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  • Intellectuals and Society

  • By: Thomas Sowell
  • Narrated by: Tom Weiner
  • Length: 11 hrs and 22 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (235 ratings)

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Summary

This is a study of how intellectuals as a class affect modern societies by shaping the climate of opinion in which official policies develop, on issues ranging from economics to law to war and peace.

The thesis of Intellectuals and Society is that the influence of intellectuals is not only greater than in previous eras but also takes a very different form from that envisioned by those like Machiavelli and others who have wanted to directly influence rulers. It has not been by shaping the opinions or directing the actions of the holders of power that modern intellectuals have most influenced the course of events, but by shaping public opinion in ways that affect the actions of power holders in democratic societies, whether or not those power holders accept the general vision or the particular policies favored by intellectuals. Even government leaders with disdain or contempt for intellectuals have had to bend to the climate of opinion shaped by those intellectuals.

Intellectuals and Society not only examines the track record of intellectuals in the things they have advocated but also analyzes the incentives and constraints under which their views and visions have emerged. One of the most surprising aspects of this study is how often intellectuals have been proved not only wrong, but grossly and disastrously wrong in their prescriptions for the ills of society-- and how little their views have changed in response to empirical evidence of the disasters entailed by those views.

©2009 Thomas Sowell (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic reviews

A withering and clear-eyed critique about (but not for) intellectuals that explores their impact on public opinion, policy, and society at large

What listeners say about Intellectuals and Society

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One of the most important books of this century

This book was amazing in that it completely changed the way that I view the world. Sowell argues that it is the way that intellectuals view the world in abstract ways, rather than in direct response to it, that creates the problems of over simplifications, generalisations and simply flawed thinking.

5 people found this helpful

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Another excellent book by Thomas Sowell.

Perhaps more than any other of Thomas Sowell's great books, this more than any other reaches the core of what has gone wrong with western society. Sowell highlights how the radical ideas of many liberals and leftists burrow their way unchallenged into our body politic, fail, then emerge unscathed with no damage or cost to the intellectual concerned. The only costs of the failed idea is borne by many other people who must suffer the consequences of left wing idealism. Whilst this is an excellent work of analytical thinking, it is not a dry treatise and Sowell is scathing in his justified attacks on leftist elites and their thinking, as well as the damage wrought on our society by unaccountable utopians who never see, acknowledge or suffer from their failures. Please listen.

3 people found this helpful

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Superb!

Another fabulous, critical analysis of the legion failures of those who seek to live in the World as they wish it was, rather than the World as it actually is.

3 people found this helpful

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Enlightening

it's like taking the red pill. You see the world as it is not how it is portrayed.

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  • JB
  • 06-05-22

A revelation.

I did not know anything about T Sowell before taking this book. I am most impressed by his breadth of insight. So much of what he says makes sense and tallies with what is happening in the West now, post-Covid and amidst the woke revolution. many parallels with John McWhorter 's thoughts. it would be useful for this book to be compulsory reading for students, teachers and our politicians.

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outstanding

reprogrammes your brain to make it work properly. Sowell is a one man fact factory

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brilliant

brilliant book hugely important. society would benefit hugely if everyone was to read this.

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Must Read

I absolutely loved this book. This to me, is an essential read and will always have relevance. Thomas Sowell provides us with logical, evidenced chapters which is becoming rare in an age where our policies are largely dictated by feeling and ideology.

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Like an angry Twitter rant

Listening to this book was like listening to an angry Twitter rant. The author clearly felt that research, accuracy and impartiality were not qualities he needed to bring to the work. It is truly awful and entirely inaccurate.

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An excellent case.

Thomas Sowell presents his arguments very well and makes an excellent case. Wether the reader agrees or not it is a very informative and interesting book.

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  • Justin
  • 06-05-10

Biased but good

Wow! I have to admit this was a book that forced me to look up quite a few words, but it was worth it to figure out exactly what concept the author was trying to convey. This book has strong biases against "Intellectuals" as defined by the author, but he makes excellent points on how society is sometimes hindered by the elitist mentality that is becoming more prevalent in our higher education system graduates and government officials.

