The Unknown Story of Thomas Sowell: How a Marxist Became the Conservative Champion of a Generation


Thomas Sowell may very well be conservatism’s greatest champion — and as of Tuesday, you can now read all about his greatest works.

Written by The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley, “Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell” is an intellectual biography of Sowell, illustrating how his many life experiences helped form his wildly influential ideas.

Heralded as one of the most brilliant free-market economists and social theorists of his time, Sowell possesses an undeniably staggering legacy: The conservative anti-intellectual has published as many as 50 books, wrote a nationally syndicated column and dazzled television audiences in numerous debates and appearances in which he would unequivocally destroy the left’s talking points with his most deadly weapon — common sense.

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The influence of Sowell’s work today is equally staggering: He’s written books on a host of issues including, most notably, economic inequality and race relations.

When it comes to those specific issues, rather than parroting the common left-wing talking points of economic redistribution and social revolution, Sowell emphasizes personal responsibility, free markets and common sense.

His work has spread to younger generations as well. A quick search of Sowell on YouTube — whose largest demographic of users is 18-24-year-olds — yields a plethora of videos that have garnered hundreds of thousands — and sometimes even millions — of views.

With this new book, Riley aimed to craft an “intellectual biography.”

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Rather than focusing on Sowell’s personal life, Riley set out to equip readers with a history of Sowell’s greatest works and what influenced his revolutionary, common-sense approach to thinking.

“Well, the book is an intellectual biography of Tom. Tom’s written a memoir and that really focused more on his personal life and this book focuses on his ideas and how he’s distinguished himself as a scholar, what his legacy will be,” Riley told The Western Journal back in January.

“So I did a bunch of long interviews with Tom for the book and then I talked to colleagues, people who worked with him over the years, who were familiar with his oeuvre and that’s what I focus on in the book, his major ideas and what he considers his major writings.”

For fans of Sowell, “Maverick” offers many unique insights into the economist’s greatest works. For those unfamiliar with his work, the book serves as a perfect, in-depth introduction.

Learning what informed Sowell’s thinking and how that thinking changed over time is equal parts informative and compelling.

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Examples include how Sowell’s impoverished upbringing later informed his disdain for intellectuals who looked down on the common man and how his time in academia made Sowell realize school officials often care more about appearing diverse than they do actually offering minority students a quality education.

One of the most notable examples of Sowell’s intellectual evolution comes early on in the book, where it is revealed that Sowell’s time working for the federal government was the final straw forcing him to realize Marxism was not the answer to society’s ills.

Riley quotes Sowell as he recounts how his time working at the U.S. Labor Department woke him up to the reality of big government’s flaws.

“The job paid more than I had ever made before, enabling me to enjoy a few amenities of life. Inadvertently, it also played a role as a turning point in my ideological orientation. After a year at the University of Chicago, including a course from Milton Friedman, I remained as much of a Marxist as I had been before arriving,” Sowell wrote.

“However, the experience of seeing government at work from the inside and at a professional level started me to rethinking the whole notion of government as a potentially benevolent force in the economy and society. From there on, as I learned more and more from both experience and research, my adherence to the visions and doctrines of the left began to erode rapidly with the passage of time.”

It is undeniable that Thomas Sowell is the pre-eminent conservative intellectual of the past half-century.

“Maverick” is an intellectual biography that can’t be missed — not only does it give insight into one of the greatest conservative philosophers of the past 50 years; it also equips readers with Sowell’s work, the breadth of which should be considered nothing less than the bedrock of common-sense conservatism.

“Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell” is available for purchase at Basic Books and Amazon.

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Michael Austin joined The Western Journal as a staff reporter in 2020. Since then, he has authored hundreds of stories, including numerous original reports. He also co-hosts the outlet's video podcast, "WJ Live."
Michael Austin graduated from Iowa State University in 2019. During his time in college, Michael volunteered as a social media influencer for both PragerU and Live Action. After graduation, he went on to work as a freelance journalist for various entertainment news sites before joining The Western Journal in 2020 as a staff reporter.

Since then, Michael has been promoted to the role of supervising staff reporter. His responsibilities now include directing the reporting team.
Ames, Iowa
Iowa State University
Topics of Expertise
Culture, Faith, Politics, Education, Entertainment


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