Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky” as Want to Read:
Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky

4.38  ·  Rating Details ·  4,290 Ratings  ·  256 Reviews
The best of Chomsky's recent talks on the past, present, and future of the politics of power. In a series of enlightening and wide-ranging discussions, all published here for the first time, Chomsky radically reinterprets the events of the past three decades, covering topics from foreign policy during Vietnam to the decline of welfare under the Clinton administration.
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 1st 2002 by The New Press
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Understanding Power, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Understanding Power

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
This really is the indispensable Chomsky. It's a summary of his views on just about everything.

Many of Noam's views are very left wing, progressive, anti-American policy, anti-Israel policy ... so a lot of people care not much for him. He is to me the most rational, truth seeking person I've read.

The book is not "writings" of Chomsky's. Rather it is edited transcriptions of Q&A sessions from a great number of teach-ins and college talks that he has given over the years. The editing has been
Apr 09, 2009 Todd rated it it was amazing
Want to understanding international politics? Want to know how to read between the lines of the days headlines? Want to know where to start with Noam Chomsky? The answer to all those questions is: Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky.
I'm always afraid of reading political things (A) because I'm scared of it being completely over my head and (B) because I'm aware that I have a tendency to uncritically accept what people say [which makes for a lot of fun if you read different points of views because everything everybody says (even the contradictory stuff) sounds 100% right:].

This book was very conversational (partly due to format, transcribed Q&A sessions and I imagine partly due to Chomsky's dislike of the idea of an 'int
Adam Roan
Jun 21, 2012 Adam Roan rated it it was amazing
Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism. - Noam Chomsky

After reading five or six Chomsky books - this is without a split-second of thought his best, most highly honored and important texts assembled to date.

I'm not sure who(m)ever edited this book, it seems to be cut with precise trimming. The rhetoric speaks with a strong appeal (fulfilling pathos, ethos and logos) to help engage the reader indefinitely. Yes, Chomsky's monologues can be a bit dry because they are so factu
May 05, 2012 BeeQuiet rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic, non-fiction
I have strong feelings moving in both ways on this book, as whilst Chomsky does make very good points on multiple issues, his attempts at modesty occasionally fall flat as it becomes apparent that he thinks he understands the whole world order more than he does. I do feel that his analysis of the media is by and large correct - if one is funded by advertisers, those advertisers must be pleased and they will not be pleased if you run the wrong messages. I know plenty of people who simply swallow ...more
Jul 03, 2010 Bryan added it
Intentions Good, Views Dangerous: Understanding Power is, without question, the most comprehensive and compelling presentation of Noam Chomsky's ideas. Reading this book will change the way you see the world. If you are interested in Chomsky, it is likely that you are a noble person who genuinely cares for others and yearns for a better world. Beware, reader, and make sure you choose the right vehicle for your hope. While his intentions are for a peaceful, safe, and healthy world, Chomsky's poli ...more
May 25, 2011 Szplug rated it liked it
Chomsky is one of the critical deans of American political history: ironic and pessimistic; forever probing and analyzing the decrepitude, deceit, and delusion rife within the ready presentation and understanding of the United States as an exceptional force of good in the world, and a constant decrier of the various means and manipulations the government and media undertake to stoke this view; content in generally limiting himself to pointing out the flaws in the system, the hypocrisy and moral ...more
Jul 28, 2010 Jack rated it really liked it
Having only read Chomsky in snippets here and there, I thought this book was a broad, accessible introduction to Chomsky's thoughts on the issues for which he is best known in pop culture (those relating to politics and power). Regardless of what one ultimately thinks of Chomsky's opinions (and he reiterates constantly that his intent is to provoke discussion, not to provide all the answers), the man is at least important to understand for modern democratic citizens. His knowledge of global curr ...more
Robb Seaton
Look, you don't need to read this book. Here's how Chomsky works:

1. Identify an authority.
2. Is it necessary? If not, dismantle it.

How do you identify an authority? Watch when someone gets fired, put in prison, forced to resign, etc. What aren't you allowed to say or do? What happens when you push something too far?

Now, I'm partial to this algorithm, but it's not at all obvious that it's a good idea, for all the same reasons that it's not obvious that it's a good idea to eradicate an unnecessar
Zach Cohen
Dec 30, 2010 Zach Cohen rated it it was amazing
This is the best single source of Chomsky's work I've come across. A triumph of editing, this book is made up of excerpts of talks Chomsky gave throughout the 80s and 90s. Loosely organized by topic, the book is highly flowing and readable. It includes an encyclopedic reference section available online that is longer than the main text of the book. This is where I recommend anyone not familiar with Chomsky's work to begin; it's the most comprehensive and accessible compilation of his thoughts. M ...more
Jul 27, 2012 Mat rated it it was amazing
This book is a feat of editing. It condenses aspects of Chomsky's talks from across decades and references them at a separate website, Here are some favourite quotes:

You should not expect an institution to say, "Help me destroy myself," that's not the way institutions function. And if anybody inside the institution tried to do that, they wouldn't be inside it much longer.

