Conquests and Cultures


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Table of Contents

* Conquests and Cultures * The British * The Africans * The Slavs * Western Hemisphere Indians * An Overview

About the Author

Thomas Sowell has taught economics at a number of colleges and universities, including Cornell, University of California Los Angeles, and Amherst. He has published both scholarly and popular articles and books on economics, and is currently a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.


Sowell, a scholar-in-residence at the Hoover Institution and author of several books in the social sciences, examines ways in which military victories throughout history have caused both conquerors and the conquered to change dramatically. The Roman and British Empires, several African tribes, Eastern European Slavs, and Western Hemisphere Indians are presented as civilizations that grew economically and culturally, or declined precipitously, as they clashed with foreign armies. Sowell's scholarship is evident as he examines the interplay of religion, language, education, technology, and other factors in the development of nations. An example is his discussion of the Slavic people as both victors and losers against Celts, Germans, Turks, and others. The third in a trilogy that includes Race and Culture (LJ 7/94) and Migrations and Cultures (LJ 3/1/96), this book bears comparison to Fernand Braudel's A History of Civilization (LJ 10/1/93). Its readable style and impressive scope make it suitable for all libraries.‘Norman Malwitz, Queens Borough P.L., Jamaica, NY

Sowell presents this as the final volume in a trilogy that includes Race and Culture (1994) and Migration and Culture (1996). Like its predecessors, the book incorporates two principal themes: that racial, ethnic and national groups have their own particular cultures, and that those cultures are mutable. Sowell offers four case studies‘the British, the Africans, the Slavs and the American Indians‘in evidence for his argument that the antecedents, processes and consequences of conquest generate broad-spectrum interactions and responses. Cultures in contact with each other usually influence each other even if the matrix is based on domination/submission, he explains. Brutal conquests can lead to the spread of advanced skills. Cultural borrowing is accompanied by genetic diffusion, and both make a mockery of biological racism and behavioral stasis. The key distinction among human communities is, for Sowell, "human capital"‘the spectrum of individual and collective learned behaviors that produce distinctive patterns of skills and attitudes. The positive form of this capital is based on flexibility‘receptivity to cultural transfers and willingness to apply those transfers in different contexts. Sowell, an economist by training and a conservative by conviction, emphasizes the wealth-creating aspects of human capital and argues for the centrality of achievement to developing group self-esteem. He references his arguments to a wide range of sources from a broad spectrum of disciplines. Academic specialists are likely to join critics of Sowell's emphasis on cultural malleability in accusing him of using the tools of scholarship to support his preconceptions. Sowell's conclusion that the course of history is determined by what peoples do with their opportunities is nevertheless an emotionally and intellectually compelling challenge to determinism in all its variant forms, from Marxism to multiculturalism. (May)

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