Alan Wolfe: Tom Sowell is a Grumpy Pants

Writing in The New Republic’s new book website (which has been very good so far), Boston College professor Alan Wolfe offers a masters class in how not to review a work of non-fiction. First, while I have greatly enjoyed Tom Sowell’s big books on economics, which are great primers for the non-economist, and learned quite a bit from his many treatises on affirmative action, I haven’t read his latest, Intellectuals and Society. So while Wolfe might be right that Sowell has produced a middling book devoid of “original ideas” (and if this were the most important criterion governing whether a book was worth publishing, it would bankrupt all but a few academic presses), he declines to engage or even explain the premise of Intellectuals and Society.

Wolfe begins his "review":

Let’s get my judgment of Thomas Sowell’s new book out of the way first. There is not a single interesting idea in its more than three-hundred pages. Purporting to deal with the role that intellectuals play in society, it offers no discussion of literature, music, and the arts. While containing copious references to Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, its index lacks references to Lionel Trilling, Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Daniel Bell, Jürgen Habermas, Raymond Aron, Mary McCarthy, Michael Walzer, Amartya Sen, and countless others known to have put an interesting idea or two into circulation. It recycles ancient clichés about the academic world and never questions its author’s conviction that those who share his right-wing views are always right. Jonah Goldberg calls it “an instant classic.” Case closed.

Case closed, because that awful Jonah Goldberg liked it. In fact, if you own any books that Goldberg thinks are wonderful, throw them on to the fire. And how could Sowell write a book about intellectuals without reference to Jürgen Habermas and Daniel Bell, like all the intellectual historians of the left?

So what’s the premise of the book? Wolfe never says. Why is the book so terrible? Wolfe doesn’t offer a single quote and he doesn’t attempt to rebut a single of the book’s claims. If Sowell’s work is so horrid, so unworthy of review from such a brilliant public intellectual as Wolfe and, presumably, undeserving of space in the pages of an august journal like The New Republic, then why even bother? Because Wolfe reads Sowell as a “dour” and angry intellectual—he "takes no joy in anything he has to say"—who very rarely smiles or cracks a joke. How does he know this? He just does. Why is it important? It just is.

Wolfe's groundbreaking conclusion:

Sowell is in desperate need of some cheer. Look Tom, I want to tell him, you write books just like the people who write the ones you attack. We think our ideas are correct, and so do you. Sure, we may get things wrong from time to time but hey, the free market did have something to do with the Great Depression even if you tell me otherwise.

Check out the review here.

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  • ||

    Innate Superiority: An Inferior Idea
    Innate capacities do not matter so much as developed capabilities.

    Mixed up with the question of fairness to individuals and groups has been the explosive question of whether individuals and groups have the innate ability to perform at the same levels, if they are all treated alike or even given the same objective opportunities.

    Intellectuals have swung from one side of this question at the beginning of the 20th century to the opposite side at the end. Both those who said that achievement differences among races and classes were due to genes, in the early years of the 20th century, and those who said that these differences were due to discrimination, in the later years, ignored the old statisticians’ warnings that correlation is not causation.

    The idea that some people are innately superior (usually one’s own group) goes back for centuries, but various new facts that came out in the 19th and early 20th centuries gave the appearance of “science” to such beliefs during the Progressive era.

    Sir Francis Galton’s research turned up the fact of remarkable achievements among members of the same family, which he regarded as evidence of genetic superiority. The rise of IQ testing, and especially the massive mental testing of soldiers in the U.S. Army during the First World War, showed great differences in test scores among various racial and ethnic groups.

    In the public schools, there were similarly large differences in which ethnic group’s children failed to get promoted. In both the Army mental tests and the schools, Polish Jews did poorly at that time. Carl Brigham — a leading authority on mental tests and the author of the SAT — said that the Army tests tended to “disprove the popular belief that the Jew is highly intelligent.”

    It should be noted that all of these conclusions were based on hard data, not mere “perceptions” or “stereotypes,” as so many inconvenient facts are dismissed today. What was wrong was not the data but the inferences.

    Polish Jews were among the many immigrants from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe who were relatively recent arrivals in the United States. Many of these immigrants grew up in homes where English was not spoken, as Carl Brigham acknowledged in later years, when he recanted his earlier statements. In later years, Jews scored above average on mental tests.

