Noam Chomsky: A good introduction?
May 1, 2006 12:53 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in reading some Noam Chomsky but I have no idea where to start. I hear that his writing/thought process can be rather academic and I worry that it will melt my brain. Any suggestions on his writing?
posted by cbushko to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean his professional writing (about linguistics) or his political writing?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:58 PM on May 1, 2006

Response by poster: Sorry. Political writings. The book that I am kind of leaning towards is Manufacturing Consent as I have seen a little bit of the "documentary".
posted by cbushko at 1:03 PM on May 1, 2006

His first book on politics is called American Power and the New Mandarins, a critique of the Vietnam War. He became well known for his essay in that book titled "The Responsibility of Intellectuals."
posted by slow, man at 1:06 PM on May 1, 2006

A good overall introduction would be The Chomsky Reader, although it's probably not the most up-to-date.

Incidentally, there was a documentary version of Manufacturing Consent that I saw in a journalism class a couple of years ago; I believe it was made in the early '90s. If you can find that, it might be more digestible than the text. (Which I have, but haven't read yet as the small text in the paperback makes my eyes water.)
posted by macdara at 1:16 PM on May 1, 2006

Oops, missed your comment about the documentary, sorry. You've probably seen as much as I have.
posted by macdara at 1:17 PM on May 1, 2006

It's been a while since I read it, but Manufacturing Consent is not that difficult a read compared to other Chomsky books. Maybe because he wrote it with Edward Herman? It's as good a place to start as any.
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:49 PM on May 1, 2006

You could try watching a few movies he has appeared in first, if you want to ease into his writing.
posted by banished at 1:53 PM on May 1, 2006

I found Understanding Power to be very easy to read. It's a collection of talks and seminars, so each chapter is on a different subject. Plus, it's well documented.
posted by Who_Am_I at 2:41 PM on May 1, 2006

As far as I can remember, his political writing is not that academic. It can occasionally be exceptionally dry, Hegemony or Survival for instance is more of a reference book of American imperialist misdeeds than it is a 'reading' book. Manufacturing Consent is indeed quite good.
posted by atrazine at 2:44 PM on May 1, 2006

Out of all the Chomsky books I own, What Uncle Sam Really Wants is the most readable. It's small, it's cheap, and it's got some of his most controversial (political) ideas compacted in one pocketable book.

I finished it in one sitting.
posted by Sallysings at 3:13 PM on May 1, 2006

Best answer: My recommendation would be to check out several books from the library so you have a wide choice. Keep in mind there's a lot of overlap between different Chomsky books.

Personally, I started out with Rogue States and got hooked. It definitely melted my brain the first time I read it.

Deterring Democracy covers a larger variety of topics and would also be a good place to start. He touches on domestic issues a little bit more than usual, which I appreciate.

However, The Chomsky Reader is hands down my favorite, I think because there's a lot to give you a sense of how Chomsky analyzes the world. There's philosophy, science, and political commentary, all together in one book. The first 3 sections are very general ("Interview," "The Responsibility of Intellectuals," and "Interpreting the World" are the section titles). Then, the fourth launches into "The United States and the World." Overall, I think it's very good for getting an idea of where he's coming from, and by the time you get to the end you'll never look at anything the same way again.

If you change your mind and really want to melt your brain, by all means check out his debates with Foucault.
posted by dsword at 3:56 PM on May 1, 2006

I've read a handful of his books and I agree The Chomsky Reader is the best for an introduction. It definitely changed how I looked at the world from then on. Hegemony or Survival may be a good second book, as it touches on some more current issues, including missile "defense". Once you get used to his writing style, it gets easier to digest. There is an extended clip of one (or the only) debate with Foucault as an extra on the Manufacturing Consent DVD. Lots of brain-melting fun there.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 7:11 PM on May 1, 2006

Response by poster: That's everyone. The responses were all great but I picked the one from dsword as it was the first to reference "brain melting" =)

I guess I'm off to the store to pick up The Chomsky Reader!
posted by cbushko at 7:34 AM on May 2, 2006

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