cover image A Personal Odyssey

A Personal Odyssey

Thomas Sowell. Free Press, $25 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-684-86464-8

A nationally recognized economist and scholar, Sowell recounts his long, steady climb from a hardscrabble North Carolina childhood to the top ranks of influential conservatives within the Republican Party in Washington. Sowell, who is African-American, racked up a series of notable accomplishments through sheer determination and a refusal to let his race prove an obstacle to a productive life. His grit and focus became evident during his early years as a rebellious schoolboy in Harlem, an unremarkable stint in the Marines, his later studies at Howard University and his frustrating time at Harvard. Of particular note is his unwavering approval of leading economist Milton Friedman, who taught Sowell at the University of Chicago. Known for his attention to detail and the nuance of his theoretical writings, Sowell doesn't consistently display those skills to advantage: he often seems to race through key periods in his life, leaving the reader to wonder what elements of significance have been left out. However, he pulls no punches in his conservative stance on the thorny issue of race, which has frequently put him in opposition with the African-American community, and demonstrates his steadfast belief in meritocracy. He earns points for his revelations about his personal disappointments, his painful divorce and his frustrations with an unkind media, dispelling a common belief that he was a close adviser of President Reagan. Offering only a controlled, muted look at the author's inner world, Sowell's account occasionally seems arrogant, but often reflective and always provocative. (Sept.)