    It is also a hard fact of history that some races had far more advanced technological, economic, and other achievements than others at particular times and places. But those who were ahead in some centuries were often behind in other centuries — the Chinese and the Europeans having changed positions dramatically after Europe eventually caught up with China and then surpassed it within recent centuries. But there was no evidence of any dramatic changes in genetics among either the Chinese or the Europeans.

    While striking changes in the relative positions of different races at different periods of history undermine genetic explanations, the fact that there has been no period when their achievements have been the same undermines today’s presumption that different economic or other outcomes are due to discrimination.

    Whatever the innate capacity of any race, class, or other group, what pays off in the real world are developed capabilities, and these have never been the same — or even close to being the same — for individuals or groups.

    All the leading brands of beer in the United States were created by people of German ancestry, and so was the leading beer in China, not to mention breweries created by Germans in Australia, Argentina, and elsewhere. Germans were producing beer in the days of the Roman Empire.

    This does not mean that beer-brewing skill is genetic, but it also does not mean that this skill — or any other skill — is randomly distributed among peoples, so that a failure to have equal “representation” of groups in a given institutions can be presumed to be due to discrimination by that institution.

    Fairness as equal treatment does not produce fairness as equal outcomes. The confusion between the two meanings of the same word has created enormous mischief, much of it at the expense of lagging groups, who have been distracted from the things that would enable them to catch up. And whole societies have been kept in a turmoil pursing a will o’ the wisp in the name of “fairness.”

  • ||

    Intellectuals and Society
    Ideas have consequences, for good or ill.

    There has probably never been an era in history when intellectuals have played a larger role in society. When intellectuals who generate ideas are surrounded by a wide range of others who disseminate those ideas — whether as journalists, teachers, staffers to legislators or clerks to judges — the influence of intellectuals on the way a society evolves can be huge. Trying for years to understand the nature of that influence eventually led me to write the book Intellectuals and Society, which has just been published.

    Intellectuals generate ideas and ideas matter, whether those ideas are right or wrong, and they matter far beyond the small segment of society who are intellectuals. Ideas affect the fate of whole nations and civilizations. Nowhere is that more true than in our own times, when some people make suicidal attacks to kill strangers who have done nothing to them, as on 9/11, because the attackers are consumed with a set of ideas — a vision — and driven by the emotions generated by those ideas and that vision.

    Whether in war or peace, and whether in economics or religion, something as intangible as ideas can dominate the most concrete things in our lives. What Karl Marx called “the blaze of ideas” has set whole nations on fire and consumed whole generations.

    Those whose careers are built on the creation and dissemination of ideas — the intellectuals — have played a role in many societies out of all proportion to their numbers. Whether that role has, on balance, made those around them better off or worse off is one of the key questions of our times.

    The quick answer is that intellectuals have done both. But certainly, during the 20th century, it is hard to escape the conclusion that intellectuals have on balance made the world a worse and more dangerous place. Scarcely a mass-murdering dictator of the 20th century was without his supporters, admirers, or apologists among the leading intellectuals — not only within his own country, but in foreign democracies, where intellectuals were free to say whatever they wanted.

    Given the enormous progress made during the 20th century, it may seem hard to believe that intellectuals did so little good as to have that good outweighed by their wrong-headed notions. But most of those who promoted the scientific, economic, and social advances of the 20th century were not really intellectuals in the sense in which that term is most often used.

    The Wright brothers, who fulfilled the centuries-old dream of human beings flying, were by no means intellectuals. Nor were those who conquered the scourge of polio and other diseases, or who created the electronic marvels that we now take for granted.

    All these people produced a tangible product or service and they were judged by whether those products and services worked. But intellectuals are people whose end products are intangible ideas, and they are usually judged by whether those ideas sound good to other intellectuals or resonate with the public. Whether their ideas turn out to work — whether they make life better or worse for others — is another question entirely.

    The ideas that Karl Marx created in the 19th century dominated the course of events over wide portions of the world in the 20th century. Whole generations suffered, and millions were killed, as a result of those ideas. This was not Marx’s intention, nor the intentions of many supporters of Marxian ideas in countries around the world. But it is what happened.

