“Optimism over Despair” by Noam Chomsky Book Review

Title: Optimism over Despair

Author: Noam Chomsky

Category: Politics

Rating: 3/5

10-word summary: The world has many problems; we can work on them.

About Optimism over Despair

The book Optimism over Despair is a collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky. If you never heard about him (like me), Chomsky is an author, historian, linguist and cognitive scientist. He was called an “intellectual giant” and after reading this book, I would call him the same. He wrote over 100 books and he seems to be one of the most intelligent and educated people I’ve heard of.

This book includes several interviews from the recent years and they were all taken by the same reporter – C.J. Polychroniou. The interviews are mostly about political topics such as democracy, terrorism, the presidency of Trump, Obama’s legacy, the European Union and so on.

I am definitely glad that I read this book since I learned many things from it. I would recommend it to anyone since it helps us better understand the world we live in and make sense of some current events. However, keep in mind that it is not a light read and unless you are interested in politics or studied this field, you may not understand everything in it. But it is definitely worth reading! I’ll tell you why.

What I like about Optimism over Despair

1. Noam Chomsky himself

When you read a good non-fiction book, you also get to know the author of the book a little bit. Even if this is a collection of interviews and not a “regular” book, I still learned a lot about Chomsky. Perhaps the greatest value I got from reading the book was learning about this man since he seems to possess so many rare, fine and noble qualities: intelligence, wisdom, compassion, morality, good judgement, education and insight.

Reading the words of such a man and learning from him seems almost a privilege. It seems to me that there are few people like him in the world and I was so happy I found out about him. I only have words of praise about him and I can’t wait to read more of his books.

While reading this book, I found something that I have been seeking for a long time: a model.

2. It focuses on important topics

The book touches upon many topics mostly related to politics and many related to the United States. Chomsky shares his opinions on terrorism and how the USA contributed to it, the inequality between the rich and the poor, the flaws in the American democracy, the problem with the healthcare system in the USA, climate change, the legacy of Obama, the problems with Trump and so on.

He talks about important events that happen on the local or global scale and that affect how countries or the world work. He explains why certain events or situations matter and what they could lead to. His views are sometimes surprising at first, but as he explains his reasoning and provides us with more facts, it all makes sense.

3. It has a lot of information

Since the book is comprised of a series of interviews, it is filled with information. A book usually presents the topic first and then gradually starts to provide more and more information about it. But in an interview, there is no time for that. So the remarks are always full of opinions, theories, facts and ideas. There are no ideas that lead nowhere and no stories that offer no information, as you can find in other books.

4. It encourages us to be optimistic

From what I know so far, I would say that optimistic people are usually naïve or uninformed about the problems and the horrors of our world. So I really wanted to find someone who understands the problems and challenges of our world and manages to stay hopeful and positive in spite of that. And Chomsky seems to be the one to do that.

The topics of the book are all rather serious and a bit disheartening at times. So the title of the book is surprising, especially since it only focuses on optimism in the last interview. After many interviews about inequality, ignorance, threats and war, Chomsky urges us to be optimistic. He says that if we give up, the problems of the world will get worse. But if we are optimistic and work on solving these problems, we may create a better world.

What I don’t like about Optimism over Despair

1. It is a collection of interviews

When I bought the book, I was not aware that this was a collection of interviews since it was not described as such. Whenever I buy a book with one expectation and discover that it is something else, I feel a bit disappointed because I feel mislead.

Another thing that I would add is that since it is comprised of interviews, it is a bit more difficult to read. The topics discussed and the format make this a challenging book, at least for those of us that did not study politics or are not that familiar with this field and current events.

To be honest, reading this book was challenging and it took me a long time to finish it. But I am definitely glad I have read it. I would recommend this book to anyone because the topics in it are important and the ideas are well-thought and based on facts, understanding and wisdom.

If you want to challenge yourself and learn something about politics, you may want to read this book. All I can add is that I can’t wait to read another book by Noam Chomsky. At least I’m lucky, because there are so many of them!


“What we do know, however, is that if we succumb to despair we will help ensure that the worst will happen. And if we grasp the hopes that exist and work to make the best use of them, there might be a better world. Not much of a choice.”

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