The Corner

A Celebration of Sowell

On our homepage today, we have three items concerning Thomas Sowell. He is retiring from column-writing.

One of the items is a farewell note from him. Another is his final column. The third is a piece I did about him in 2011, after sitting down with him for a long, wide-ranging talk.

In his farewell note, Sowell writes,

During a stay in Yosemite National Park last May, taking photos with a couple of my buddies, there were four consecutive days without seeing a newspaper or a television news program — and it felt wonderful. With the political news being so awful this year, it felt especially wonderful.

A bit later, he writes,

Looking back over the years, as old-timers are apt to do, I see huge changes, both for the better and for the worse.

In material things, there has been almost unbelievable progress. Most Americans did not have refrigerators back in 1930, when I was born. …

My own family did not have electricity or hot running water, in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.

I think of something that Tom Wolfe said not long ago. Today, the ordinary Joe lives “a life that would have made the Sun King blink.”

At the end of his farewell note, Sowell says, “We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.”

His final column is largely about learning from the past. He discovered, at some point, that people have been making the same mistakes for centuries — indeed, millennia. That was a depressing discovery. I made the same, at some point.

Sowell ends this final column with a poetic touch — a bookending touch:

The first column I ever wrote, 39 years ago, was titled “The Profits of Doom.” This was long before Al Gore made millions of dollars promoting global-warming hysteria. Back in 1970, the prevailing hysteria was the threat of a new ice age — promoted by some of the same environmentalists who are promoting global-warming hysteria today.

I well remember those ice-age threats. People were going to be cross-country skiing in Miami.

My piece from 2011 is called “A Lion in High Summer.” I have had several visits with Tom Sowell. They always make me feel better. He has the image of a curmudgeon, I think, and his writing has a curmudgeonly streak — but you’ll never meet someone who laughs more readily, or has a more wonderful laugh. Resonant and contagious. Even when the topics are grim, Sowell makes you feel better.

I have done a few podcasts with him. The latest was in September, here.

Sowell is now done with his column-writing — but not done. After Sowell, who? I realize that no one is irreplaceable. “The graveyard is full of indispensable men” and all that. But I, for one, have a hard time imagining a replacement for this singular man.

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