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Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky Paperback – February 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Understanding Power is a wide-ranging collection of transcribed and previously unpublished discussions and seminars (from 1989 to 1999) with sociopolitical analyst Noam Chomsky.

The chapters, each covering discrete sessions with Chomsky, arrive in a question-and-answer format that at times becomes delightfully contentious. Chomsky holds forth on such disparate topics as American third-party politics, the stifling of true dissent, the illusion of a muscular media, heavy-handed American imperialism (from Southeast Asia to Mexico), a dysfunctional and self-destructing United States political left, the gilding of the Kennedy and Carter administrations, and the impotent state of labor unions.

The relatively accessibility of Understanding Power is a welcome balance to Chomsky's often formidable scholarly writings. This is a book best taken in doses: a sort of bedside reader. --H. O'Billovitch

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press; 9th edition (February 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565847032
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565847033
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston. A member of the American Academy of Science, he has published widely in both linguistics and current affairs. His books include At War with Asia, Towards a New Cold War, Fateful Triangle: The U. S., Israel and the Palestinians, Necessary Illusions, Hegemony or Survival, Deterring Democracy, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy and Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

167 of 170 people found the following review helpful By Marcus Karr on April 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
I just bought this book and I am immensely pleased with it. I own other Chomsky books -- Manufacturing Consent, Fateful Triangle, and the short interview-based books from Common Courage Press, among others -- and I have to say that this is far and away my favorite of the lot. The more scholarly books, like Manufacturing Consent and The Fateful Triangle, are thick with documentation but rather dry -- this doesn't bother me personally, but it's difficult to introduce them to someone else. On the other hand, the more accessible works, What Uncle Sam Really Wants, for example, come off to the layperson as the radical ravings of a lunatic, and unless the reader already has similar sympathies or suspicions, they are far from persuasive. This is exacerbated by the fact that in these Chomsky offers little in the way of proof, and this is why I shy away from recommending these volumes to Chomsky newcomers; as Chomsky himself would say, he sounds like he's coming from Mars.
Understanding Power is a very welcome addition to the canon in large part because it addresses the aforementioned problems. For one, the questions he responds to aren't the softballs David Barsamian usually pitches him -- his interlocutors occasionally ask the very questions a skeptical or simply curious reader might be thinking to himself -- and his responses reflect this: they're less "crazy" and alien, and more thoughtful, informative, and generally convincing. A second reason Understanding Power deserves heaps of praise is the footnotes. ... The footnotes are incredible, absolutely incredible, and it's easy to see why they aren't included in the book. ...
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99 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Mark R on January 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Many people are eager for a true alternative to the usual gang of talking heads (or shouting heads), pundits, etc, for commentary and analysis of political and social life. Noam Chomsky continues to offer such an alternative. However, people often find Chomsky's several dozen books on international affairs difficult to read; books of interviews with Chomsky tend to be much more popular than his own writings. The reason is simple: in the informal setting of an interview or the (often lengthy) question and answer periods that follow his talks Chomsky retains his remarkable ability to bring many topics together into a coherent response. He does this by drawing upon the same wealth of source material cited in his books, but the answers given in the casual setting flesh out Chomsky's keen sense of humor, his dedication to social justice and make for easier and even more interesting reading.
Carlos Otero realized this, about 15 years ago, and published "Language and Politics," an excellent book flawed only by the lack of an index or footnotes. Mitchell and Schoeffel, with "Understanding Power," have improved on Otero's book by providing an index and the much-requested and -needed footnotes. Everything in "Understanding Power" is well documented. So well documented that the notes are longer than the book itself! To handle this the editors have set up a web site especially for this book, where notes may be down-loaded (or read on-line) in either HTML or PDF format.
This book, almost all of which is in print for the first time, is at once a very accessible introduction to Chomsky's political thought as well as an excellent addition to the library of the most serious Chomsky critic or enthusiast.
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233 of 268 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
Required reading.
It is pretty much a given that Chomsky's ideas are compelling, whether you agee or not. The extraordinary value-add in this book is the editing job. It is obvious and gigantic. The authors have organized Chomsky's talks into logically flowing, highly documented, and parallel-structured snippets of one to three pages each - and there are a couple of hundred of them. Most of them open with an audience question, and a quick retort by Chomsky. This is followed by a key word: Look, Actually, or See, after which Chomsky goes into huge depth and detail, never straying from the focus. Again, the editing is what makes it all compelling, useful, and evenly paced. The amount of work that went into tearing apart years of talks, conversations and lectures, and then organizing them in complementary sections, making them fit a format that allows the reader to breeze through (well relatively breeze through) the densely packed insights of Noam Chomsky deserves some sort of award.
The footnotes are the most useful and detailed I have ever seen. They are a monumental standalone work in and of themselves. I only wish THEY were indexed like the book is - after all, there are 449 pages of them, compared to 401 pages in the book.
While Chomsky comes off as extraordinarily insightful, there are weaknesses - holes you could really exploit if you ever had the privilege of arguing with him. His knowledge of financial markets and foreign currency exchange, hedge funds and such is not only superficial, but sometimes just plain wrong. Sometimes he generalizes immense conclusions from a few superficial and specifically chosen facts that ignore the complexity of the situation.
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