In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise
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In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  269 ratings  ·  62 reviews
More than money, power, and even happiness, silence has become the most precious—and dwindling—commodity of our modern world.

Between iPods, music-blasting restaurants, earsplitting sports stadiums, and endless air and road traffic, the place for quiet in our lives grows smaller by the day. In Pursuit of Silence gives contextto our increasingly desperatesense that noise po...more
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2010)
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Eh. Not, Eh!, the very friendly goodreader, but, Eh.

I saw this book and got excited. I like silence. I believe that there isn't enough of it. I think that there is a whole lot of useless bullshit being said and noises being made. I generally sit most of the time in my apartment with no background noise, well for example right now there is a garbage truck making a beeeeeepppp beeeeeeppppp noise, and now a plane, and some engine noise off in the distance and noises like that which are almost alwa...more
Aram Sohigian
I read this book a second time for the Noe Valley Library Book Club. I actually read it last year and nominated it and the other members decided to give it a go. I like that Mr. Prochnik starts out with a simple story and then it continually evolves and changes to be such a difficult and confusing belief system that silence is good. It really is something that I need and yet it is truly not able to achieved.

I really enjoyed the chapter on architecture designed by deaf people and Deaf Space with...more
One man's quirky adventure into the cultures of noise and silence. As a city dweller, I understand his neediness for the unintrusive, the still, the quiet; as a suburban and rural dweller, I remember craving the frenetic, the indistinguishable mass of sound. Clearly we can't listen without both sound and silence, can't perceive without the dance between presence and absence, but in the city, the balance is tipped to the point of manic.

The book is a survey of interesting ideas about silence, som...more
I am incredibly sensitive to noise. I have, on more than one occasion, walked out of a grocery store mid-trip, a half-filled cart left in an aisle (never with refrigerated items, of course), because the blaring music and announcements were too much and I Had To Leave Right Away Before I Killed Someone. My expectations for this book, then, were quite high: I wanted a diagnosis and actionable solutions for the Problem Of Noise. It was a little light on these.

In Pursuit of Silence is a style of boo...more
Of course, I read every page of this book with the rumbling hum of an aircraft in my ears.

This book blends sound science, sound anecdotes, and sound philosophy in a consistently interesting mix. The writing is a hair too precious here and there, but what can I say. Some of the stuff genuinely surprised me - for instance, did you know that people eat faster, drink faster, even just chew faster, when eating with fast music in the background compared to slow music? It's not 2% faster either, it's l...more
Paul Signorelli
George Prochnik’s exquisite book "In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise" finds the author writing eloquently about his own quest for silence in a world he finds overwhelmingly noisy. That journey leads us with him through visits with Trappist monks in the New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa; students who, "when they wanted quiet," found it by "closing themselves inside their rooms and playing a computer game or turning on the television" (p. 286); an architect's client...more
Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise

One recent beautiful day, I was curled up with a book outside, enjoying the change in the light and air of fall, with a fat orange cat on my lap. The baby was asleep, work was done, and it was finally a chance to relax. It was bliss. All was quiet. Quiet, until an extremely loud dirt bike, without a muffler, began doing circuits of the road below my house. I went from peaceful and content to plotting murder in mere seconds…just the whine of the engine mad...more
Bonnie Irwin
While this book has its moments, I found it disappointing overall. The author spends a lot of time talking about noise rather than silence, and advances in the sound-proofing industry are given far too much geography. The book begins and ends strongly, those sections where the author really discusses his pursuit of silence. What gets left out from the promising title, however, is "meaning." The meaning and importance of silence is just not central enough to the narrative to justify the title. Fa...more
Janet Roberts
I read this book in connection with the exhibitions honoring John Cage, specifically at UC Berkeley, the Berkeley Art Museum, and a chapter at a time, like a meditation about its subtitle, "Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise"...Noise pollution as an environmental catastrophe brought upon human beings by themselves, with myriad examples that the author has researched, including visiting monks who practice Silence. The monks that Georgia O Keefe visited on the "long road"(painting in the Ch...more
Kevin Eagan
This books starts with an interesting premise, but it does not go into the spiritual and social implications of noise in our modern world in as much depth as I had hoped.
Hardback, 342 Pgs

Front Cover: "Quiet" Gray Tone with smaller pic of a door ajar
Back Cover: Deep Red which does grab one's attention; Endorsements by 2 authors

Appeal: To fans of Michael Pollan, Daniel Gilbert

Author Pic: New Yorker, Looks young & intellectual, but does have gray hair (early 40s?); Has written for Boston Globe, New York Times

Shows benefits of decluttering our busy sound-driven world.

