Published on September 28, 2017 by Steve West

Basic Books, 2016 | 565 pages

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance

By Steve West


About the Author

Thomas Sowell is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow for Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Dr. Sowell taught economics at Cornell, UCLA, and other academic institutions, as well as authored numerous publications.



This book explores the causes of poverty, wealth disparities, and success across societies and between people groups. Sowell argues that the contemporary liberal narrative of victimization and exploitation fails to explain the empirical data, and it inflames resentment while keeping lagging groups from developing towards success. Sowell marshals a host of evidence to support his position, and he tries to move beyond rhetoric to fact-based understanding and solutions.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Issues
Part One: Geographic Factors
Chapter 2 Waterways
Chapter 3 Land
Chapter 4 Climate, Animals and Disease
Part Two: Cultural Factors
Chapter 5 Culture and Economics
Chapter 6 Cultural Diffusion
Chapter 7 Culture and Progress
Part Three: Social Factors
Chapter 8 Population
Chapter 9 Mental Capabilities
Part Four: Political Factors
Chapter 10 Political Institutions
Chapter 11 Politics and Diversity
Chapter 12 The Welfare State
Part Five: Conclusions
Chapter 13 Economic Differences
Chapter 14 Implications and Prospects
Chapter 15 Causation versus Blame
Chapter 16 Goals



Chapter 1: Issues

There have been numerous and significant disparities between people groups throughout human history. The current standard of living in the West is a complete anomaly in terms of history, and even in comparison with the rest of the contemporary world. It is not human poverty that needs explaining, but rather the meteoric rise of the Western standard of living. Isolation—whether geographical or cultural—has a negative influence on development. Inside of nations, large disparities between people and classes have also been the norm. Throughout history, some nations were more advanced than others, only to see their statuses reversed over time. Economic wealth requires work and production—there is nothing to distribute if nothing is produced. We need to see that there are a variety of cultural, political, geographical, and other factors that influence economic and national success. We also need to remember that correlation is not causation.


Part Two: Geographic Factors (Chapters 2-4)

Geography is not egalitarian, and the different environments in which nations have arisen are starkly different. Mountain ranges around the world can be quite different from each other, as is the case with rivers. Geography influences but does not determine success, since there are areas with rich resources that are undeveloped, and there are some nations with poor resources that excel. The diversity of realities around the world has ensured that not all peoples will develop equally. People that are not geographically isolated are able to learn from others, see how to do things differently, and benefit from cross-fertilization of ideas and technology. Good crop production requires both adequate rainfall and nutrient rich soil that holds the water (but not too much, or the result is swampland). Some soil can be drained or irrigated to become very productive, but this requires human knowledge, and also sometimes farm animals for plowing, etc. Many factors work together. Without agricultural productivity it is impossible to sustain the high population density that is required for large societal and technological advancement.

Waterways are important for drinking water for humans and animals, food production, irrigation, and transport. Not all waterways are. . .

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Wealth, Poverty, and Politics

Basic Books, 2016 | 565 pages

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