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on 16 July 2010
For years I've often found myself at odds with the ideas espoused by journalists, commentators and public figures. These ideas are held to be the only respectable ones to hold among right-minded people, and yet they seemed to fly in the face of reason and experience; they appeared to be motivated more by a desire to appear good than to do good.

Many books I've read have touched on these ideas and pointed out their stupidity, but few have really burrowed inside the mind of those who propose them. Thomas Sowell's brilliant book does precisely that, and much more besides. He analyses the reasoning (or lack of) behind the views of liberal intellectuals, and explains their motivations and aims. More importantly, he exposes the liberal-left worldview as a pretext for creating in world in which they play a more influential role, and which allows them to showcase their moral, intellectual and emotional superiority.

Sowell's arguments, backed by detailed evidence and historical references, are so clear and convincing that all but the most blinkered leftist could fail to read it without reflecting on the ingenuous, self-serving and destructive nature of his beliefs.

Sadly, as Sowell points out, the liberal intelligentsia tend to dispense with facts and opinions that don't endorse their own version of how the world works, so they are unlikely to risk reading this book. If they do, it will be with a determination to ignore or refute everything Sowell has to say. However, for anyone with an interest in the mindset of those who presume to tell us how to live, this is essential reading.
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on 27 March 2011
In "Intellectuals and Society", Sowell analyzes the nature of intellectuals (a term clearly defined in the introduction of the book, Sowell generally uses the term to refer to people whose trade is the generation of ideas), their motivations and their influence on society. Sowell is very critical of the role of this particular class of people, and argues for their detrimental influence in a variety of fields, notably economics, the structure of society and war.

The intellectuals whom Sowell refers to are generally left-wing thinkers and politicians, and Sowell makes little attempt to hide his right-wing opinions, particularly noticeable in the chapter on economics, where he appears to show a level of faith in the ability of economic markets to regulate themselves that is somewhat surprising given that this book was in fact published after the onset of the current financial crisis.

Nonetheless, despite the fact that some, including myself, may find Sowells implicit political opinions somewhat rigid, his arguments for the detrimental effects of intellectuals are throughout the vast majority of the book very sound. He particularly points out that these intellectuals often show surprisingly bad track records in terms of empirical results, and that they fail to adjust their opinions accordingly. Amongst the examples given are pacifism and appeasement politics, market regulation, military deterrence, crime reduction et al. Sowell convincingly demonstrates, both by reference to particular individuals and by reference to general political climate, that a considerable group of otherwise renowned intellectuals have espoused opinions which turned out to yield blatantly disastrous results, and importantly, that the intellectual establishment have failed to properly reflect on these failures of their own thinking.

Apart from considering the actual track record of intellectuals, Sowell also theorizes about the nature of intellectuals, particularly about the institutions which makes it possible for intellectuals to disregard empirical evidence against their ideas. These discussions create a framework for understanding the examples and particular discussions given throughout the book, and constitute a major part of the original thinking set forth by Sowell in the book.

The book is also very well-written, concise and readable. I found it one of the most thought-provoking works I have read in several years. I would furthermore point out that the rather obvious political bias of Sowell, which one may or may not agree with, in no way should detract from the fact that the ideas stated in the book are highly original, well researched and extremely interesting. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in critical thinking about modern society and its political climate.
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on 6 January 2011
For years now I have felt Like I was swimming against the tide of the intelligentsia or the intellectual elite, a club which seemed to me an invite only closed doors policy club where only the creme of the intellectual superiority wre allowed access; this book has shown me to be correct.

Exposing intellectuals both public and non for the hypocritical, wrong headed, fools that not only do not seek emoiric evidence but seem to enjoy going against the evidence, it seems that they gain more popularity the more they are wrong in the public eye.

These intellectuals can usually be found in the halls of academia, although admittedly not always, where they have a captive, rather than captivated, body of students in the lecture halls. They sneak out of their PhD's and attack various topics and ideas of which they have little to no knowledge. Some pass commentary on the state of the economy and the poor situation, having never picked up an economic textbook nor attended one class. Others such as Dawkins, no doubt brilliant in his field of Biology has never the less decided to write books on religion, documentaries on religion, of which he has very little knowledge and his research is extremely tardy when held against that of religious scholars!