Tone: Softspoken, Begins on a spiritual note (Quakers), drops in literary references (Thoreau),...more
Tread carefully. Reading this book will make it impossible not to hear the noise in the everyday world.
Prochnik does an ok job of balancing science, narrative, and journalism. i like, too, the fact that he seamlessly blends the human psyche's desire for calming, life-affirming, deeply meaningful experiences that can be obtained through silence without referring to them in New Agey woo terminology or even overtly calling them "mystical" or "religious." the science behind how silence and noise affect human behavior inside and out is the topic here and it does include valid discussion of what happen...more
A mostly well-researched book, Prochnik's survey of noise and silence in contemporary society includes a vast survey of anecdotes and history without managing to come to any solid conclusions about the subject matter beyond "there should be more silence in New York" -- since he writes mostly from the perspective of a New Yorker looking at other parts of the world as "not-New York," particularly while he talks of spending time with "urban boom car drivers" in Florida who he ultimately (and border...more

Prochnik may not give us deep philosophy but does provide a multifaceted survey of current contemporary noise and silence issues. From the silences of the monastery to boom cars with stereos loud enough to break their own windshields to the ubiquitous earbuds he makes explicit many aspects of silence and noise we likely have not thought through: “the military and the monastery are each … dedicated to the watchful preparation for death—often in silence.” “… the centrality of silence to life in a...more
I had really high hopes for this book and made it through the fairly interesting 20-page introduction ready to move on. I didn't get much further before finding myself annoyed at various writing weaknesses that hampered my appreciation.

At first, it was hard for me to pinpoint, but over several pages close together, I found three types of problems that added up to not wanting to finish the book. Ah, well. Here they are:

-On a walk in the dark: "The deep silence was instantly broken by the squitch...more
Blog on Books
Though rarely mentioned, the world is getting louder. Urban expansion, media explosion, piped in muzak and ubiquitous earbuds are all adding up to a society that has become immersed in noise pollution, and often unwittingly so. George Prochnik, a psychology-based writer (‘Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam and the Purpose of American Psychology’) has studied this in both its rudimentary and more advanced levels and published the results in his latest book, ‘In Pursuit of Silence: L...more
Caitee Nigro
Sound, like food, water, oil, is a natural resource. It doesn't grow on trees, fall from skies or sit silently underground waiting to be discovered. But sound - like any natural resource - can starve or spoil a city.
In Pursuit of Silence awakens our consciousness of the noise around us that both invigorates and destroys a setting, as Prochnik delves into the sciences of audio, psychology, geography and even engineering. Like a research paper on crack, this book tells a story that reminds us of t...more
Melissa Earley
If you regularly find yourself wishing you could erase the constant noise of traffic, cell phones, music, TVs, car alarms, sirens, construction work, and all those other distracting noises of our modern world, and just find a nice, quiet place to sit and think and decompress, then you’ll find Prochnik’s latest book of interest. The author lives in Brooklyn, so he knows a thing or two about the unwelcome sounds of big city life, and this book chronicles his journey to discover just what all this...more
Tim Wood
Oct 21, 2012 Tim Wood marked it as to-read
The Origin and Cultural Evolution of Silence
by Maria Popova
‘Sound imposes a narrative on you, and it’s always someone else’s narrative.’

A painter friend of mine once told me that he thought of sound as an usher for the here and now. When he was a small child, Adam suffered an illness that left him profoundly deaf for several months. His memories of that time are vivid and not, he insists, at all negative. Indeed, they opened a world in which the images he...more
I am huge fan of silence, or at least quiet, and noise of various kinds is my main complaint about living in the city, so I was interested in this book from the start. It's an exploration of noise and silence in our culture in general, and also a look into how and why we hear, why too much noise is not good for us even though society is becoming increasingly louder, and those sorts of ideas. I enjoyed reading it, and it was interesting to see the information the author had gathered, though some...more
Marc Weidenbaum
The book is more about fleeing noise than pursuing silence, at least until its end, when Prochnik makes peace with the stronger emotions that fueled his sonic quest early on.

