist thinking that filters down to the mainstream. So, I was sure I would love this book. However, the arguments presented by Sowell were so poorly constructed and had such gaping holes, there was no point to finishing this book. The good points were constantly lost and muddied in the mire of bad arguments.
Tricky to rate. I'll go with 4/5 because some parts (on class and race) are excellent, including the counter-arguments to the infamous observations on race and IQ in The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.

Despite too many less-than-stellar chapters, I found this door-stopper worth the time. There seems to be a bit of a mean streak in his writing, but Thomas Sowell is still one of my favorite contemporary thinkers.
Jason Goetz
Feb 13, 2013 rated it liked it
I need to preface this by saying that I am a big fan of Sowell's works. But at this point I believe he has been over-published, and much of his work is now repetitive. Intellectuals and Society bears too much similarity to previous works of his such as A Conflict of Visions, and those works are shorter, which means that much of this work will be a waste of time.

Most of the content is superb. Some of his examples of where intellectuals attempt to make pretentious and dubious claims to the right t
Dec 11, 2013 rated it did not like it
If your politico-economc ideals align with the Friedman/Hayek/Buckley ilk, then this is a book for you. I couldn't take any more after 30 pages. He sets up a lot of straw man arguments and bashes the liberal intellectuals and intelligentsia. No doubt, there are certainly intellectuals and members of the intelligentsia that are elitist and employ their clout in one field to speak authoritatively on something which they know next to nothing about, but Sowell seems to completely negate any knowledg ...more
May 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
Didn't get into it as his right-leaning slant was extremely obvious. Even how he defined intellectuals seemed designed to exclude all but humanities professors. When he wrote that financiers paid for their mistakes, that was the deal-breaker. Yeah right. And how many Wall St. financiers do you know who are arguing for change so that their decimation of our economy doesn't happen again. Or how many CEOs of failed companies are hired by other companies (after they get their golden parachute)? Are ...more
Sep 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
This is perhaps the finest literary societal critique I have ever read. In a masterful display of powerful analytic thought, well-researched fact, and effectively no bias towards any particular group, Sowell tears into the intellectual foundations of our society and reveals just how cancerous they have become. This book was by no means a simple and quick read. It is incredibly thorough in its background research and it is beautifully written. This is an absolute must read if you are interested i ...more
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Lies My Teacher Told me blows away kids in high school. This book does the same but for college graduates. Holy crap I feel lied to! What an incredible read!

I don't want to pretend like this book is perfect though. Sowell has a much better grasp of how politics, economics, and history are "spun" than he does art or fiction or stories in general. Sowell would greatly benefit from reading Hero With a Thousand Faces, Deschooling Society, and The Romantic Manifesto, among other things.
Ryan Rommann
Mar 04, 2015 rated it did not like it
I like Sowell in small doses as he typically has interesting and uncommon views - some of with which I agree. But this book is 600 pages of unabashedly biased double-speak. It's a political hit job masquerading as a quasi-academic discussion of "intellectuals" which Sowell makes only the slightest attempt to hide his real definition as "liberals I disagree with."
Jan 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
It is always difficult, if not impossible, to foretell what books will still be read generations from now. If I had to bet, I would bet that this book will be among them. I am not sure if I enjoyed it quite as much as the Vision series, but it is close. Dr. Sowell believes it is his most important work. A reader is always a little wiser after having read the works from this great scholar.
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sowell's thesis is simple and clearly stated: intellectual elites and experts are not to be blindly trusted. Nassim Nicholas Taleb has said much the same thing in his works while avoiding Sowell's blunt and politically incorrect implications. That an intellectual can criticize other intellectuals without offering a prescriptive way out of an imagined "impasse," as one perplexed reviewer opined, is hardly a disqualifying conundrum. No one criticized Aristophanes for lampooning Socrates and the in ...more
Feb 18, 2018 rated it did not like it
Such a strange book. I went in knowing that the author was a conservative economist, and I chose this book because it was his most recent publication that I could easily get my hands on.

The author starts off by denouncing “intellectuals” for pontificating outside their areas of expertise. Then he proceeds to present himself as somehow expert in fields as diverse as sociology, constitutional law, theology, military history, political theory, philosophy, hermeneutics, and art criticism. I’m not an
Micah Scelsi
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I guess people either love or hate this book. It may be because it come down pretty hard on "Left" Intellectuals. The book doesn't start this way. In fact the author does a nice job of constructing his arguments and definitions so that there is no confusion what he means when he references something like an "intellectual" or "knowledge." Some of the reading can be difficult, but in general the author tries to make this accessible to a larger audience. He himself points out the difficulty of comm ...more
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There are numerous Slight Collections that donot appear 1 4 Sep 12, 2016 10:43PM  
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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
“Intellect is not wisdom.” 118 likes
“If facts, logic, and scientific procedures are all just arbitrarily "socially constructed" notions, then all that is left is consensus--more specifically peer consensus, the kind of consensus that matters to adolescents or to many among the intelligentsia.” 21 likes
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