If you're getting accepted in elite circles, chances are very strong that you're doing something wrong
Jan 22, 2016 Tara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This collection is brilliant (Chomsky himself is a damn intelligent and refreshingly frank human being), I simply can’t recommend it enough.

Here are some of the choicest points Mr. Chomsky made:

"Look, every government has a need to frighten its population, and one way of doing that is to shroud its workings in mystery. The idea that a government has to be shrouded in mystery is something that goes back to Herodotus [ancient Greek historian]. You read Herodotus, and he describes how the Medes and
Carol Apple
Mar 18, 2016 Carol Apple rated it really liked it
I think this audio book has lived up to its title. I feel like I now have a better understanding of power. Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky is a collection of talks and discussions by Noam Chomsky, famous MIT professor of linguistics and political activist. Before listening to this 22.5 hour audio book, I had never exposed myself to anything by Chomsky with the exception of one article I recently ran across in the June 2014 issue of The Sun – an interview by David Barsamian called ...more
Mar 05, 2016 blakeR rated it it was amazing
Reading this lets you fully understand a band like Rage Against the Machine, and that their album title "Evil Empire" wasn't just about being provocative. It makes you realize that all of the mindless action movies or cartoons that you watched as a kid, where the villain is some cruel, Machiavellian tyrant, or maybe some alien invaders, that they were less about subconscious fears and more about projecting our own guilt and shame onto our enemies.

Because those villains are us, and the U.S. is t
Sep 11, 2011 Nikzad rated it it was amazing
I came to know and appreciate Chomsky's ideas via some of his interviews. This was my first book by Chomsky. Its a collection of his lectures in the 90's, compiled such that you clearly follow the flow of ideas. I guess even if somebody remotely follows politics through the media, this book is must. The book provides with the basics of trying to read between the lines... not just following what “they” present. It also gave me some confidence to question the ideas behind governments, ideas that I ...more
Dec 26, 2013 waitsforsleep rated it it was amazing
Literally changes your world view. I've seen a lot of people mention how they became disillusioned at mainstream media and even stopped following politics and news in general because this book showed them how hopeless the status quo is. But I arrived at the exact opposite conclusion. Chomsky reads between the lines, and breaks down events in a lucid and satisfying way. You need not give up on news altogether, just need to learn how to process it. 10/10 highly recommended for anyone
May 13, 2013 Brian rated it it was amazing
For a long time I was searching, trying to find some understanding of the way the world works. Conspiracys, Ron Paul, Alex Jones ... all had varying degrees of influence on me, some for good others for bad. Chomsky and this book I can genuinely say, finally allowed me to find some real understanding.
Jul 26, 2007 Patrick rated it really liked it
A fantastic collection of talks given by Chomsky over the years. Serves as the perfect introduction to his work if you are unfamiliar with it. Just pick a chapter and read it a little at a time.
Ahmad Ardy
Membaca buku ini, baru aku sedar bagaimana mampu aku kategorikan Noam Chomsky.

Bagi aku, spektrum golongan kiri vs kanan adalah tidak relevan untuk digunapakai bagi Chomsky. Satu sebab adalah spektrum sebegitu terlalu relatif sehinggakan hampir tidak membawa apa2 makna. Sebab yang lain adalah Chomsky mengajukan bentuk2 soalan yang sebegitu common sense bagi kalangan masyarakat demokrasi. Idea2 utama beliau boleh dikatakan sebagai truisms dalam demokrasi. Ibarat mengatakan malam adalah ketiadaan m
Sayantan Dasgupta
Oct 12, 2016 Sayantan Dasgupta rated it it was amazing
Understood Power!
Jul 24, 2014 seeseesee rated it it was amazing
Understanding Power was a very useful book to me. It has helped me think more systematically about the world. I will give you an example -- India-Pakistan border issue. There were reports in our newspapers that Pakistan had violated ceasefire in the Kashmir border. The papers said Pakistan was planning this-and-that to attack my country India. If I had read this before my reading Chomsky I'd have believed that without batting an eye. But I had read Chomsky, so I thought about the situation a lit ...more
Mar 06, 2014 Duy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: human
Cuốn sách chủ yếu nói về tình hình chính trị - xã hội và cách thức đối ngoại của nước Mỹ. Nó cho thấy một hình ảnh xa lạ về nước Mỹ, đất nước hùng mạnh nhất thế giới. Nước Mỹ, kẻ luôn cho mình có sứ mệnh bảo vệ nền hòa bình của thế giới thực ra lại là nước gây chiến tranh, xung đột và chia rẽ chủ yếu. Nước Mỹ, kẻ luôn nói rằng mình đang chống lại chủ nghĩa khủng bố một thập kỷ vừa qua, lại là nước nuôi dưỡng, ủng hộ những chế độ khủng bố, độc tài, diệt chủng trên khắp thế giới. Nước Mỹ, và bản t ...more
Sep 15, 2015 Laura rated it it was amazing
Noam Chomsky is an incredible force. I so enjoyed this book, which gives a snapshot of his views on a very wide range of topics. It is so refreshing to read the thoughts of a man who, above all, is a truth seeker. Both a pragmatist and an idealist (you can, in fact, be both!), Chomsky helps nudge society toward a more humane path by challenging us all to rethink social, economic, and political structures and entertain ideas about what an alternative future could look like, and how we might get t ...more
An eye-opening book which is accessible for almost everyone to read without too much trouble and a great introduction to many topics surrounding the politics of Power. Packed within these 400 pages, Chomsky discusses US foreign policy & US politics in general, Israel, Palestine & the Middle East, histories of labour and social movements, propaganda techniques of the mainstream media, the military-industrial complex and the UN to name just a few. He also talks about activism and the need ...more
Sep 28, 2012 Raymonds009 rated it it was amazing
Everytime I read Noam I get more depressed. But, I can't help myself. The problem is not that we are in such difficult situations as a body-politic but rather that we don't know what a deep hole we are in and we keep shooting oursevles in the foot. {Please ignore mixed metaphore, thanks.) Because Noam is never completely pessimistic you just keep reading hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel.

