Conquests and Cultures: An International History by Thomas Sowell

“Conquests and Cultures: An International History” (1998) is a continuation of Thomas Sowell’s large-scale examination of global patterns of cultural development. In this volume, Sowell investigates how conquests have shaped and been shaped by the cultures of both the conquerors and the conquered. Through an in-depth analysis, he offers insights into the dynamics of cultural evolution, diffusion, and clash.

The book is the third in Sowell’s trilogy, preceded by “Race and Culture” and “Migrations and Cultures.” This installment examines several major world civilizations including the British, the Chinese, and the Africans, and considers the impact of their respective conquests on global history. Central to Sowell’s argument is the idea that conquests have played a crucial role in the diffusion of cultural practices, leading to the global proliferation of certain beneficial innovations.


  1. Comprehensive Research: One of the book’s major strengths is its meticulous research. Sowell draws upon a vast range of historical sources, offering readers a deep dive into the histories of conquests and their cultural implications.
  2. Objective Examination: Sowell attempts an objective examination of conquests, steering clear of moral judgments. He views conquests as vehicles for cultural exchange and diffusion, rather than purely negative or positive phenomena.
  3. Interconnectedness of Cultures: The book adeptly showcases how cultures are not isolated entities but are interconnected through a web of historical interactions, many of which have been forged through conquests.
  4. Clarity of Expression: Sowell’s prose is lucid and articulate, making complex historical narratives and theories accessible to a general audience.


  1. Potential Eurocentrism: Some critics contend that Sowell’s analysis leans towards a Eurocentric perspective, especially when discussing the benefits of certain conquests, such as the British Empire’s global influence.
  2. Cultural Determinism: Like his other works, Sowell’s “Conquests and Cultures” is sometimes criticized for heavily emphasizing the deterministic role of culture in shaping societal outcomes, possibly at the expense of other influential factors.
  3. Selective Narration: Given the vastness of global history, any single volume is bound to be selective. Some critics argue that Sowell may have chosen examples that particularly fit his thesis, potentially sidelining counter-narratives.


“Conquests and Cultures: An International History” is a compelling exploration of the intricate relationship between conquests and cultural development. Through detailed historical accounts, Sowell makes a case for viewing conquests as pivotal moments of cultural exchange and transformation. While the book offers invaluable insights, readers should approach it with a discerning eye, considering Sowell’s particular lens and the inherent selectivity of such a broad historical analysis. Regardless, it serves as a crucial resource for anyone seeking to understand the interconnectedness of global cultures and the profound impact of historical conquests.