There is no question that Noam Chomsky, even into his ninth decade, remains one of the most important, knowledgeable voices in the areas of world history, culture, and domestic and international politics. With hundreds of publications under his belt, the latest is a relatively unique affair: Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, published in 2017. Rather than standard essay structure, the book instead features a series of interviews done by David Barsamian from the past few years, highlighting Chomsky is just as articulate and intelligent in person as he is with time to put words to paper.
An excellent overview of Chomsky’s views on most contemporary global and domestic issues, the twelve interviews in Global Discontents touch upon: the rise of fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East, efforts within US intelligence agencies, growing income disparity and the rising unhappiness of Americans in the face of it, thoughts on the first year of Trump’s presidency, as well as some personal reflections on Chomsky’s childhood, upbringing, and various places he visited—Laos, Cololmbia, Israel, etc.—in bygone years. For readers who have never heard Chomsky speak or seen interviews with the man, the book really highlights the breadth of knowledge and understanding.
If there is any downside to Global Discontents, it would be the semi-repetition of some content. On a handful of occacions, the reader will come across very similar questions, followed by very similar answers, sometimes even the same anecdote. While it proves the consistency of Chomsky’s thinking, there may not have been a place for it in a book.
Item of note: I listened to the audiobook version of Global Discontent, for which the editors took the time to find the twelve source interviews between Chomsky and Barsamian and collate them in audiobook form (save the final interview). Rather than the monotone of a single narrator relaying questions and answers, listeners actually hear Barsamian’s questions followed by Chomsky’s answers—intonation, emphasis, accent, and all, culminating in a richer, fuller experience. At least in this case the cheaper route proves also the better route.