Books

Failed blurbs

Oliver Kamm notes how a comment about Noam Chomsky by Prospect magazine editor David Goodhart has been jerked completely out of context and transformed into a blurb for Chomsky’s latest book.

After a Prospect poll declared Chomsky the leading “Global Public Intellectual,” Goodhart was quoted by The Sunday Times as saying, “He cannot be bought, and we find that noble. We tend to think it is an intellectual’s job to be against power. And I think Chomsky has an authority granted by brilliance in one area.”

The publisher of Chomsky’s book “Failed States” transformed that last sentence into the following blurb:

“Chomsky has an authority granted by brilliance”
David Goodhart, Sunday Times

In other words, “in one area”– which, as The Prospect notes, obviously refers to linguistics, not global politics– was conveniently dropped from the sentence. What’s more, there are no ellipses to indicate the truncations at the beginning and end of the sentence.

The original sentence reads more like a putdown of Chomsky’s political writing than an endorsement of it.

Are they really so short of people to provide fawning quotes about Chomsky these days? If so, the publishers may want to truncate the following quote from me:

I haven’t actually read “Failed States”, and have no intention of doing so, but I couldn’t be any surer that I could find more brilliant, penetrating and insightful commentary on a random page of the telephone directory.

With some judicious editing, that becomes a blurb any author would be proud to boast:

“…’Failed States’… couldn’t be… more brilliant, penetrating and insightful…”
Gene, Harry’s Place

Update: And speaking of Chomsky, you can watch him address and answer questions from cadets in a philosophy class at the US Military Academy at West Point. On the positive side, he doesn’t appear to treat the cadets differently from other audiences. On the negative side, that means they have to listen to the same old guff to which he subjects other audiences.

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