    Some of the most distinguished intellectuals in the Western world in the 1930s gave ringing praise to the Soviet Union, while millions of people there were literally starved to death and vast numbers of others were being shipped off to slave-labor camps.

    Many of those same distinguished intellectuals of the 1930s were urging their own countries to disarm while Hitler was rapidly arming Germany for wars of conquest that would have, among other things, put many of those intellectuals in concentration camps — slated for extermination — if he had succeeded.

    The 1930s were by no means unique. In too many other eras — including our own — intellectuals of unquestionable brilliance have advocated similarly childish and dangerous notions. How and why such patterns have existed among intellectuals is a challenging question, whose answer can determine the fate of millions.

  • ||

    You know, I'm sure Sowell, his editor, his publishing syndicate and everyone else who depends on his column's readership to make a living would appreciate your not stealing his work for pasting wherever you want. Especially when you don't include a credit line or even a simple link.

    Why do you think that content is yours to appropriate, anyway? It doesn't belong to you. It has a copyright for a reason.

    (This is your cue to offer some strained interpretation of "fair use" or some other tortured rationalization.)

  • ||

    Here's a link to his column, by the way, if you'd like to contribute your pageview in exchange for his work, which is the asking price:

    http://www.ocregister.com/opin.....uries.html

  • Spoonman||

    Double wall of text, to prevent legibility spillover.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    +1

  • Spoonman||

    Relevantly, it's bizarre to see how self-confident liberals are becoming in their echo chambers, just like conservatives did about foreign policy after 9/11. If it convinced the country that it was necessary to invade Iraq then, think what it could do now.

  • ||

    Both by Sowell

  • BakedPenguin||

    Link next time. <a href="http://whatever.com"> link text here </a>

    Seriously. Walls of text suck.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Also, just as an FYI, commenter "B.P." and I are two different people.

  • B.P.||

    I'm thinking of changing my handle. A press release will follow if I do.

  • ||

    Yes they suck and as a rule I never do them, but I thought that given that the piece was about Sowell and his take on intellectuals, that it would be okay to do text walls of Sowell explaining his take on intellectuals. Especially since they were published in th National Review. There are folks here that will automatically reject anything linked to National Review.

  • GILMORE||

    Yes they suck and as a rule I never do them

    And by "never", you mean "like I just did"

    Dont know where you would get the idea that some people here would "automatically reject" anything. If anything, the only thing that automatically irritates *everyone* are large block-quote excerpts being posted on the blog by anonymous spambots.

    Seriously, its poor form.

  • B.P.||

    Hey Sowell! You didn't write about the people I want you to write about!

    I actually clicked over to the article. That review is completely empty.

  • Xeones||

    Sounds like Alan Wolfe should write a book, then.

    (I will not read it.)

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    I move we ban Spoonerman.

  • Spoonman||

    ...Why?

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    Wall of text. Apologies if it wasn't you.

  • Spoonman||

    Yeah, it wasn't, I just commented on it.

  • Inkblots||

    Second!

  • ||

    He didn't argue because liberals are incapable of engaging and argueing with the other side. They can only engage in consescension and attack the messanger kind of argument. Sowell and dour and some icky guy like Jonah Goldberg likes him. That really does pass for argument among liberal circles.

    It is not surprising liberals can't engage in real intellectual discussion. Everything liberals believe in has been tried and tried to the extreme in the old Eastern block. And it all failed and failed in unimaginably horrible ways. Intellectual life for the Left ended in 1989. They just won't admit it. Rather than face the reality that everything they believe is false and leads to horrible consiquences, liberals have chosen to pretend 1989 never really happened and to sit around and smell their own farts.

  • Pip ||

    "He didn't argue because liberals are incapable of engaging and argueing with the other side. They can only engage in consescension and attack the messanger kind of argument. "

    e.g., MNG

  • Jersey Patriot||

    He didn't argue because liberals are incapable of engaging and argueing with the other side.

    That's right. There's not a single liberal anywhere that can understand and respond to criticisms of liberal ideas. Brave souls like you continue to hammer your perfectly reasonable and logical arguments, and all liberals everywhere cannot stand to do battle with you.

