Decoding Chomsky has been generally well reviewed:
But the book clearly upset Chomsky and some of his supporters. If you enjoy shrill partisanship and name-calling, check out these four delightfully hostile reviews: (1) Norbert Hornstein & Nathan Robinson (2) Robert Barsky, (3) Wolfgang Sperlich and (4) Peter Stone [who, bizarrely, seems to be accusing this old Trot of being a Stalinist for daring to critique Noam's linguistics!]
“The whole story is a wreck... complete nonsense throughout.” — Noam Chomsky
“I can say that this is the best critique of Chomsky from the left that I have ever read. I disagree with Knight quite profoundly on a number of key issues, but in every chapter I learned something new and, in fact, found myself agreeing with him more and more as the book progressed.” — Frederick Newmeyer, author of 'Linguistic Theory in America'.
“This is Chomsky from a new perspective, the perspective of a social anthropologist. It connects his science with his politics in a novel and convincing way. Knight has dug deeper and made more interconnections than anyone has done before. The result is truly revelatory.” — Michael Tomasello, author of 'A Natural History of Human Thinking.'
“Chris Knight tells a compelling story with startling clarity and forceful elegance, about the bizarre results of studying language, that most human of faculties, by removing it as far as possible from lived human experience. He provides a persuasive explanation for Chomsky’s strategy that reveals striking perspectives on the relationship between science, politics and values.” — Marek Kohn, author of 'As We Know It: Coming to Terms with an Evolved Mind.'
“Knight’s exploration of Chomsky’s politics, linguistics, and intellectual history is unparalleled. No other study has provided such a full understanding of Chomsky’s background, intellectual foibles, objectives, inconsistencies, and genius. ” — Daniel L. Everett, author of ‘How Language Began: The Story of Humanity's Greatest Invention.’
“History comes alive via compelling narrative. As a devoted historian of the profession, I was particularly delighted by the sections on how Russian linguistics influenced the development of cognitive science in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the height of the Cold War and for many decades thereafter. The revealing sections on Roman Jakobson and his own intellectual predecessors are worth the price of the book. Knight is indeed an impressive historian when it comes to recounting the gripping personal histories behind Chomsky’s groundbreaking contributions to science and philosophy.” — Sean O'Neill, American Ethnologist.
“Fascinating on so many levels, Knight’s critique of an academic demigod is a compelling case study of the institutional, personal, interpersonal, historical and accidental forces shaping one of the major intellectual movements of our time.” — N.J. Enfield, author of ‘How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conversation.’
“Few disagree that language has been a game-changer for the human species. But just how we came by language remains hotly contested. In ‘Decoding Chomsky’, Chris Knight strides into this minefield to bravely replace miraculous leaps and teleology with a proposal that actually makes evolutionary sense.” — Sarah Hrdy, author of 'Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding.'
“This is one of the most exciting scholarly books I have read in years. Decoding Chomsky will be required reading for anyone at all interested in the history of intellectual and political thought since the 1950s.” — David Golumbia, author of 'The Cultural Logic of Computation.'
“Decoding Chomsky reads like a detective novel. So many of the arguments I found right on the mark, but I would recommend it just for the pleasure of reading Knight’s great English prose, particularly his talent for understatement. A truly fantastic work, simply brilliant. I could not put it down.” — Luc Steels, Director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Free University, Brussels.
“Decoding Chomsky was a decade in the making and may be the most in-depth meditation on ‘the Chomsky problem’ ever published. A compelling read.” — Tom Bartlett, Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Chris Knight is to be commended for this engaging and thought-provoking intellectual history of a thesis that remains hotly contested – and the reverberations of which, as he rightly observes, resonate far beyond academia.” — Houman Barekat, Times Literary Supplement.
“Simply brilliant. Others have noted the systematic disjunct between Chomsky’s Pentagon-funded linguistics and his political dissidence, but this is the first theoretically sophisticated analysis of a chasm between mind and body, theory and practice which has become profoundly symptomatic of postmodern culture as a whole.” — David Hawkes, author of ‘Ideology.’
“Decoding Chomsky is a groundbreaking analysis of the wide chasm that now exists between modern language science and Chomsky’s view of language. A must-read for anyone trying to understand the history and trajectory of Chomsky’s ideas.” — Gary Lupyan, University of Wisconsin.
