Skip to comments.Mind-changing Books (Thomas Sowell)
Posted on 04/07/2009 4:11:13 PM PDT by jazusamo
From time to time, readers ask me what books have made the biggest difference in my life. I am not sure how to answer that question because the books that happened to set me off in a particular direction at a particular time may have no profound or valuable message for others and can even be books I no longer believe in today.
The first book that got me interested in political issues was Actions and Passions by Max Lerner, which I read at age 19. It was a collection of his newspaper columns, none of which I remember today and all of which were vintage liberalism, which even Max Lerner himself apparently had second thoughts about in his later years.
The writings of Karl Marx especially The Communist Manifesto had the longest lasting effect on me as a young man and led me to become and remain a Marxist throughout my twenties. I wouldn't recommend The Communist Manifesto today either, except as an example of a masterpiece of propaganda.
There was no book that changed my mind about being on the political left. Life experience did that especially the experience of seeing government at work from the inside.
The book that permanently made me a sadder and, hopefully, wiser man was Edward Gibbons' The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. To follow one of the greatest civilizations of all time as it degenerated and fractured, even before being torn apart by its enemies, was especially painful in view of the parallels to what is happening in America in our own times.
The fall of the Roman Empire was not just a matter of changing rulers or political systems. It was the collapse of a whole civilization the destruction of an economy, the breakdown of law and order, the disappearance of many educational institutions.
It has been estimated that a thousand years passed before the standard of living in Western Europe rose again to the level it had once had back in Roman times. How long would it take to recover from the collapse of Western civilization today if we ever recovered?
The kinds of books most readers seem to have in mind when they ask for my recommendations are books that go to the heart of a particular subject, books that open the eyes of the reader in a mind-changing way.
James Q. Wilson's books on crime are like that, shattering the illusions of the intelligentsia about "root causes," "prevention" programs, "rehabilitation," and other trendy nonsense. Professor Wilson's books are a strong dose of hard facts that counter mushy rhetoric.
Peter Bauer's books on economic development demolish many myths about the causes of poverty in the Third World and about "foreign aid" as a way of relieving that poverty. The last of these books was the best, Equality, the Third World and Economic Delusion.
If you are interested specifically in why Latin American economies have lagged behind for so long, try reading Underdevelopment is a State of Mind by Lawrence Harrison.
Among my own books, those that the most readers have said changed their minds have been A Conflict of Visions, Basic Economics, and Black Rednecks and White Liberals.
A Conflict of Visions is my own favorite among my books. It traces the underlying assumptions behind opposing ideologies that have dominated the Western world over the past two centuries and are still going strong today. The Vision of the Anointed is another book of mine that deals with the same subject, but concentrating on the conflicts of our time, and it is written in a more readable style, not as academic as A Conflict of Visions.
The most readable of this list of my books is Basic Economics, which may also be the most needed, as suggested by its being translated into six foreign languages.
Black Rednecks and White Liberals challenges much that has been said and accepted, not only about blacks but about Jews, Germans, white Southerners and others.
Experience has probably changed more minds than books have. But some books can pull your experiences together and show how they require a very different vision of the world.
In before the ping! :)
Hi, Di! :-)
It's staggers me to realize how desperately our country needs people like him these days.
Experince, indeed, is what changes one’s mind, rather than “books”. One thing I can’t help telling Libs I finally have to find myself arguing with is “What I have is experience. What Liberals have is “attitudes towards experience”. In the end, there’s no experience there for Libs; they’re always and only too happy to defer to someone else’s experience ( like murderers, rapists, unwed mothers,and all those people Lib candidates tell you they’ve met along the campaign trial, whose stories have
turned their heads around) as if it’s “truer” than their own-—and it is, because they never claim their own experience at all, and are in fact resentful of it.
I just reserved ‘Economic Facts and Fallacies’ from my library, and since I live in a VERY liberal county, there was no waiting, LOL!
‘The Vision of the Anointed’ is next, after EF&F. :)
At least there’s one advantage to living amongst libs. :-)
I have “The Vision of the Annointed” along with quite a few others on my “must read” list, I just have a hard time getting much reading done.