    Get a grip.

  • ||

    Go find one then. And in the mean time, try making an argument, like for example pointing to some links of well argued liberal pieces, rather than engagin in just the kind of think I am talking about. "Get a grip". Yep that typifies the level of liberal argument.

  • Zeb||

    I know some liberals that will engage in actual discussion with me. Generally, they will eventually admit that I am ultimately right, but still insist that we have to try doing something about whatever liberal bugaboo we were talking about.

    Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I see some hope for a lot of these people. Hell, I used to think I was a liberal (though looking back, I think I was always to anti-authoritarian to really fall under the currently used definition of liberal).

  • Jersey Patriot||

    Should I wipe your ass for you, too? Get out there and read.

  • ||

    Get out and read all those articles you can't link to. They are all there, trust you.

  • Joe M||

    I skimmed the review. Utterly content free.

  • Almanian||

    Thank goodness. Who'd want content in a book review? Non-intellectuals - that's who!

  • ||

    Sowell should have called it "people that sit around talking about ideas instead of doing things" are useless and don't make the world better.

    Well that would include us though.

  • Zeb||

    And Sowell himself.

  • Almanian||

    Based on this review, I'm going to purchase two copies of Dr. Sowell's latest - one for me, and one more just to aggravate Alan Wolfe.

  • Paul||

    You could send one to Wolfe.

  • SIV||

    (and if this were the most important criterion governing whether a book was worth publishing, it would bankrupt all but a few academic presses)

    fify

    (unless you can name any academic press that relies on sales for its' solvency)

  • ||

    *its

  • ||

    Wolfe reads Sowell as a “dour” and angry intellectual—he "takes no joy in anything he has to say"

    Having heard Thomas Sowell speak, I can say that this strikes me as highly unlikely. He actually seems to enjoy what he does very much.

    I suspect that what Wolfe is doing here is projecting his lack of joy in anything Sowell has to say.

  • ||

    Funny that. I have heard speak and met Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Sowell. All three were very funny, interesting people. They all seemed like well adjusted content individuals. Yet, those three are always portrayed as angry bitter people. Makes you think that liberals project a bit.

  • Sam Grove||

    It's a leftist habit.

  • Dave||

    It's a *human* habit, unfortunately.

  • Sam Grove||

    Yes, a guess a general habit.

    However, while I find the left to be pretty hateful as a result of demonizing their enemies, I don't hate people on the left or right.

    I am annoyed by their unconscious tribalism though.

  • CatoTheElder||

    A perfect example of liberal projection is Nancy Pelosi's characterization of the 4/15/09 Tea Party as "astroturf".

  • Inkblots||

    She really just wants to know how grassroots organizers make their astroturfed events look so much like they were the product of grassroots organizing.

  • Dave||

    Especially when Pelosi was caught astroturfing her own appearance immediately after, to show fake support by busing in "supporters" from out of town...

  • Pope Jimbo||

    What is wrong with dour?

    I have been lucky enough in my life to work and learn from a couple of men who never seemed happy. If they said you did "OK" you died and went to heaven.

    I grew up in northern MN and most of the old time norwegians were quiet serious men. They managed quite well.

    Today, we would be giving them pills and counseling because they weren't happy. I don't get it.

  • Paul||

    I have been lucky enough in my life to work and learn from a couple of men who never seemed happy. If they said you did "OK" you died and went to heaven.

    AKA Marriage.

  • Paul||

    Wolfe reads Sowell as a “dour” and angry intellectual—he "takes no joy in anything he has to say"

    Having heard Thomas Sowell speak, I can say that this strikes me as highly unlikely. He actually seems to enjoy what he does very much.

    So did Hitler.

    ... ok, someone had to say it.

  • j.i.am||

    I haven't read the book. I've just watched his interview about the book on Uncommon Knowledge. Sowell's premise is that intellectuals do not have enough essential knowledge to understand or run the world. That is because knowledge is widely distributed.

    That Sowell is one crazy dude.

  • prolefeed||

    He's just restating what Hayek said in "The Road to Serfdom".

  • ||

    You know, Wolfe's review reads just like a Vanneman movie review. You know, content-free. Coincidence? I think not.

