Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent


237 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55022-282-1
DDC 410'.92





Reviewed by Graham Adams, Jr.

Graham Adams, Jr., is a professor of American history at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.


Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor of Linguistics at MIT and political
radical, has published over 70 books and more than 1000 articles on
philosophy, linguistics, politics, psychology, and cognitive sciences.
His biographer, Robert Barsky, suggests that Chomsky may loom in
importance for future generations as Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Mozart,
and Picasso did for ours.

Chomsky first developed an interest in linguistics through the
influence of his father, an eminent scholar of Hebrew. At Pennsylvania
University, Chomsky studied under Zellig Harris, who had founded the
first linguistics department in the United States. Chomsky’s PhD
dissertation— later published as the book Logical Structures of
Linguistic Theory—laid the foundation for a new field of research
known as “transformational grammar.” At MIT, where he attained the
rank of full professor by age 33, Chomsky produced Syntactic Structures,
a groundbreaking work in linguistics. As founder of the first graduate
program in linguistic studies, Chomsky attracted a number of gifted
students. His further scholarship, Barsky declares, revolutionized the
cognitive sciences.

Anti-capitalist, anti-Stalinist, anti-Leninist, Chomsky viewed the
Russian Revolution as a failure that produced only a new autocracy.
Deeply influenced by the Spanish Civil War, he developed a strong belief
in anarcho-syndicalism as a means of social organization. Workers, he
asserted, should make their own decisions at the workplace concerning
hours, conditions, and wages. A constant dissenter, Chomsky opposed the
war in Indo-China, the embargo against Cuba, the arms race with the
Soviet Union, and U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

Throughout history, dissenters have suffered persecution, imprisonment,
torture, and death. In this perceptive and worthwhile biography, Barsky
notes that despite occasional attempts to stifle him, Chomsky has
published a voluminous body of work and has enjoyed many honors as well
as a comfortable life at a world-class university—a fact that speaks
well for the society he has criticized so vehemently over the last
several decades.


Barsky, Robert F., “Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,