Yes, this title sounds provocative and I am sure some people shy away from the book because of it. But you shouldn't hesitate to get a copy of this book and read it cover to cover. It is a collection of six fine essays on the topic of race, ethnicity, historical honesty, education, and the corrupting power of political influence on each of these topics.
While I cannot recreate all the information and structure of each essay, and summarizing them in some way does them a bit of an injustice, I do want you to know why I am so enthusiastic about this book and want you to read it. The title essay, "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" demonstrates that so much of the urban "black" culture is really not African in origin, but comes from the now extinct culture of northern Britain. The folks who brought their culture with them from Scotland and environs tended to settle in the South, owned slaves, and became what we call Rednecks. The slaves took on the culture of their masters and this leads to the term Sowell uses in the title.
Protecting a dysfunctional way of living because it is in some way African is not only masochistic, it is a false concept. Instead, the rejection of education and literacy, casual sexual attitudes, and the failure to structure life to prepare for the future are actually artifacts of the slave master culture (that portion of slave holders who were Rednecks, that is). Sowell contrast this reality with what is done by White Liberals to protect Urban Blacks to the detriment of those supposedly being helped.
The second essay, "Are Jews Generic" brings up the reasons why not only Jews, but other minorities around the world (Chinese emigrants, for example) have become "middlemen" and why this has led repeatedly to resentment and persecution. Hence the idea of what we too often think of as "the Jew" can be generic and applied to different minority cultures and practices. Quite an interesting article.
"The Real History of Slavery" is my favorite essay in the book. Without mitigating the horrors, sins, guilt, or suffering caused by American enslavement of Africans, Sowell puts it in a broader context. His point is to show that the notion of slavery was actually part of human culture everywhere in the world. It wasn't considered racist. That is, it wasn't until the notion of human equality was enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and the idea of human equality and freedom took hold in the West. It was then the West that used their Imperial power to destroy the slave trade to a large degree (it still exists in some Muslim countries) all over the globe. This is a very fascinating and informative essay.
"Germans and History" asks the question of whether the rise of Hitler was something built into the German culture that flowered or whether it was a freak event. Sowell demonstrates the rise of the German culture and how Germans had suffered at the hands of others over the centuries. The author concludes that Hitler was not peculiarly German, but was using global trends including the arguments put forward by the American Eugenics crowd (you know them now as Planned Parenthood) and the kind of genocide pioneered by the Ottoman Turks on the Armenians in order to gain a political plurality, seize control, and then execute his murderous plan. As Sowell notes, what is frightening is that this implies that it could arise again in another culture if the right circumstances met with another leader of Hitler's violent extremism and racial hatred.
"Black Education: Achievements, Myths, and Tragedies" is an excellent history of education priorities in various cultures, in the Slave culture, and what was done to educate the Freed Slaves (and prevent their education), and what has been done to miseducate entire generations of children in the name of desirable social ends. Sowell compares what was accomplished in Black schools like Dunbar High before Brown v. Education and what has not been accomplished since then. This is a superb essay.
The concluding essay sums up material from the previous five essays and compares what is taken from us when history is not presented honestly and is corrupted by "visions" of the past. No matter how well meaning, it damages us all because history is our cultural memory. Sowell notes: "We do not have a choice whether or not to discuss history. History has always been invoked in contemporary controversies. The only choice is between discussing what actually happened in the past and discussing notions projected into the past for present purposes." This essay is full of great material and powerful insights.
While I do recommend more books than most folks have time to read, there are a few that I urge you to read and this is one of them. Get a copy and read it closely. You will benefit from it, be challenged by aspects of it, and learn from all of it. Excellent!