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Intellectuals and Society

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  2,186 ratings  ·  239 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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 ·  2,186 ratings  ·  239 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
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The influence of the establishment political intelligentsia has helped spread many misconceptions about economics, race, history, foreign policy, and justice. Sowell, using empirical evidence and wit, tears down these misconceptions and shows the reader how proposals offered to problems are misguided. Among the notable intellectuals called out in this book are Arthur Schlesinger, John Rawls, Paul Krugman, Noam Chomsky, and John Dewey. I’m glad an updated and revised version of this book was rele ...more
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.

Apr 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essentials, worldview
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
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
Some 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 ...more
Michael Malice
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
the most comprehensive attack on the evangelical left that I've read
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Phillip Elliott
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have to confess that I find Thomas Sowell fascinating. I read his book “Economic Facts and Fallacies” and I have read many more. I enjoy watching him on “Youtube.” The man has a fantastic mind, he is able to tie real problems and solutions to real outcomes. He does not need to invent, slander or use pejoratives to attack those that disagree. His logic, history, facts and reality prove him right over and over again.

I love this book. I enjoyed every bit of it, and I love how Dr. Sowell ties eve
Tom Cross
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thomas Sowell is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. He cuts through the propaganda crap that is shamelessly pedaled by so many politicians, media elites and think tanks.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Shane Hawk
Perhaps the most exhaustive and scathing critique of the evangelical left I’ve ever encountered. No, I don’t mean all viewpoints from “the Left” but solely the sect of leftism with a crusading zeal to spread their ideology.

I couldn’t stop reading it and made as many excuses as I could to continue.

This book encompasses a number of Sowell’s other pieces within it broken down into chapters or subsections. This may be his magnum opus regarding his critiquing works.
Brian Eshleman
Sep 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
The basic aspect of this book was a profound one, that experts earn trust by mastering a particular area and also develop the ability to persuade, BUT that they quickly wander from this evidence-based expertise and offer opinions and assumptions that we follow unexamined. This idea is repeated a lot but not fully developed with examples and implications.
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
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 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A dangerous book for someone already harboring suspicions about public intellectuals. An excellent book for someone that is neutral or supportive of public intellectuals. I have not encountered anything like this. It is at the same time the complete opposite of the mindless vitriol against intellectuals by the conservative right and the near worship of intellectuals by the left.

Provides an intelligent and well researched argument to be wary of smart people who are trying to tell you what to do.
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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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“Intellect is not wisdom.” 165 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.” 26 likes
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