To sum up the author's concept as best I can: There is a select, but growing group of individuals who feel that society should be run by the smartest and most educated. That this group of select few will do a better job of running society and deciding what is best for the not-so-educated, not-so-smart masses.

He fundamentally believes that this approach is complete folly.

The author repeatedly challenges this concept and gives numerous examples (some good and some really biased) of how this method of leading society is flawed.

Well worth the read if only to challenge yourself to look at things differently.

37 people found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 17-08-13

I find Thomas Sowell fascinating

I have to confess that I find Thomas Sowell fascinating. I read his book “Economic Facts and Fallacies” and I have read many more. I enjoy watching him one “Youtube.” The man has a fantastic mind, he is able to tie real problems and solutions to real outcomes. He does not need to invent, slander or use pejoratives to attach those that disagree. His logic, history, facts and reality prove him right over and over again
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I love this book. I enjoyed every bit of it, and I love how Dr. Sowell ties every bit of the intelligentsia’s rhetoric back facts, numbers, reality, and history. The book follows Dr. Sowell’s thoughts on most of the materials I have read. There is nothing new here, except the ability to read Dr. Sowell’s thought. He is unapologetic, honest and forthright. Unlike the Intellectuals who will attack him personally, he has honor, and real intelligence. This work will never rise to fame, as he pulls the blinds open on the Intelligentsia, but it is a great read, even if you don’t care for Thomas Sowell.

36 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Benjamin
  • 10-02-10

Ignore the Leftists who review based off Summaries

I've read many reviews of Dr. Sowell's books and I think it's a common occurrence that those who often review his books with a single star read a few summaries whereby they feel they have become knowledgeable enough to review his works. The reviewers on this page are doing a considerable disservice by writing politically charged reviews before they even read the book.

With that said, I agree with a previous reviewer that "Intellectuals and Society" is a rehashing of some of Dr. Sowell's previous works, but it is nevertheless an excellent account with contemporary additions of the history of intellectual influence on culture.

It's ironic that the reviewer who called Dr. Sowell "anti-intellectual" was actually contributing to the truth of his thesis that intellectuals are not in favor of intellectual history, they are only in favor of promoting their own particular world view.

The ideas have been hashed out in many of his previous works, but some of the contemporary additions are worth the buy. If you have never read Thomas Sowell, "Intellectuals and Society" is an excellent introduction as it is very accessible.

36 people found this helpful

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  • Gare&Sophia
  • 05-12-12

An efficient attack on liberal philosophy.

This author is intelligent and mission oriented. He has taken the liberal line and found many cogent attacks on its margins and fissures. His tone is condsending, and he can be quite harsh. However, if you are a liberal I recommend this book to understand the conservative line. If you are a conservative this book will fit very well into your worldview.

He makes so good point about how the liberal model, that we can do better, is often at variance with actual experience. Yet, a good innoculation to his retoric would be the books; The working poor, and The new Jim Crow. These books counter all of the arguments that are passionately offered in this work.

However, all in all, I found this book to be informative and interesting.

35 people found this helpful

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  • John Robert BEHRMAN
  • 08-04-10

So?

If you want to listen to a book about bad things intellectuals say, this is for you. If you want to listen to a book about the effect of intellectuals on society, this is not for you.

I picked this book up because my first reaction was "oh, they're not important," and the spine says he thinks they are. He then proceeds to critique intellectualism, rather than show its import.

It's not really about "how" intellectuals influence society, it's about the annoying things lefties say and why they're annoying and why they've been wrong. Fine. So what?

Nothing in this book says a thing about whether the bad influence of intellectuals is (1) abnormal, (2) solvable, (3) important, or (4) anything else. Nor does he show how his arguments are peculiar to intellectuals - for example, he points out that lots of intellectuals supported Hitler. This is true. How many? Were there more or fewer intellectuals among his supporters than non-intellectuals? That he critiques this intellectual lapse in others and then indulges in it undermines his credibility.

