The Noam Chomsky Reading List
rss icon
facebook icon
twitter icon

Where to Start with Noam Chomsky: His Best Books

The Top 100 Books Referenced by Noam Chomsky

Chomsky by jeanbaptisteparis (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Where to Start with Noam Chomsky? The best place to start is with his essay The Responsibility of Intellectuals (available here online, or in the book American Power and the New Mandarins).

In it Chomsky identifies the moral background to his thinking. It's the responsibility of intellectuals - like Chomsky - to seek truth, to undermine State lies, and to resist the crimes and abuses of the State. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the essay is that as Chomsky poses questions of personal responsibility the reader must ruminate on their own responsibility within their society.

After that, it's best to read either Understanding Power (his most readable work) or whichever of his core works (listed below) that you find most appealing. They can be read in chronological order, if you want to follow events as they happened; reverse chronological order, if you want to start with the most recent events; and obviously in any order you like, skipping those which don't hold as much appeal to you. It is recommended that you finish this collection first; although, you are obviously free to read any of his other works.

You can also search for articles on topics that interest you. Examples are given below.

To see which of Chomsky's works he has referenced most himself in his other works look here. It's worth bearing in mind that the older a work is the more likely it is to have been referenced more.

Noam Chomsky's Core Works

There are broadly speaking two types of books by Chomsky: books purposefully written as books with chapters that sustain an argument, and books that are made up of essays, lecture transcripts and interview transcripts. The following list of core works prioritises the former kind. If you're having problems reading Chomsky, you might want to switch to the latter to begin with.

American Power and the New  Mandarins cover

American Power and the New Mandarins (1969)

As mentioned above, American Power and the New Mandarins contains Chomsky's most significant essay, On the Responsibility of Intellectuals. His first political book, published in 1969, it also contains a critique of the Vietnam War and a history of US foreign policy in the Pacific in the lead up to the Second World War (setting the scene for Vietnam).
Essays | 432p | More on this book

Fateful Triangle (1983, 1999)

Examining the relationship between the USA, Israel and Palestine, Fateful Triangle is one of Chomsky's most significant works. It was one of Norman Finkelstein's four recommended books for a beginner to read on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Norman also stated that it was one of only a few books that made a deep impression on him in his life (the others were Das Kapital, War and Peace, and On Liberty).
Book | 600p | More on this book
Fateful Triangle cover

Pirates and Emperors cover

Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism and the Real World (1986, 2002)

This is a superb collection of essays on terrorism and the Middle East. Originally published in the 80s, the second edition comes with new material post-911.
Essays | 233p | More on this book

Manufacturing Consent (1988)

Manufacturing Consent, written with Edward Herman, has had more of an impact on the social sciences than any of Chomsky's other political works. In it, Herman and Chomsky propose a propaganda model, that applies to the corporate media, and they demonstrate it's validity with thorough evidence. It worth remembering that there was an excellent film on Chomsky also named Manufacturing Consent that is well worth watching (see below).
Book | 480p | More on this book
Manufacturing Consent cover

Deterring Democracy cover

Deterring Democracy (1991)

Deterring Democracy is perhaps Noam's finest collection of essays. In them he examines US imperialism abroad (particularly in Central America) and how the US media assists the state at home.
Essays | 424p | More on this book

Year 501: The Conquest Continues (1993)

Perhaps Chomsky's most ambitious book, Year 501: The Conquest Continues ties the colonial past with the US imperial present, especially in the Americas.
Book | 336p | More on this book
Year 501 cover

The New Military Humanism cover

The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo (1999)

Here Chomsky examines the Kosovo War to see if the intervention was in any way humanitarian. This is an important work as Kosovo is often still touted as a model for future interventions.
Book | 112p | More on this book

Understanding Power (2002)

Understanding Power is often recommend as a starting point for those new to Chomsky. This is because it's made up of bite-sized essays - based on transcripts of group discussions with Noam - that are easily digestible and that cover a wide area of interests. The editors, Peter Mitchell and John Schoeffel, two public defenders in New York, have also provided excellent footnotes to allow the reader to fact-check every argument. The well known internet activist Aaron Swartz - in an essay titled The Book That Changed My Life - said that "Reading the book, I felt as if my mind was rocked by explosions. At times the ideas were too much that I literally had to lie down."
Essays | 416p | More on this book
Understanding Power cover

Hegemony or Survival cover

Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (2003)

Published after the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Chomsky examines America's pursuit of power at any cost.
Book | 304p | More on this book

Government in the Future (2005)

This is probably Chomsky's best lecture on political philosophy and anarchism. In it he explains the classical liberal tradition in relation to state capitalism, state socialism, and libertarian socialism (anarchism) and concludes that libertarian socialism is the true inheritor of the tradition. For more on anarchism see below. (The lecture was originally given in 1970.)
Essay (lecture transcript) | 80p | More on this book
Government in the Future cover

Failed States cover

Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006)

One of Chomsky's most accessible books, Failed States turns the table on US politicians who call for action against "failed state" by examining the US domestic and international record to see if it itself qualifies. It ties in quite well with the film Requiem for the American Dream as it's similar in content.
Book | 320p | More on this book

Occupy (2012)

Occupy is a brilliant essay on the Occupy movement that took New York and then the world by storm. You can really see the influence of Kropotkin's Mutual Aid on Chomsky's thinking here.
Essay | 128p | More on this book
Occupt cover

Who Rules the World? cover

Who Rules the World? (2016)

Who Rules the World is a collection of Chomsky's most recent essays on current events. The most recent edition also has an afterward on the election of Donald Trump.
Essays | 336p | More on this book

Other Resources




These can all be found on CD, mp3 and often on youtube too. Some you can find in book format. Audio lectures are worth listening too on the commute to work, for example.

Online Essays




Chomsky hasn't written much on anarchism and if you would like to learn more try beginning with texts that give you an overview of the area, such as Kropotkin's The Conquest of Bread, Gurein's Anarchism (Chomsky wrote a foreward to this book), and Rocker's Anarchosyndicalism. After that you might want to read Noam's essay collection On Anarchism. For more suggestions see this list of anarchist, communist and socialist books.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mentions: Turning the Tide (book), Reasons of State (essays), Culture of Terrorism (book), Rogue States (essays), On Palestine (interviews)


For notes on how this list was created and other information related to this list, please see the notes page, which also includes a full political biography.