  • Paul||

    Easy now, he's gonna show up with his powdered wig and flip a doily at you.

  • PR||

    wow, that wolfe guys seems like a racist

  • Slut Bunwalla||

    +1

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    Well, Naturally We're Liberal
    ...It is because we liberal-arts professors have a personal stake in our relative economic status; we have carefully studied the actual dynamics of history and culture; and we have trained ourselves to think in complex, nuanced, and productive ways about the human condition that so many of us are liberals. Most of us agree with President Obama that there is a "right side of history," and we feel morally bound to be on it. Although we'd like to see some parity in compensation with our colleagues, we chose our fields with full awareness of the tradeoff. Part of our compensation lies in knowing that our studies can complement our standing on the "right side," rather than having our basic commitments dictated to us by the limitations of other, narrower professions....

  • Mad Elf||

    Although we'd like to see some parity in compensation with our colleagues, we chose our fields with full awareness of the tradeoff.

    If they want more compensation, they should do something that is actually productive and requires specialized skills like engineering. It isn't that difficult to be a professional bullshit artist social scientist.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Self-described "liberals" typically do not have the mathematics ability to become engineers.

    It's no coincidence that Indiana Representative Taylor I. House was a Democrat. (He's the illustrious politician who thought pi could be legislated.)

  • ||

    I agree, there is a "right side of history" I just don't think that Obama will be on it. And, I think that my life and profession (engineering of consumer products) puts me on the right side of history - helping create things that people buy and that make them happy.

  • ||

    "...helping create things that people buy and that make them happy..."

    I enjoy ideas created by liberal arts thinkers as much or more than many consumer products. The tangibility or intangibility matters little to how I value things. In other words, thinking makes me happy. That's why I enjoy my profession in the liberal arts academy.

  • JD||

    That essay is such a farrago of unquestioned assumptions it's hardly rebuttable directly. One that should stick out especially to libertarians is "Who, after all, would want to preserve a situation in which others who are equivalently educated and experienced—doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, colleagues in other areas, and, yes, chief executives—receive vastly more compensation, sometimes by a factor of 10 or 100?" Define "equivalent", not to mention "educated" and "experienced". If two men both spend 15 years honing their skills and becoming the best in the world at what they do, but one is a heart surgeon and one is a juggler, are they really "equivalently educated and experienced" and should they be paid exactly the same? It takes a nearly Maoist strain of thought to say that they should be considered perfectly equal and paid the same, and a sweeping disregard for the market.

  • ||

    Well top-notch juggling is considerably more difficult than heart surgery but one can take comfort that the income inequality is removed by malpractice insurance rates.

    You could have 4 bricks of C-4, 15 blasting caps and 8 vials of nitro in the air (blindfolded) and still pay less.

  • Sam Grove||

    Evidently, the market reveals greater value on life saving than on juggling.

  • mick travis||

    The review may be awful and smug - but any non-fiction book with a quote of praise from Jonah Goldberg is enough of a cultural marker for me to know I won't be buying it.

  • shorter mick travis||

    I delight in my gleeful ignorance.

  • ||

    I don't get the dismissive attitude toward Goldberg by so many on the left. They act like he's a print version of Sean Hannity or something.

    There are plenty of movement-conservative hacks out there who do deserve that sort of dismissive assessment, but Goldberg has never registered with me as one of them. He strikes me as fairly thoughtful and intellectual, he seems to be logically rigorous and open to opposing lines of argument, and his writing can be clever and funny.

    There may be reasons to dislike the guy and his work, but the main one presented by the left -- that he's some sort of O'Reillyesque blowhard lightweight -- seems to be the wrong one.

    What is that they're seeing in the guy, exactly, that I'm not?

  • prolefeed||

    They don't like how, in "Liberal Fascism", he used facts and logic to illustrate how much leftists have in common with fascists.

    And, frankly, having read the book, while I disagree with some of his assertions, he makes a lot of sense.

    So, yes, liberals have a vested interest in dissing Goldberg so people don't start reading him and getting thoughts heretical to the PC worldview.

  • ||

    So if he praised The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, you'd avoid it then?

  • ||

    If that's the case, Goldberg needs to perform a public service for the USA by praising the mad literary skillz of Zinn, Chomsky, Mao, Marx, and Guevara...

