Late summer looks to be a rough time for Dr. Chomsky. Veteran journalist/novelist Tom Wolfe has a book coming out at the end of August. The Kingdom of Speech mounts a frontal assault on Chomsky the man. Unfortunately it also goes after Darwin, and Chomsky’s defenders can dismiss Wolfe’s well aimed shots by pointing out all the bad potshots aimed at “Charlie” Darwin.
Then, a month later, anthropologist Chris Knight publishes his Decoding Chomsky: Science and Revolutionary Politics. Knight has written the sounder book, though I suspect it will be lucky to get one-tenth of the publicity. Maybe Yale University Press can persuade Wolfe’s reviewers to include Knight in their discussion.
Both books nail Chomsky on his most glaring problem: He keeps changing his opinions His major point remains unshaken--knowledge of language is innate and universal--although the supporting evidence keeps changing.
Knight does the better job of destroying Chomsky’s story by showing a constant, failing effort to make the unshakeable idea work. Wolfe makes the tale more dramatic, but probably less convincing. And Wolfe hangs his drama on secondary issues. He badly misunderstands the whole matter of recursion, for example.