This is the gritty story of one man's lifelong education in the school of hard knocks, as his journey took him from Harlem to the Marines, the Ivy League, and a career as a controversial writer, teacher, and economist in government and private industry. It is also the story of the dramatically changing times in which this personal odyssey took place.
The vignettes of the people and places that made an impression on Thomas Sowell at various stages of his life range from the poor and the powerless to the mighty and the wealthy, from a home for homeless boys to the White House, as well as ranging across the United States and around the world. It also includes Sowell's startling discovery of his own origins during his teenage years.
If the child is father to the man, this memoir shows the characteristics that have become familiar in the public figure known as Thomas Sowell already present in an obscure little boy born in poverty in the Jim Crow South during the Great Depression and growing up in Harlem. His marching to his own drummer, his disregard of what others say or think, even his battles with editors who attempt to change what he has written, are all there in childhood.
More than a story of the life of Sowell himself, this is also a story of the people who gave him their help, their support, and their loyalty, as well as those who demonized him and knifed him in the back. It is a story not just of one life, but of life in general, with all its exhilaration and pain.
Imagine a life in which you succeed at every task you undertake, you vanquish every opponent in a verbal dual, and you show off your mental prowess outrageously and get away with it. This is the essence of Sowell's life story, as he tells it. Even his divorce is depicted as if he had no part in it. Modesty is not one of his strengths. The author, a well-known conservative educator and economist, heaps criticism on just about everyone whoever crossed him or attempted to thwart his ambitious rise from a difficult home life and semipoverty to national prominence. Like Reagan and Teflon, nothing sticks to Sowell, at least in his version. Either way, he must get credit for what appears to be total recall. Fact or fiction, listeners may judge for themselves. Jeff Riggenbach provides his usual proficient narration. Recommended. Mark Pumphrey, Polk Cty. P.L., Columbus, NC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 05, 2002
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Excerpt from A Personal Odyssey by Thomas Sowell
Henry was about to become a father again -- if he lived that long. He probably knew he was dying, though he may not have known exactly what he was dying of. Black people in the South did not always go to doctors when they were sick, back in 1929. In any case, when Willie became pregnant, Henry went to his Aunt Molly to ask if she would take the baby to raise. There were four children to take care of already and there was no way that Willie could take care of a new baby, all by herself, while trying to earn a living without Henry.
Aunt Molly was the logical person to turn to. Her own children were grown and she had recently tried to adopt a baby boy, but the baby's mother had changed her mind and returned after a few months to take him back. It was an experience that may have left a lasting mark on Aunt Molly. But she was willing to try again. Willie's new baby turned out also to be a boy -- and Henry was dead before he was born.
Willie had little choice but to go through with the arrangements that Henry had made with his aunt. Feeding four children and herself on a maid's wages turned out to be very hard, even after she gave the baby to Aunt Molly to raise as her own. Still, Willie managed somehow to visit the little boy regularly, even though Aunt Molly lived 15 miles away. These visits had to be carefully managed, as if Willie were visiting Aunt Molly, so that the boy -- "little Buddy," she called him -- would never suspect that he was adopted, much less that Willie was his mother. This was in fact managed so well that he grew up to adulthood with no memory of the woman who came by unobtrusively in his early years, supposedly to visit with the adults.
Willie could see that her son had a better material life than she could give him. He wore better clothes than her other children and had toys that she could not buy them. He was also loved, and perhaps even spoiled, in his new family. Aunt Molly's youngest child was a 20-year-old girl named Birdie, who was especially fond of him. Still, Willie sometimes returned home in tears after a visit and spoke wistfully of someday being able to go get little Buddy and bring him back. But it was not to be. Willie died in childbirth a few years later.