  • GILMORE||

    So if he praised The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, you'd avoid it then?

    I'd probably suggest avoiding it anyway.

    It reminded me of "Lord of the Rings: Endlessly Extended and Way Too Complex Edition"; just when you thought the plot was coming together and you had most of the names sorted out, whammo, here come the freaking Ostrogoths or something. It would have been much easier if there were just elves, dwarves, and men. I still am kind of unclear on all the differences between Jutes and Getes, Saxons, Visigoths, Vandals, Franks, etc. Herodotus seemed less complicated by contrast. Maybe it was just me at the time. Maybe ancient writers are just more fun in general, what with more gods, magic, oracles, etc.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    "This business of dreary writing escapes me."
    Actually, Alan, it doesn't.

  • Michael||

    Alan Wolfe is writing a book about political evil.

    Fuckin' aye.

  • Jeffersonian||

    "Knowledge and Decisions" made my head hurt, I admit.

  • PIRS||

    "Sure, we may get things wrong from time to time but hey, the free market did have something to do with the Great Depression even if you tell me otherwise."

    So he has never heard of the Federal Reserve?

  • ||

    The free market helped end it. You reckon that's what he meant?

  • Michael Ejercito||

    No, Hirohito ended it.

  • alan||

    Lionel Trilling, Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Daniel Bell, Jürgen Habermas, Raymond Aron, Mary McCarthy, Michael Walzer, Amartya Sen

    That strikes me as a rather parochial list that a NYU student in the early sixties would come up with and then add a few tokens and oddballs to depending on the minute changes in fashion from then to now.

  • ||

    This Wolfe character claims Sowell needs to cheer up. Funny, any time I've heard Sowell on radio talk shows he seems to me to be a reasonably cheerful sort of guy, like you'd think a sane and accomplished human would be.

    What is Wolfe looking for, Alan Seuss?

  • Paul||

    Sure, we may get things wrong from time to time but hey, the free market did have something to do with the Great Depression even if you tell me otherwise.

    This is the dumbest thing I've read...maybe ever.

    Of course the free market had something to do with the Great Depression. The free market has had something to do with every economic collapse since the beginning of economic collapses. The free market had everything to do with the Soviet Union's economic implosion, North Korea's famine, Mao's "Great Leap Forward" and the millions that died as a result...

  • Kant feel Pietzsche||

    I just love anticipatory revenge.

    I apologize for the wall of text in advance. This excerpt from a 2001 Sowell piece entitled Some Thoughts about Writing:

    BOOK REVIEWS

    Book reviewing is, in a sense, the final phase of the publishing process. After that, it is all up to the reading public. To say that book reviewing has its idiosyncracies is to put it politely—too politely.

    There is, for example, a whole genre of log-rolling book reviews. A reviews B’s book with lavish praise today and, next year, B reciprocates with lavish praise of A’s new book. With computerized lists being so easy to maintain, one wonders why book review editors don’t keep track of who has reviewed whom before assigning a new book to be reviewed. Revenge book reviews could also be minimized the same way.

    Then there are those to whom book reviews are simply the continuation of politics by other means. The point here is not to ask that reviewers be “fair” to writers. With all the world’s troubles today, fairness to this minuscule segment of society must surely rank far down the list of priorities. The real issue is not fairness to writers but honesty with readers. Readers are, after all, the ultimate reason for writing, as well as the source of the money that pays to keep alive the magazines and newspapers in which book reviews appear. They are not paying to be lied to.

    Unfavorable or even biased reviews are a fact of life for anyone who writes on controversial subjects. What is maddening to me (even when it is not my book) are the reviews that don’t review.

    The non-reviewing review seems to be considered chic these days. The first four or five paragraphs don’t even mention the book that is the ostensible reason for the review. Instead, the reviewer puts the whole subject “in context” with lofty generalities and pre-emptive assertions. Then the book’s title puts in a cameo appearance, followed by an analysis of what the author was “really” trying to do and the reviewer’s comments on its appropriateness, originality, and consonance with his own ideological predispositions.