Maybe next time we won't get into an endless war with no point and no money. Maybe next time our
Greg Davis
Mar 24, 2016 Greg Davis rated it liked it
Chomsky is always...tedious. I never question his passion, or his command of factual minutia gleaned from endless examples of foreign and domestic excursions of power, always at the mortal expense of common folk, and always for the expanding profit of corporations. Same lens different day. He constantly snarks about brainless Republicans, soulless capitalists, scary fundamentalists, and frequently states "an 8-year old could see all of this," simultaneously asserting both that all of this evil i ...more
Heidi Kuchta
Jun 30, 2016 Heidi Kuchta rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, favorites
Chomsky has written many books, many more recent than this one - but Understanding Power was my introduction to thinking about global inequality in a political way. It was a voice of reason cutting through the bull. Understanding Power gave me just enough information to make me realize I needed to know more. Chomsky opened my young idiot brain to the reality that inequality CAN be prevented, but that preventing it would be a disadvantage to people in power. From what I remember, Chomsky never qu ...more
Mar 03, 2011 Kassandra rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is an amazing collection of Chomsky's work. For me it wasn't the type of book I sat and read cover to cover in one sitting. It was one I slowly worked my way through wrapping my mind around the vast amount of information he provided. I actually read this book with a highlighter in hand as though it was a college text book! Noam Chomsky is brilliant and this is my favorite book of his that I have read. I have a couple others and I feel like this one presents his views in the most comprehensi ...more
Alessandro Pellizzari
Jun 13, 2011 Alessandro Pellizzari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: saggi, e
Inquietante e spaventoso. A volte si dice senza pensarci troppo "la realtà supera la fantasia", ma leggendo questo libro ci si rende conto di quanto sia vero. Sconsigliato a chi soffre di crisi depressive e di manie di persecuzione, perché potrebbe portare al suicidio. L'autore (o meglio "il protagonista") esprime naturalmente la sua opinione su molti dei punti discussi, e si tratta di un punto di vista da "anarchico". Su ogni argomento si può concordare o meno, ma i fatti che riporta sono perlo ...more
Randy Cooper
Nov 01, 2008 Randy Cooper rated it it was amazing
This is the second time through this book for me. I met Noam in the 70s through professor types who revered him (justifiably) for his talents in linguistics. He has a range of knowledge amazingly far reaching and is a very engaging person to have dialogue with. This book is worth the ride if only for the footnotes @
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy
  • Parecon: Life After Capitalism
  • Mutual Aid
  • Anarchism
  • Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice
  • Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media
  • The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
  • Post-Scarcity Anarchism
  • The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them
  • Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights
  • What Is Property?
  • Web Of Deceit: Britain's Real Foreign Policy
  • The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century
  • Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers
  • Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
  • Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II
  • Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings
  • The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author, and lecturer. He is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chomsky is credited with the creation of the theory of generative grammar, considered to be one of the most significant contributions to the field of linguistics made in the 20th century. H
More about Noam Chomsky...

Share This Book

“...the qualifications that I have to speak on world affairs are exactly the same ones Henry Kissinger has, and Walt Rostow has, or anybody in the Political Science Department, professional historians—none, none that you don't have. The only difference is, I don't pretend to have qualifications, nor do I pretend that qualifications are needed. I mean, if somebody were to ask me to give a talk on quantum physics, I'd refuse—because I don't understand enough. But world affairs are trivial: there's nothing in the social sciences or history or whatever that is beyond the intellectual capacities of an ordinary fifteen-year-old. You have to do a little work, you have to do some reading, you have to be able to think but there's nothing deep—if there are any theories around that require some special kind of training to understand, then they've been kept a carefully guarded secret.” 13 likes
“Look, part of the whole technique of disempowering people is to make sure that the real agents of change fall out of history, and are never recognized in the culture for what they are. So it's necessary to distort history and make it look as if Great Men did everything - that's part of how you teach people they can't do anything, they're helpless, they just have to wait for some Great Man to come along and do it for them.” 11 likes
More quotes…