When he defines intellectuals, he's very consistent (people who trade in ideas as an occupation), but he does not enforce that consistency throughout the book. You hear the definition at the beginning and end, and it's never mentioned in the middle. He has some strange lacunae in his thought regarding intellectuals - For example, he never says that economists are intellectuals, yet sometimes he says that intellectuals need to study more economics, and other times he calles Keynes and Galbraith (lefty economists) intellectuals. Similarly, it's very unclear whether he considers judges intellectuals.

28 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-02-10

Very Good, But Re-warmed Visions of the Annointed

I am a big fam of Thomas Sowell's writings and have been since I read Visions of the Annointed a few years ago. That said, having read the former, I was disappointed that this book was really little more than a re-warmed version of VOtA. If you have read VOtA, I would not suggest thsi book. If not, It is a worthy read and sheds light on the tricks played by intellectuals and the followers to skew reality to match their vision.

28 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Adriana
  • 19-09-10

Silly me

Before I downloaded this book I read reviews from readers and thought they were biased. It should have been a clue that the only good reviews came from people that actually felt inspired to "look up words" as a result of this book.

I wish I could say something good about it. Maybe, maybe, his analysis of the pre-war France has some redeeming value, but you can get that somewhere else without having to suffer through the rest of the book.

The rest of the book is a long rant against 'the anointed," which would be all the leftist intellectuals that he does not agree with. He makes generalized assertions about what other people think and believe, why they believe it, without any supporting evidence. He talks at length about misinformation and evidence that is being ignored, forgetting to present much more than generalized ball-park statistics you'd get on Wikipedia. There was one instance of 'evidence' he presented in his book to show how the intellectuals misinform the public: he actually used national averages of crime rates to dismiss arguments based on local averages of crime rates. Hello, statistics 101: you can't do that! It's apples and oranges.

Anyone with a college degree would be one of the anointed and very dangerous to all living things. Slavery, racism, domestic violence, the horrors of the Vietnam war (yes, he argues that the war should have been fought until victory was achieved, whatever that meant, and victory was possible - sound familiar?), poverty, all that are merely inventions of the anointed. They were not all that bad!

It's rediculous that he does not even bother (probably because he has no clue) with the empirical branches of the disciplines he disparages. The validation of their theories do come from actual empirical evidence, which I wished the author knew how to interpret. I suppose theoretical physics and mathematics is similarly useless per his definition.

25 people found this helpful

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  • Wayne
  • 07-12-15

Dr. Thomas Sowell is a national treasure

I continue to write reviews of the very best of the many hundreds books in my Audible library that I listened to before I started routinely writing reviews. Intellectuals and Society is fits in that category.

Sowell is a PhD economist who also is black. His economics books are best read and studied in printed format, but his books, columns, and essays on history, culture, and and current events are a great fit for the audiobook format. Dr. Sowell is now in his 80's but he remains prolific. On my list of public people I most admire he ranks #1!

In this audiobook Sowell makes the case that most intellectuals are arrogant and lack common sense, and that their views have far more sway on public opinion and policy than is justified. His case is a strong one that is supported by a multitude of examples.

18 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Justin
  • 25-04-10

A Must Read

This book is a must read for everyone, both Right and Left. The Right will agree with almost everything in this book. The Left, well if you have an open mind, you might learn a thing or two.

A good companion to this book would be Hayek's "Intellectuals and Socialism" and Mises "Liberalism" and "Socialism." I'd r also recommend reading Conflict of Visions, before this book, since Dr. Sowell pulls a lot of material from it.

18 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Andrew
  • 05-02-10

Couldn't finish

While Sowell may be making good points, I thought his ideas hypocritical. He blasted academics and intellectuals as overstepping their expertise, but his opinions of historical outcomes obviously were overstepping his expertise as well. Unless he could actually be the "annoited one".

18 people found this helpful