Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell

Basic: Perseus. May 2021. 288p. ISBN 9781541619685. $28. BIOG
The life of economist and public intellectual Thomas Sowell (b. 1930) is given consideration and nuance in this biography by Riley (senior fellow, Manhattan Inst.; Please Stop Helping Us). This contribution (which is the only full-scale treatment of Sowell aside from Riley’s documentary Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World and Sowell’s own autobiographical works) compares Sowell’s creation of an ideational marketplace with those who considerably influenced him (Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Steven Pinker), those who arrived at similar ideas (Walter E. Williams, Shelby Steele, Stephen L. Carter, Glenn Loury, William Julius Wilson), and some of his current critics (Ibram X. Kendi, Ta-Nehisi Coates). In a clearly composed account, geared toward general readers, Riley describes Sowell’s lengthy career characterized by his emphasizing the importance of incentives, institutions, self-improvement, geography, human capital, and trade-offs engendered by choices. Always assessing society through the eyes of an economist, Sowell (a former Marxist) has for decades espoused libertarian-conservative concepts of school choice, drug decriminalization, and opposition to affirmative action’s unintended consequences.
VERDICT Based on interviews and ideas replete in Sowell’s innumerable books, this biography is seasoned with selections from the economist’s sardonic quips. While many will disagree with his proposals, few should disregard his impact.
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