Currently reading

The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers
Ayn Rand, Tore Boeckmann, Leonard Peikoff
The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco
David Mitchell
To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Edward Gibbon, Daniel J. Boorstin, Gian Battista Piranesi, Hans-Friedrich Mueller
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Douglas R. Hofstadter
Perfect Wrong Note - Learning to Trust Your Musical Self
William Westney
The Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli
The Varieties of Religious Experience
William James
Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy
G. Lee Bowie, Robert C. Solomon

Intellectuals and Society

Intellectuals and Society - Thomas Sowell This is a strange book. It's an intellectual speaking out against his profession. Sowell defines intellectuals as a people for whom ideas are the beginning and ending of their work. Tenured professors are the most ready example, but intellectuals can also be found outside academia. For example authors, commentators and public speakers who are paid to continue producing ideas. The key is that intellectuals need only continue to attract an audience for their ideas in order to remain relevant.This reliance on ideas insulates intellectuals in a way that is uncommon in almost any other profession, they are relieved of accountability. Intellectuals can be, and often are, completely wrong and, as long as they can maintain their audience, they are insulated from the negative consequences of their ideas. Intellectuals and Society is about the sources and rationalization of the ideas of intellectuals, the way their ideas are propagated, why they are so often wrong, and the effects of the ideas on the world.Sowell is a conservative and, not unexpectedly, his targets are liberals like Bertrand Russell, Noam Chomsky, Edmund Wilson, George Bernard Shaw, John Dewey and others. It may seem like an arbitrary or biased selection, but the reason for the focus on liberals comes down to a fundamental difference between liberalism and conservatism. Despite the popular assumption that conservatives only want the status quo, both conservatives and liberals want change. The difference lies in the types of change each wants. Liberals favor change that centralizes and idealizes decision making and power while conservatives seek the type of change that distributes power and that values tradition over ideology.Liberals often assume that an individual or small group, knows better than the masses. First-hand experiences succumbs to prevailing notions. A concentration of knowledge is seen as being superior to distributed knowledge. Reason trumps experience. One-day-at-a-time rationalization wins over long-term and big picture thinking. Mundane knowledge is shunned for the specialized knowledge of elites. Sowell calls this the vision of the anointed.Historically, Sowell argues, that type of reform has a bad track record. There are undeniable successes, civil rights, for example, but the failures of mistaken intellectuals, as seen in the section on intellectuals and war, were often catastrophic. Sowell is thorough, insightful and, while nobody will accuse him of having a great sense of humor, he is convincing.