I loved this book, not because it took intellectuals and shook them by the throat, but rather it showed me these intellectuals really aren't all that intellectual once we strip away the verbiage. It also showed me I can follow intellectual pursuits, my way, the right way, with solid research, empiric evidence to support my claims and to follow intellectualism as apassion for the truth, not a short cut to fame.

I would recommend this to anyone, except maybe an intellectual, I fear their inflated ego's could not bear the intellectual drubbing it will suffer!
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on 20 January 2015
Great book by a great philosopher. Dr. Sowell is the one of the two great philosophers of our time (the other, naturally, being Roger Scruton) and this book demonstrates his clear thinking about the 'anointed' intellectuals who seek to tell us what is right and what is wrong with society and with the ways that we ordinary folk think.
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"Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'Look, He is there!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect." -- Mark 13:21-22 (NKJV)

Intellectuals and Society has one very big point to make: People who are experts in one realm of the world of ideas are inclined to opine about areas where they know very little. If we take what they say seriously about area B because of their credibility in area A, shame on them and shame on us.

If that's all there were to the book, you wouldn't need to read it. Thomas Sowell often makes the exploration of specific examples lots of fun, especially when he draws on his own deep expertise in economics and economic research. When the subjects being explored aren't as easy to subject to economic analysis, I thought that his points didn't necessarily score. It was more like one intellectual disagreeing with another intellectual, without much basis to distinguish the two.

I found the book's general point to be thought provoking. Why do so many people make strong public statements for which they have little or no evidence? I suspect that two incentives dominate:

1. One side or the other "feels" more emotionally "right" to them.

2. They either like the media limelight or cannot avoid it, and a hot topic has come up.

Thomas Sowell eventually gets around to the problem of many people in the media not caring about the accuracy of the views being presented concerning public issues. I think the problem is even more fundamental: Many people in the media are young and inexperienced concerning what they are writing about. They are in no position to discern a sound position from an unsound one.

I discussed this area today with a friend of mine. He made a wonderful comment: "People seem to like to scream at one another. It validates that they exist." There certainly is a lot of screaming going on today. It would be nice to find a way to look at the facts and make some informed choices instead. I think this book is mostly helpful in making that point.
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on 20 March 2014
This book presents a credible explanation for much that has gone wrong in western society in recent decades. It does so without conspiracy theories or allegations of malice. It is not anti intellectual but explains tellingly how well meaning intellectuals have wrought great damage.
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on 4 February 2015
A superb book. Lucid and engaging. Compassionate yet forthright in highlighting the vanities of the 'anointed ones' and the many great harms they have helped cause. It provides a powerful critique of political classes and their intellectual cheerleaders whose distance from 'ordinary people' seems to grow by the year. My primary political concern is over the remarkable, dangerous and damaging growth in the influence of environmental campaigners on government, on the media, on academia, and even on schools from the nursery level onwards. I find insights on almost very page which have helped me make more sense of this. Sowell's scope is far wider. But he too is concerned about damage being done to society by self-anointed egotistical 'intellectuals' intent on imposing their wishes on the rest of us by hook or by crook, and that includes sweeping empirical observations as well as contrary views aside with contempt.
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on 20 December 2012
Nothing hurts "intellectuals" like the truth that is not cherished by themselves. And hardly anyone has done more than Thomas Sowell to reveal the final destination of the "flight of the intellectuals" in the USA: The mental couch hammock. For this he deserves immense credit
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on 2 September 2010
sowell is not 80 and this a perhaps going to be his last book. it contains little new research that cannot also be found in many of his other books and articles, and as such it is more of a "conversational" book. still, the content is great, even if thinly researched here and there its great to have devils advocate whoose views are in opposition to the mainstream
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on 9 January 2014
This is a very impressive book. The empiricism applied on every sentence does ring a bell to very well know facts. Suddenly it does make your mind spin around everything that you have thought before asking whether you were the only one to have observed this phenomenon.

I think that everyone who thinks that something is quite wrong with the modern thinking nowadays but does not know how to articulate his or her thoughts quite well, this book can be quite helpful.
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