    All this is often just a prelude to a long editorial by the reviewer on the subject raised by the book—or even on a tangential topic suggested by it. Sometimes it takes some shrewd reading between the lines to figure out whether the reviewer thought the book was good, bad, or indifferent. Sometimes even a shrewd reading draws a blank. One of the reasons some people cannot get to the point is that there is no point to get to. In non-reviewing reviews, the only point often seems to be a display of the reviewer’s sense of superiority.

    In addition to this ordinary garden variety of non-reviewing review, there is also the more imaginative non-review in which a steady stream of deep-sounding questions, miscellaneous sociological or psychological observations, and expressions of agonizing moral issues, all combine to conceal the simple fact that the reviewer hasn’t read the book.

    The longest review any of my books ever received—several thousand words, spread over two consecutive issues of The New York Review of Books—contained not one word referring to anything past the first chapter of Ethnic America. The reviewer’s painful attempts to puzzle out the possible implications of this book would have been unnecessary if he had followed the more usual practice of reading the first and last chapters. The last chapter was titled, “Implications.” Ideological differences were involved in that case, but such differences are neither necessary nor sufficient to produce a non-reviewing review. An even worse example was a review in The Public Interest, with which I am usually in agreement and in which I have published articles of my own. This time the book was Migrations and Cultures, a history of migrations to countries around the world. Although this book covered everything from the Jews dispersing from Israel in ancient times to Germans migrating to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great to people migrating from China to Southeast Asia during the era of European imperialism, the reviewer chose to represent it as a book about current immigration policy in the United States—a subject not even occupying ten pages in a 500-page book.

    According to this non-reviewing review, American immigration history and contemporary policy were central to my concerns, though he noted in passing that the subtitle (“A World View”) suggests that my “focus is broader than the United States.” The fact that there were fourteen other countries covered in the book might also have suggested that—if he had read the book, though there was not a speck of evidence that he had. It so happens that contemporary American immigration policy was a subject that the reviewer had written about before—and apparently wanted to write about again, even if that meant making up a fictitious account of the book that he was supposedly reviewing.

  • ||

    What the hell, man? Again:

    You know, I'm sure Sowell, his editor, his publishing syndicate and everyone else who depends on his column's readership to make a living would appreciate your not stealing his work for pasting wherever you want. Especially when you don't include a credit line or even a simple link.

    Why do you think that content is yours to appropriate, anyway? It doesn't belong to you. It has a copyright for a reason.

    (This is your cue to offer some strained interpretation of "fair use" or some other tortured rationalization.)

  • zoltan||

    Are you fucking illiterate?

    . This excerpt from a 2001 Sowell piece entitled Some Thoughts about Writing:

  • zoltan||

    You can also read it here at Thomas Sowell's website.

    Fucking toolbox.

  • ||

    "This excerpt from a 2001 Sowell piece entitled Some Thoughts about Writing:"

    What in the world does that have to do with anything? If you have an argument to make to rationalize the violation of someone's copyright, then make it.

    "You can also read it here at Thomas Sowell's website."

    And I'm not sure what you think the relevance of this is, either. What -- because it's on that website, it's OK for it to be on this website too?

    You're not the rightsholder to Sowell's work. It's not yours to copy and distribute. You can pull out all the "toolboxes" and "fucking illiterates" you want, but they don't change anything about the actual reality here.

  • zoltan||

    Certainly your panties must be in a twist at Reason's large block quotes of Alan Wolfe's book review then!

    Hey guys, make sure your quotes of someone else's work are, what? less than 1000 characters? Or Tom (who isn't terribly familiar with print on the internet) will cry like a fucking child.

    Do you know what the internet is? Do you know there is no way for you to argue this on a copyright stance? Pfft, I support copyright and saying you can't copy and paste someone's work which they provide for free on the internet is fucking ridiculous.

  • ||

    "saying you can't copy and paste someone's work which they provide for free on the internet is fucking ridiculous."

    Wait a minute: This is what's causing you to argue so vehemently? This mistaken belief?

    Wow.

    I've seen people be wrong about stuff before, including me plenty of times, but this one is a doozy.

  • Kant feel Pietzsche||

    Oh, and pinhead...this piece is uncopyrighted. And I did make attribution. You obviously haven't seen the, oh, 50 million or so recent blog entries where pieces are blockquoted and then analyzed?