That quest is a remarkable one. He's a curious and active reporter -- visiting a school for the deaf, a boom-car rally, a soundproof-technology convention, a monastery, a Quaker meeting room, a Japanese garden, and numerous other places, as well as speaking with astronauts, police officers, urban planners, and architects, a...more
The American Conservative
'Prochnik writes as a self-declared “progressive,” and is warm in his sympathies for non-Western cultures and large-scale government interventions. Japanese tea gardens and European central planning to “map” urban noise appeal to him equally. He seems at times a bit credulous, as in reporting a tribe southwest of Khartoum with hearing so keen that individuals can “carry on a conversation in a soft voice with their backs turned” at a distance of a football field. One of his numerous threads is th...more
Amanda (Amy) Goode
As a person who genuinely appreciates the hush a thick blanket of snow imposes on a neighborhood street, or the quiet layers that decades of summers and winters create on a forest floor or the way even the most penetrating sounds are muffled under water...I understand why Mr. Prochnik went in search of silence. That said, I am also bound by a strange code to blast all Clash tunes at ear ringing decibel levels. They don't sound, or feel right any other way. Sound is every bit as sacred to me as s...more
Nari (The Novel World)
An in-depth exploration of silence in our modern community. In his pursuit of silence, Prochnik went everywhere from a trappist monastery, to a boom car convention in Florida to study the effects of noise and silence in our lives. Along with science studies about the ear, as well as history lessons of anti-noise policies developed by local and federal governments, Prochnik provides a well-rounded look at the benefits of silence, why we have to search for it, and the detriments of noise and lack...more
This is a beautifully written, scientific and philosophical account of sound and meaning in our over-hyped, maximum-volume world. Prochnik has done outstanding research and great reporting, and he offers profound meditations on the Walkman, the iPad, PA systems, urban pocket parks, sound designers, Deaf Architecture, and Trappist monks, among many other fascinating (and often disquieting) topics. This book explains why. It will lead you to think about noise in a way you probably haven't ( a cop...more
Anthony Faber
A grab bag of stuff relating to silence (visits to monasteries, history of anti-noise crusades, zen stuff, laws, with a little stuff relating to noise (boom cars...). Sort of like Mary Roach's stuff, only without the prurient interest and jokiness.
Vanessa Long
You wouldn’t believe but I actually got my first tattoo on my lower back which reads "...and the rest is silence". I to have an obsession with silence, so much so, that I have am attending Gallaudet University and am super excited to be living in a much quieter world. I of course also have a passion for Deafness and Deaf culture and plan on opening a school for the Deaf when I am graduated. Either which way, I haven’t read the book yet but I ordered it and should be expecting to receive it withi...more
Interesting premise. I found Prochnik's descriptions of the loud places (e.g. as he tours an Abercrombie & Fitch with the woman who designed the obnoxious sound system, and his stint at a loud car audio contest) almost as unpleasant as actually being in those places myself, which is testament to his writing. His description of his stint at the Dubuque, IA, New Melleray Abbey caused me to yearn to go there and see for myself. We'll see. His exploration of Deaf Space at Gallaudet was fascinati...more
I am often irked by excessive noise, so this book naturally appealed to me. I enjoyed the style, as well as the wide range of topics covered. The chapter on "boom cars" and the competitions was hilarious. The book also dipped into the subject of architectural acoustics, which is interesting to me. I also appreciate the author's conclusions, near the end of the book. The author found that trying to reduce overall noise in an environment is often a losing battle. So, instead of reducing noise, a b...more
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George Prochnik’s essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous journals. He has taught English and American literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine, and is the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology. He lives in New...more
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The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam and the Purpose of American Psychology La Confusion des sentiments The Society of the Crossed Keys

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“I'm scared of becoming a noise crank, but I always just loved quiet. I love to have conversations without straining to hear...” 2 likes
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