I have to recommend Sowell’s “Knowledge and Decisions”. This book systematically and conclusively shows how central planning and other forms of government interference in economic processes must ALWAYS fail.
Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll go add that one to my reserve list as well.
It’s fun to watch my Liberal Librarians sneer when they see what I’m checking out, LOL! It’s almost as much fun as rearranging the conservative author books at Barnes and Noble, but I can’t have fun EVERY day. :)
I hope to someday pass a library of books to my granddaughter for her ‘further’ education. Thomas Sowell’s writings will be in that chosen collection.
LOL! Sixty seconds. :-p
Dude (or dude-ess, as the case may be), I’ve been following your Thomas Sowell pings for years now, and I just had a thought. I don’t have any idea how I am supposed to pronounce your name...
splained it in FRmail :)
PING FOR LATER
I read Sowell’s autobiography but somehow missed the fact that he was a communist as a young man.
I wasn’t aware of that either. He was 21 when he was drafted and went into the Marines. Following that were his college years so he must be referring to them. He went to Howard, Harvard, Columbia and U of Chicago.
Hayek’s Road to Serfdom influenced me a lot. I am about Obama’s age, and I remember being suspicious of the older kids who were excited about Mao or Castro. I never understood why you would want to give anyone absolute power like that. I remember as a child learning about the absolute monarchs of old. One of my earliest political thoughts was that these communists who demamded power and obedience were more like throwbacks to the ancient monarchs than they were anything new or revolutionary.
I try to get everybody to read Road to Serfdom, and Sowell refers to it freely. I’ve ready many by Sowell, and frankly consider him brilliant....usually what he argues is so obviously true, but of course, I could be reading it through the filter of lots of years, so experience may be playing a role as well. Read Facts and Fallacies, Basic Economics, Visions of the Annointed, and just loved Conquests and Cultures, which was my intro to Sowell. For clear thinking, he and Walter Williams are my favorites. Oh, Mark Steyn....:-)
Thanks for the ping.
I have to get that one... thanks for the thumbs up recommendation.
"The book that permanently made me a sadder and, hopefully, wiser man was Edward Gibbons' The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. To follow one of the greatest civilizations of all time as it degenerated and fractured, even before being torn apart by its enemies, was especially painful in view of the parallels to what is happening in America in our own times.
The fall of the Roman Empire was not just a matter of changing rulers or political systems. It was the collapse of a whole civilization the destruction of an economy, the breakdown of law and order, the disappearance of many educational institutions."
Certainly the above is what we view in America and the west today. Maybe there are more of us who see it now than saw it in the days of the Roman Empire, AND are willing to do something about it.
I had that same thought when I first learned about communism as well.
There really is only two kinds of government: a large, powerful, intrusive government or a small, free, unintrusive government.
It would be interesting to hear more of what it was like for him being a young intellectual at Harvard and Columbia in the 1950s, with the attractions of Marxism, left-wing ideology and the turn away from that.
I was just thinking about George Washington, how he was practically offered the role as king for life but he turned the offer down on republican principles. When the monarchs and tyrants around the world heard about this, they were astonished and some trembled, for turning down the opportunity to be king was itself a radical, revolutionary act. Contrast that with our ignorant fools who prattle on about how communism will someday work once they finally get the “right” person to be dictator.
Sowell is brilliant. He has such a solid grasp of the facts and he clearly explains complex ideas.
Dr. Sowell is a master at simplifying the complex, and we are so well reminded of this gift, every time we read one of his columns.
A point Rush frequently makes on his program. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, they are absolute fools! : )
That point cannot be repeated often enough. Every graduating class of the Harvard and Yale Law schools brims with bright, preternaturally ambitious people who are convinced of their personal entitlement to rush headlong into the pursuit of righting all of the world's wrongs.
Both the depth of their will and the shallowness of their tolerance can be attested to by anyone who has ever gotten in their way.
Yes, hopefully there are more of us that are willing to do something to prevent us suffering the same fate, I personally think there are.
We need more writers like Dr. Sowell to reach more Americans!
If you didn’t see post 22, Billthedrill pointed out an interesting fact I wasn’t aware of.
Knowledge and Decisions
Definitely - Sowell's breakout book, 1979 or 1980. Still in print, and just superb.
ping for reference