“This book provides a fascinating account of the disconnect and symmetry between Chomsky’s value-free science and his science-free politics. Knight roots this in the tension between Chomsky ‘s detestation of the US military and his dependence on military funding for his linguistic research.” — Les Levidow, editor, 'Science as Culture.'
“Intellectually hip and iconoclastic, ‘Decoding Chomsky’ surveys 1950s McCarthyite politics and 1960s student unrest in order to get a handle on the extraordinary influence of Noam’s ideas. If you’re a former New Left protestor against university collaboration with the US war machine or a current 21st-century anti-war student, you’ll find Knight’s chapter on MIT’s historical relationship to the Pentagon – titled ‘The Most Hideous Institution On This Earth’ – especially cutting-edge, ground-breaking and informative.” — Bob Feldman, Students for a Democratic Society Steering C'ttee, Columbia University 1968.
“A totally engrossing roller coaster ride. Riveting and revealing, ‘Decoding Chomsky’ gives badly needed perspective to an American icon.” — David Wineberg, Amazon.com
“An authoritative, deeply thoughtful and very well written analysis, shedding light on a hitherto incomprehensible tangle. Knight’s revelatory investigation helps me understand why for so many decades I could never make sense of Chomsky’s various pronouncements about the evolution of language.” — ‘Fifth Generation Texan’, Amazon.com
“Social anthropologist Chris Knight has, almost miraculously, solved the Chomsky Problem. I’ve been trying to solve it for 20 years; I now feel the euphoria that one of us has solved it. ‘Decoding Chomsky’ is an astonishingly well-written and researched volume that will probably be the most important work in the history of ideas, post World War II, that you’ll read for quite some time. It’s so lucid and well-researched and intellectually and emotionally gripping I couldn’t find a fault with it, though I tried.” — Michael Johnson, 'Overweening Generalist.'
“Really important books do not come along very often. But here is one of them.” — Jack Conrad, 'Weekly Worker.'
“‘Decoding Chomsky’ will make uncomfortable reading for some because while Knight celebrates Chomsky’s anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics, he reminds us of the other Chomsky, the world-famous linguist. Most of us in the labour movement know little and care less about this side of Chomsky’s work. Why should we? It’s highly technical, appears irrelevant to our activism and anyway, who am I to judge? Chris Knight thinks we should care.” — Jackie Walker, 'Labour Briefing.'
“Knight offers a sustained argument against the view that Chomsky’s work as a linguistic scientist can be separated (compartmentalised) from the military and state ties of the institution in which he worked, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” — Andrew Coates, 'Tendance Coatesy.'
“Knight argues that Chomsky needed to deny any connection between his science and his politics in order to practise both while based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an institution that was heavily funded by the US military. Trenchant and compelling.” — Marek Kohn, 'New Scientist.'
“I enjoyed reading this book... If you’ve ever pondered the way Chomsky acts like he’s basically two separate people, you will find this book well-stocked with quotes and anecdotes that outline the strange relationship between Chomsky and Chomsky…” — Lauren Gawne, 'Superlinguo.'
“Knight says his ‘subversive intention’ is ‘to serve justice on Chomsky the scientist without doing an injustice to Chomsky the conscience of America.’ Now why should that be subversive? Any voice critical of Chomsky risks being dismissed as yet another right-wing defender of political orthodoxy, but given even the most superficial examination of Knight’s biography one could hardly question that he supports the substance of Chomsky’s views (as do I). Nonetheless, he shows how Chomsky has acquiesced in – more than that, has participated in and abetted – a radical post-war transformation of the relation of science to society, legitimating one of the significant political achievements of the right, the pretense that science is apolitical.” — Bruce Nevin, 'The Brooklyn Rail.'
Chris Knight’s book on the science and politics of the world’s most influential intellectual — Noam Chomsky — is an insightful book and, one might say, a-pleasure-to-read kind of book. — Thomas Klikauer, The European Legacy
Decoding Chomsky ... is a straightforward, clear and fast read. It focuses on all the major phases of Chomsky's linguistic theories, their institutional preconditions and their ideological and political ramifications. And it is absolutely devastating. — Peter Seyferth, Anarchist Studies
Powered by Squarespace