I think you’ll enjoy Sowell’s book, based solely on our limited contact here. ;) It is quite heady yet understandable and — as is common for Sowell — very thorough.
Regarding Ross and purely abstract, the study of paleontology is at once abstract in the sense that it has no bearing on today’s world yet has aspects of the hard sciences where certain theories and aspects of them can be repeatedly tested and invalidated or validated. For example a theory proclaiming man and dinosaur walked the planet together can be tested using proper scientific methods.
However, it is still abstract in that it is still only a mental matter. Whether man and T-Rex hung out together has no material effect on today’s world. Movies will still portray them as having been around at the same time regardless of what the history and evidence indicate. Thus it is a mental pursuit of abstract nature.
Now to be clear that in and of itself is not inherently A Bad Thing. Just as being an intellectual is neither inherently bad nor good. Where the problem lies is in misapplication of the expertise in one field to another or, as we see more often among intellectuals, a lack of hard rigor on ideas put forth.
It is without question we’ve had intellectuals who have contributed positively to society and the world. I’ve never met anyone who disagrees with that. However, it is equally without question that we have had some fairly disastrous consequences from being swept up by intellectuals and the intelligentsia surrounding them. Yet the “anti-intellectualism” crowd argues from a position of intellectualism itself, and the intellectuals and intelligentsia surrounding them, as inherently good and any disagreement as inherently bad. I see it as an “us vs them” argument — a style of argument I consider invalid.
The distinction of operating entirely in the abstract occupationally is actually crucial to defining intellectuals and intellectualism — and is important for basic understanding of intellectuals of any stripe. But the key here, I think, is to not assign or accept the term “intellectual” as inherently wrong or bad. Just as being a “Socialist” or “Capitalist”, or “Democrat” or “Republican” for that matter, is not inherently bad neither is being — or not being — an intellectual. If we want to discuss concepts such as “anti-intellectualism” we do need to have the hard definitions. That is how agreement and understanding starts.
Similarly, thinking in the abstract itself is not inherently bad. It only becomes bad when, as Ross so often discovered, operating as if the constructs of abstract thought were accurate representations of reality when they are not.
When you finish the book I’d be thrilled to discuss it with you or read your review of it if you’re so inclined. :)