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.