I’ve been a fan of Walter Williams for a quite a while. His weekly columns are written in a very engaging, down-to-earth fashion, cutting through the fluff to get right to the heart of the matter. When I saw a copy of his book on my grandparent’s table, I had to borrow it, and I’m glad I did. The same great writing style persists throughout his autobiography, and was so entertaining that I couldn’t put it down.
In this book Dr. Williams takes us through his life, from growing up in the projects, to his experiences in the military, to his journey to becoming one of the great economists of our time. One of the most fascinating parts of the book was the first section in which Dr. Williams talks about his life growing up in the projects in Philadelphia. It was completely different than the projects of today. For one, these projects were clean, it was the residents of these projects who made it so, and secondly, these projects were safe -- safe enough that when Dr. Williams drove a cab, he had no qualms parking his car and taking a nap, something he notes would be “deemed suicidal” today.
The chapters on his time in the military were also very entertaining and enlightening. From listening to him talk today, I never got the sense that he was much of a rabble-rouser, though he does note in his book that his wife was a calming influence on him, but he does tend to push the buttons of authority -- at one point being court marshaled for his actions. He got his start writing during his tenure in the armed forces and that carried through back to his civilian life where he wrote primarily about issues of race.
One of the prevailing themes throughout his book is that for as much as the opportunities for racial minorities have increased in the last 50 years or so, programs like affirmative action and the mentality it put everyone in, no matter how well intentioned, have done tremendous harm. Nothing appeared to aggravate him more than someone who expected something he wasn’t entitled to, or for someone to give another individual something he didn’t deserve. On more than one occasion Dr. Williams ripped into fellow teachers and students for behaving this way, noting that achievements should be based on merit and not on skin color.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like about this book, it’s the length. While I suspect the he said as much as he felt he needed to say in his 150 pages, I wouldn’t have griped if Dr. Williams had written another 100 pages or so. Up From the Projects was a thoroughly enjoying read, and I can’t recommend it enough.