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Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky Paperback – 2 Oct 2003
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"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)
An indispensable collection of lectures from the world's leading philosopher, activist, linguist, and critic.See all Product description
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The book itself is a huge collection of transcripts from Chomsky's interviews and discussions with other community activists and general members of the public. As the title suggests, the emphasis here is on power structures and how we can create a workable alternative to the systems currently in place. Chomsky provides sound arguments for and how to achieve change, while also advising how a carefull choice of approach must be taken. This book is very broad in it's scope so provides a wide range of historical examples and methods for change, while also warning of possible risks in the process.
One of the books great selling points is it's COMPREHENSIVE references... This makes fantastic reading and means all the cases argued are, as usual, meticulously followed up and referenced.
One for any activist out there!
So, to compare "Understanding Power" with other work by Chomsky:
1. Understanding Power is based on transcripts of discussions, ie in question-and-answer format. Whilst some of Chomsky's other books are based on interviews, the difference here is that Understanding Power is overwhelmingly carefully edited. The format generally makes the book more accessible than his other work; many complex issues are simple to understand when explained in this direct, concise way.
2. The footnotes are unbelievably detailed, though sadly not included in the paper edition. They're available in HTML and PDF format from [...] and they're about 450 pages long, assembled by the editors rather than Chomsky himself. Although Chomsky is generally much more careful than other authors to substantiate everything he says with citations, Understanding Power goes much further, and most notes contain substantial quotations from Chomsky's original source, which means that in many cases it's not necessary to dig out some 50 year old book or government document from the 1960s in order to see what he is basing his opinion on. This is incredibly valuable, because Chomsky so often makes statements that fly in the face of everything you'll read in the media or have learnt in school that it's natural to want to check everything he says with primary sources.
3. In terms of the scope and bredth of the subject matter, again, Understanding Power stands apart from a lot of the rest of his work. Several of his recent books focus on overlapping subjects; for example Chomsky has written about US intervention in Latin America in several different places. Understanding Power contains a massive amount of information and explanation that I haven't seen elsewhere in his work (although I admit I haven't read everything he's written). I think it would therefore be a great choice if you're only going to buy one book by him, or if you've already read several of his books.
I'm not going to go into any detail on what, exactly, is the subject matter of the book because it's incredibly various (and therefore difficult to summarise) and another reviewer has already given a long list of examples.
I can't recommend this book highly enough.
'Understanding Power' has the usual Chomsky hallmarks of massively sourced research to back an alternative comprehension and argument to the given wisdom and propaganda of the establishment. Using a question and answer format over 10 chapters the book demystifies a wide range of topics including: the role of the state, the nature of the capitalist economy, USA foreign relations and the alienated individual who make up the vast majority of the books audience. Reading this book it is unsurprising that Chomsky remains the worlds foremost living intellectual in terms of peer recognition and as a student resource. His book explaining the significance of 9/11 reached no.3 on the New York Times best seller list despite lack of reviews by the popular press. The sources of Chomsky's arguments and examples are meticulously referenced. Yet given the range of materials the book remains accessible and rewards repeat reading. As stated on the back cover not to read Chomsky is to deliberately court ignorance. So help others to see the light - pass it on when you've finished.
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