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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.
Thomas Sowell has taught economics at Cornell, UCLA, Amherst, and other academic institutions, and his Basic Economics has been translated into six languages. He is currently a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has published in both academic journals and in such popular media as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, and Fortune, and he writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country.
Economist Thomas Sowell presents a passionate, albeit highly conservative, argument that outlines how intellectuals as a group shape public policy and public opinion. Sowell's argument is less than convincing, however, because he himself frequently makes statements about how limited the influence of intellectuals actually is. Narrator Tom Weiner paces the somewhat dense material well and handles the author's often-inflated vocabulary with ease. Thus, Weiner is able to enhance the material in a way that might trip up lesser readers. While conservatives will likely embrace Sowell's theories, even those who disagree should appreciate the well-written points and be left with much to ponder. D.J.S. © AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
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