This biography describes the intellectual and political milieus that helped shape Noam Chomsky, a pivotal figure in contemporary linguistics, politics, cognitive psychology, and philosophy. It also presents an engaging political history of the last several decades, including such events as the Spanish Civil War, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the march on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. The book highlights Chomsky's views on the uses and misuses of the university as an institution, his assessment of useful political engagement, and his doubts about postmodernism. Because Chomsky is given ample space to articulate his views on many of the major issues relating to his work, both linguistic and political, this book reads like the autobiography that Chomsky says he will never write.
Barsky's account reveals the remarkable consistency in Chomsky's interests and principles over the course of his life. The book contains well-placed excerpts from Chomsky's published writings and unpublished correspondence, including the author's own years-long correspondence with Chomsky.
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Robert F. Barsky is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, French, and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent (MIT Press, 1997).Review:
I found Robert Barsky's biography of Noam chomsky a comprehensive and compelling account of the scientific achievements and political engagements of one of this century's foremost intellectuals and social activists. Barsky convincingly demonstrates that independence of mind, freedom of spirit, and a passionate will to overcome social injustice, are the defining characteristics of Chomsky's fully-engaged life. This study will help a new generation of intellectuals to take up the unfinished business of this era -- the construction of a meaningful democracy. It will serve also to raise those who are now weary and dispirited out of their lethargy. Barsky, with Chomsky as his subject and model, has written a text of hope.(Herbet I. Schiller, author of Culture Inc. and Information Inequality; Professor Emeritus of Communication, University of California)
A charming account of the genesis of Chomsky's innovations in linguistics, and his critique of the status quo. Barsky has chronicled the development of Chomsky's advocacy: ideas ranging from workplace democracy to the worth of every person as a contributor to reshaping society.(Seymour Melman, Professor Emeritus, Industrial Engineering, Columbia University)
For those who are interested in Noam Chomsky's work and its deepest roots, Barsky's book is essential reading. With its wealth of authenticated information (much of it unavailable or not readily available, including many photographs), it sheds much light on the thought and action of 'arguably the most important intellectual alive (ans unarguably the most cited). It provides an unparalleled point of entry and privileged access to a life committed to the struggle for a better world as well as to the thinking of one of the most remarkable figures of modern history. It may also be read as a challenging guide to a little known but far from unimportant strain of post-Enlightenment intellectual history and its significance for the immediate future.(Carlos Otero, Professor of Romance Linguistics, UCLA; Editor of N. Chomsky's Language and Politics and Noam Chomsky: Critical Assessments)
Robert F. Barsky's wonderul new biography fits a real gap in the exisiting literature on Chomsky, one of the most remarkable figures of century. He has produced a tightly-written, engaging, thorough, and remarkably accessible account of Chomsky and his times-- intellectual and otherwise. Barsky has an unenviable task: make both Chomsky's contributions to linguistic theory and the main elements of his political worldview clear to general readers without turning these discussions into a comic book style 'Chomsky for Beginners.' I think he does a great job. Barsky's careful reconstruction of the early political-intellectual milieu and influences on Chomsky is extremely useful. At the same time, he covers most of the events and issues that Chomsky's friends consider central to the 1960s and 1970s. I would not hesitate to use this text in a classroom or to recommend it to others.(Robert Vitalis, Professor of Government, Clark College)
... a remarkably comprehensive biography.... Barsky makes Chomsky the person more visible than ever before.(Michael G. Wessells Contemporary Psychology)
[A] detailed and perceptive survey of Chomsky's life and work.(Raphael Salkie Times Higher Education Supplement)
For over thirty years Noam Chomsky has been a pathbreaking linguist and a controversial critic of American policies and politics. Indeed, the world seems to divide between those who revere and those who revile Chomsky. Both groups would find valuable Robert F. Barsky's appreciative biography; he recounts (the known and the little known) facts of Chomsky's life, evaluates his linguistic contribution and surveys the main quarrels. This is an essential book not only for Chomsky affecionados and adversaries, but for all students of American political and intellectual life.(Russell Jacoby, UCLA)
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