  • ||

    The piece is copyrighted. Frankly, I don't know what the limits are on using copyrighted material - you can certainly post some portion of it with proper attribution, but you can't post all of it. I don't know where the line is drawn.

    For extended quotations, we should be careful and make sure we're respecting the author's copyright.

    That said, I enjoyed enormously the portion you excerpted - particularly the "non-review review."

  • Kant feel Pietzsche||

    Most of the blogs on the planet would be out of business if your interpretation were upheld.

  • Kant feel Pietzsche||

    Linky to the whole piece :

  • ||

    Thomas Sowell is the MAN. He "showed me the light" while I was getting inundated with liberal nonsense at university. He's my favorite intellectual.

  • ||

    If you are going to write a book review you have to actually talk about the themes of the book. Otherwise its not a book review, its an editorial. Can't say I was suprised to hear abunch of self righteous nonsense from a sociology professor.

  • prolefeed||

    You CAN'T legally copy and paste internet content, free or not, if copyright is asserted. But it is not in the linked Sowell piece, which implies that Sowell wants his content widely distributed (with attribution!) to advance the spread of his ideas or his reputation or both.

  • zoltan||

    Please tell this to Toolbox Tom, he doesn't seem to understand this.

  • ||

    It does indicate it's copyrighted at the link above: "Copyright © 2001 by Thomas Sowell. All rights reserved."

    It may still be a permissible use - size matters.

  • ||

    Sea lawyers

  • Kant feel Pietzsche||

    Holy Shit Batman! Sorry if I caused a ruckus. Just wanted to show the relevant part of a really long piece. FWIW, I never post anything that isn't mine without attribution. Otherwise, I can't skewer other people who plagairize. ;^)

  • matt||

    The New Republic is actually a pretty remarkable publication. Not good, remarkable. They're the only big opinion magazine I've ever read that is consistently wrong about everything.

  • matt||

    And smugger than all fuck. They're printed, paginated, Chlamydia, in my opinion.

  • Mad Max||

    Perhaps simply bought into the angry-black-man stereotype and assumed that Sowell fit it.

  • Mad Max||

    Perhaps *Wolfe* simply . . .

  • ||

    Who's Alan Wolfe, and why should anyone care what he has to say about a great economist and historian?

    -jcr

  • I Heart Capitalisms||

    Wolfe's review was dour and didn't contain a single original thought.

  • ||

    Thomas Sowell is indeed one of the smartest thinkers out there. Read all of his books numerous times, well most. Conflict of visions, quest for cosmic justice, vision of the anointed, black rednecks and white liberals, basic and applied economics, race and culture, etc. Writings style is the best I have ever come across. Especially in the vision of the anointed. Fluid and absolute genius [especially his optional reality chapter].

  • Wolfemother||

    Wolfe has written some reviews for the Washington Post, and they are uniformly terrible. They're usually less about the book than whatever points Wolfe wants to score on behalf of his political team.

    I stopped taking Wolfe seriously several years ago when he wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education that tried to show how all modern-day American conservatives are actually disciples of the German legal theorist Carl Schmitt. Trouble is, most of Schmitt's fans are left-wing academics. As a thinker, Wolfe is an epic fail.

  • ||

    Reading this review closely, I don't think this Wolfe guy even read the book.

    It reads like he came at it with his preconceived negative notions, and simply skimmed through the index.

    Newspaper print pussies like this guy, and wonder why they are going under. They deserve to, for printing this kind of trash.

  • ||

    My bad, it wasn't it a paper,it was in the new republic.

    Which is even worse.

    My own personal rule #1 of politcs:

    Liberals are wrong about everything, all the time.

  • ||

    If he was going to describe the premise of Sowell's book, his arguments, and what is wrong with them he'd be obliged to actually read the thing. Paging thorugh the index and snarking at the author is so much easier, and nobody among liberals expects him to do anything else. So why should he bother?

  • ||

    I just stumbled upon this site.

    Can you guys get over yourselves to contribute something that would increase my understanding of the world, politics, morals, ...you know...

    So far, I see you're embroiled in simple name-calling and diatribe.

    Shall I check back in a few to see if anything substantive has been posted?

    Hopefully,

    ...

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