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by Thomas Sowell

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-86464-9
Publisher: Free Press

From African-American economist and author Sowell, a forthright memoir of growing up the hard way in Harlem—without a father, but with an admirable refusal to compromise one’s principles.

As a grown man, Sowell can now discern helpful guideposts (that would later determine his success) in what was an often frightening and uncertain childhood. He is grateful that he left the South too young to be subjected to its pervasive racism, that he was in public school when its education was still excellent, and that he became a professor before affirmative action called into question many black accomplishments. Born in 1929 in North Carolina, he never knew his own father and was adopted soon after his birth by an aunt. He left the South after an idyllic childhood and moved to Harlem with his mother and two older sisters in 1939. There he entered the local public school, and was soon an outstanding, as well as an outspoken, student. The family was proud of his accomplishments, but when he was accepted at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, they objected to the hours he spent studying instead of earning money, and he had to drop out. Drafted into the Marines during the Korean War, he took advantage of the GI bill to finish high school, as well as attend college, graduating from Harvard. The following years—spent teaching at colleges like Cornell or working in Washington while he finished his dissertation—were often rocky. And he describes his run-ins with obstructive bureaucrats, careerist academics, and bigoted racists, encounters sometimes exacerbated by his often-unpopular political opinions. Though Sowell writes movingly of his son who was a late talker, this is not a personal memoir, but rather an account of a philosophical and professional evolution shaped by a lifetime of challenging experiences.

Hard-edged, tough-minded, and unabashedly opinionated, but a refreshingly frank record of a controversial life.