Thomas Sowell is one of my favorite economists and intellectuals, and here are some of my favorite books in his oeuvre.
A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. I first read this at the suggestion of my colleague Mark McMahon at Rhodes College, and beginning in 2007-08 I started assigning it in my principles of econ classes, as he had (maybe I should start doing that again). It clarified a lot for me and helped me understand that a lot of the intellectual and political disagreements we observe come from fundamentally different models of how reality works–different pre-analytic visions, in Joseph Schumpeter’s phrase. If you’re going to read one book by Sowell, this is the one to read.
The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. Best. Title. Ever. It pairs well with A Conflict of Visions and, as social science, helps explain why the left’s views on welfare policy and the like are stubbornly immune to evidence. Of course, the left would say the same about the right, and I’m coming to believe, having read Conflict as well as Daniel Kahneman, Jonathan Haidt, Rolf Dobelli, and others, that it’s true of everyone.
Intellectuals and Society. Comfort food for people skeptical of experts and second-hand dealers in ideas (the irony of this post is not lost on me).
The Quest for Cosmic Justice. It’s probably not out there, which raises a very, very uncomfortable question I’m not really sure how to answer: how do we live in a world filled with unpunished injustice and with very little prospect of such?
Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy. An excellent and accessible…uh, common sense guide to the economy.
The Housing Boom and Bust. A good discussion of how, exactly, we ended up with a disaster in the housing market in the late 2000s. It wasn’t a sudden surge in “greed.”
A Personal Odyssey. I read this in one sitting. It’s a fascinating voyage through the life and intellectual development of a great mind.
Marxism: Philosophy and Economics. Sowell dissects Marx, who is tried, measured, and found wanting.
Knowledge and Decisions. A book-length expansion on an application of Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” which appears as chapter 4 of Individualism and Economic Order. You can get the latter as a $0 PDF or ePub, as well. I think this is his best purely academic work.
On Classical Economics. Good discussions of the classical economists, the system they built, and Marx’s critique.
Say’s Law: An Historical Analysis. So there’s a 2015 Princeton University Press paperback, which should make it a lot more accessible.