Thomas Sowell — Intellectual Maverick at Work

WSJ columnist Jason Riley’s book Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell will be published later this spring, but this past week The Free to Choose Network has released an inspiring film on Sowell narrated by Riley — ‘Common Sense in a Senseless World’ and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It also features my late great colleague Walter Williams providing some context to Sowell’s greatness as a thinker and public intellectual.

One of my prized possessions is a signed copy of Knowledge and Decisions that I got when Sowell visited GMU during my graduate student days.  One of Don Lavoie’s best papers on the discovery, use and dissemination of knowledge began as a reflection of Sowell’s contributions made in Knowledge and Decisions. James Buchanan told me on more than one occasion during my graduate student days (1984-1988) that he thought Knowledge and Decisions was one of the best books published in the last decade in economics, but that it was probably the one book of Sowell’s that didn’t sell as well as others.

We should also always remember what both F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman had to say about the book when it was published in 1980.

“In a wholly original manner Sowell succeeds in translating abstract and theoretical argument into a highly concrete and realistic discussion of the central problems of contemporary economic policy.” –F. A. Hayek

“This is a brilliant book. Sowell illuminates how every society operates. In the process he also shows how the performance of our own society can be improved.” –Milton Friedman

Watching this documentary on Sowell, I am once more struck on how many fruitful research questions can be raised by pursuing the hypotheses he raises in his works.  I also respect the clarity of his voice, and the clarity of his purpose.

Watch this intellectual maverick go to work in unearthing the governing dynamics of the social world.

This article was first published by the AIER, and can be found here.


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Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World traces Sowell’s journey from humble beginnings to the Hoover Institution, becoming one of this era’s greatest economists, political philosophers, and prolific authors.

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