Regular readers of this column know by now that I think Thomas Sowell is possibly the greatest American of the last century. It is hard to imagine an American with whom I have been more impressed over my lifetime. The fact that he wrote a fabulously enlightening book published at age 90 (he is now 91) is enough of a statement. Jason Riley (WSJ contributor) has released a biography of Sowell entitled Maverick. Riley’s book in its way is as great as any of Sowell’s 40+ books. Allow me to explain.
First, Riley writes the book in a readable fashion much like Sowell, even though both tackle complex subjects. Riley understands like Sowell (except for his pure economic treatises) that the reader needs to comprehend what he is writing; otherwise, the book is just an act of egotism. Additionally, despite writing about a person who has had a long, full life, Riley brings the book in at 248 pages. So many of those pages illicit a “wow” that there is extraordinarily little not totally fulfilling in this book.
You do learn of Sowell’s meager beginnings which he did not allow to color or taint his outlook. You also learn that while gathering his post high-school education he was a Marxist. That may have floated while he was doing studies at Harvard and Yale. He maintained his Marxist position even while studying for his PhD in Economics at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and his band of Nobel Laureates who educated Sowell but never indoctrinated him. He changed from that Marxist philosophy, but you must read the book to find out what made Sowell change his mind and become one of the greatest Conservative thinkers of the last 100 years.
I have written recently that the two biggest stumbling blocks for blacks are 1) black leaders and 2) white liberals. This book validates that as Sowell is living proof. Sowell never accepted the status quo thinking to “go along and get along.” His position on affirmative action in the 1960’s brought scorn upon him by the black establishment, initiated by such leading organizations as the NAACP and Urban League. He became an outcast among the black establishment, but never flinched because they never effectively defeated his well-documented, reasoned ideas. They had nothing to throw at him as a defense other than name calling (sound familiar?). He also had faith that the everyday black man was firmly in agreement with him.
The late Walter Williams told Riley “That the lack of engagement of Sowell’s ideas among black liberals makes sense when you understand that it is not in their interests to draw attention to the types of things Sowell is saying.” As Riley stated, “black intellectuals such as Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Ta-Nehisi Coates had no use for Sowell.” As Williams stated, they “benefit immensely from making white people feel guilty. But Tom does not benefit from making white people feel guilty and neither do I, so they don’t have any use for us.”
In fact, you can draw a direct line from the race hustlers of the past to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi and Black Lives Matters. They feed on the squishy brains of white liberals who then feed the personal coffers of the race baiters as they gain greater notoriety while solving none of the challenges facing blacks. There is a correlation between their thinking and why the black establishment is against school choice, vouchers, and charter schools.
Maverick will redefine your thinking about economics and other topics. It will cause you to acquire at least two and possibly more books by Sowell further enriching your life and acquainting you with thoughts from which you have likely not been exposed (or exclude from exposure) by our educational system unless you have had some self-enlightenment. There is no better time you can spend than reading Maverick – other than reading a book by the great man himself.