Book Seen! Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky

Here’s a shocker for you. I had never heard of Noam Chomsky until about three years ago; I hope that does not say something about my ignorance. But I happen to suspect the reason I had never heard of him is because I was never supposed to; it was designed that way. That I only heard of him because my father had travelled to the U.S while I was there and wanted to meet him says a lot. Though my dad never did get to meet him, it did pique my interest in who exactly this person is.
Officially, Noam Chomsky is a Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, Boston who was born and grew up around the time of the Great Depression. But “on the side” he is a brilliant political activist and thinker. He is what most people would call a leftist radical or as he might term himself, an anarchist.

Noam Chomsky as I have come to learn is widely known and gets to speak around the world. But this is where it gets paradoxical; if Chomsky is in high demand as a speaker and is known why had I never heard about him until three years ago? Well first of all he will only be known to you if you are looking in that direction, i.e. you are a politically aware person who is questioning the state of the world. But most importantly it is by design that he is “invisible,” i.e. his ideas are so challenging and critical of global power structures that those in power make sure people like him are never known by the wider public. Noam Chomsky levels his criticism largely at U.S power and its destructive aspects and he says he does this because he would consider it hypocritical to critisize other countries while ignoring his own (see:Matthew 7:3-5)

Understanding Power is a collection of discussions he held between 1989 and 1999 in different U.S. cities. The book mainly deals with the post Cold War Era. He speaks about a wide range of topics from media to globalization, to Middle East & Latin America to the military-industrial complex and many other topics. He seeks through this book to help the reader become a critical thinker when understanding issues relating to power as exercised in its various forms.

It is in the above mentioned aspect where I find Noam Chomsky absolutely fascinating and compelling. The depth and breadth of Chomsky’s knowledge and his understanding of a vast array of important issues is unlike anything I’ve come across before. He can go from talking about peace activists in Latin America, to environmental destruction in Haiti, to how sports is used to control the masses; all from his head.This is a man who obviously spends his time doing tonnes of research. And he is never glib about anything, Noam Chomsky is extremely meticulous about relying on facts and citing his sources, and he has a website just dedicated to his reams of footnotes and sources. His ability to uncover how power deceives us in very many and unsuspecting ways is also fascinating, and causes you to question the whole power structure as is currently set-up.

While reading this book I was pretty surprised by some of the things I discovered. For example most people would understandably be of the opinion that former U.S President John F. Kennedy was this handsome, progressive and great American president who died a martyr. However did you know that Kennedy ordered one of the most horrendous, terroristic, not to mention illegal military operations in Cuba, right after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion? Also that America planned on invading Cuba in 1962 even before the Cuban Missile Crisis? Further in 1971 Anwar Sadat offered a peace settlement to Israel which Israel & U.S turned down? These and more amazing facts which are largely covered up by the powers that control world thought and opinion (mainly Western media) can be found in this book.

Noam Chomsky is brilliant in the way he shows how the United States has controlled much of the world through brutal aggression,propaganda, oppression and yes terrorism. After reading this book, though I had already suspected some of this stuff to be true, Chomsky really revealed just how sinister and deep American evil can get. What really disturbed me was just how enslaved the world is in terms of trying to chart its own course away from American influence (you’ll probably get bombed or assassinated for it.) Also Noam Chomsky though Jewish is not afraid of vigorously criticizing Israel’s brutal policies in the Middle East (something he’s received a lot of criticism for.)

If you are one who is predisposed to looking at America as a benevolent, noble and democratic nation this book might be a bit much too handle; but I believe for those who are not afraid to think critically and question what their assumptions about the use of global power, then I highly recommend this book.

“One of the most important books I’ve ever read. It changed the way I look at global power and its exercise. Chomsky is a genius”

(Noam Chomsky has authored lots of other books. Take your pick.)

[Edited on 22/01/10]


  1. Watch Noam Chomsky's still relevant 1982 deconstruction of the New York Times, a Paper tiger video


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