“The intellectual tradition is one of servility to power, and if I didn’t betray it I’d be ashamed of myself.” This declaration by Noam Chomsky exemplifies the uncompromising radicalism that has long defined his life and work. A linguist, philosopher, prolific author, and political activist, Chomsky is one of the most influential Western intellectuals of the last half-century. Yet it is this very capaciousness that biographers and interpreters have struggled with, and as a result, there are very few readable accounts of Chomsky and his project. Wolfgang B. Sperlich surmounts this challenge with his succinct yet in-depth introduction to the thinker in Noam Chomsky, one of the new titles in the acclaimed Critical Lives series.
Beginning with Chomsky’s formative years as a sixteen-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania, Sperlich traces his education in linguistics and politics in its rich historical context. He explores Chomsky’s main intellectual influences, particularly in language studies, and charts his strained relationship with mainstream American academia. Sperlich also offers an informed overview of Chomsky’s landmark linguistic contributions as a comprehensive introduction to his work, and he explains the latest developments in Chomskyan linguistics and how they influence research in fields as varied as neuroscience, biology, and evolution. Sperlich is equally attentive to Chomsky's political activism: through Sperlich’s account we follow Chomsky from his pacifist-anarchist lectures and writings of the 1950s and 1960s to his seminal 1988 treatise, Manufacturing Consent, and his relentless criticism of the American government over two decades.
A compact and rich biographical study, Noam Chomsky is a brilliant introduction to one of the most polarizing intellectuals of our time, a thinker whose words continue to pierce the heart of public discourse.
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