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Understanding Power
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An indispensable collection of lectures from the world's leading philosopher, activist, linguist, and critic.

About the Author

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, Boston. A member of the Academy of Science, he has published widely in both linguistics and current affairs. Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel are public defenders in New York City.

Reviews

For the past several decades, Noam Chomsky has become more famous for his trenchant critiques of U.S. foreign policy than for his groundbreaking linguistic theories. In this collection of material from his lectures and teach-ins, public defenders Mitchell and Schoeffel put his challenging, controversial opinions on display. The discussions a format that allows Chomsky to present his views in a conversational, accessible style confirm his wide-ranging engagement with world affairs. Whether the topic is Cambodia (he all but holds the United States responsible for the mass deaths under the Khmer Rouge) or the Middle East (where he sees the peace process as analogous to South Africa's creation of apartheid), he consistently blasts the United States for what he sees as its guiding principle of maintaining its own power while claiming to fight for freedom and democracy. Chomsky, who has published more than 30 books but is best known for his contribution to Manufacturing Consent, a critique of the way public opinion is formed, often excoriates the press for what he sees as a willingness to reflect the views of the "elites" rather than challenge them. But while he maintains a gloomy view of U.S. policies, he preserves a surprising optimism about Americans, arguing that the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements have made citizens more critical of the mass media. Some readers will appreciate the views articulated here and others will be infuriated; but for anyone with an opinion of Chomsky would be wise not to ignore this collection, which provides a useful and wide-ranging introduction to his analysis of power and media in the West. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

MIT-based Chomsky revolutionized linguistics in the late Fifties, but for nearly as long he has been better known as an energetic and constructive debunker of American establishment politics and behavior. However, the current Chomsky contributes nothing to the legacy he established decades ago. These two most recent productions do not reveal systematic efforts to sustain or develop any aspect of his prolifically expressed critique; indeed, they are not so much authored as collaged, with Chomsky's sanction, from talks, after-talk Q&As, and interviews with generally converted interlocutors. Understanding Power draws mainly on vintage utterances from the Nineties, and its most penetrating passage takes on, of all pressing matters, literary theory. Chomsky, who is relentless in condemning the media as incapable of any function other than converting the masses to elite desires, just as relentlessly samples mainstream reporting sources for instances of corporate and government ill doings. In trying to illustrate that he is not a crude conspiracy theorist, he conveys the opposite impression. The shorter 9-11 could not have been planned, of course, though it mostly consists of interviews conducted while the calendar still read September, suggesting both the urgency Chomsky felt to get his perspective on the record and his utter disinclination to reexamine any of his cemented opinions about world affairs. Chomsky condemns the attacks specifically and then suggests that the deaths are entirely the responsibility of capitalist globalization, which nonetheless he asserts is irrelevant to the September 11 actors. However, consistency is even less a priority for Chomsky than humility. Apparently, Chomsky believes that he has discovered the concept of blowback, not to mention imbalance in coverage of the perpetual Israeli-Palestinian murder-and-misery fetish. For him, a direct line runs from Reagan's mining of Nicaragua's harbors to the flying of commercial airliners into buildings. 9-11 is a worthwhile purchase for public libraries intent on demonstrating (or risking) balance; Understanding Power is not half as useful as Chomsky's earlier, authentic innovations in political literature, especially Manufacturing Consent (coauthored with Edward Herman). Libraries truly wishing to ensure representation of the most lucid nonconventional opinion should first check that their subscriptions to the Nation a proud carrier of Chomsky for 40 years are current. Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Arguably the most important intellectual alive" New York Times "Chomsky ranks with Marx, Shakespeare and the Bible as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities" Guardian "Noam Chomsky is a major scholarly resource. Not to have read him is to court genuine ignorance" The Nation

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