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

3.45  ·  Rating Details ·  381 Ratings  ·  75 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
ebook, 224 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by Anchor (first published 2010)
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May 11, 2010 Greg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 01, 2016 Rossdavidh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: white
George Prochnik was on the path to becoming an anti-noise crank. It is to his credit that he realized this, and found a way to turn his next book into something more than a noisy anti-noise screed. There is little more tedious than hearing someone shout at everybody to be quiet.

Some of the people Prochnik talks to are the ones you might expect: monks, experts on noise abatement, hearing researchers. However, he also decides to talk to people who make it their business to pump up the volume of no
Apr 11, 2011 Rebecca rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Nov 18, 2012 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aram Sohigian
Jan 27, 2012 Aram Sohigian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Paul Signorelli
Jul 09, 2013 Paul Signorelli rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: solitude, silence
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
Brian Willis
The world is full of noise and the noise has a devastating effect on the mental and physical health of the world's citizens. Therefore, silence is to be treasured. Where have you truly heard absolute silence except perhaps when camping at night in the middle of the forest?

This book is more a collection of anecdotes and date rather than a coherent collection of problems and solutions. Some of the data is interesting - how ambient noise in an Abercrombie and Fitch is meant to drive us into a highe
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
Aug 21, 2010 j.c. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2010
Tread carefully. Reading this book will make it impossible not to hear the noise in the everyday world.
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.
Alex Capper
Jan 09, 2017 Alex Capper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I rarely write reviews for books, as most of the those I've read already have more than enough reviews. Some that I agree with, and some that I don't. A lot of reviews for this book I do not agree with, so I thought I would give my two cents. Or five pence, I don't like those coins.

Of course, I have no idea what background these reviewers have. Personally, I read this book as part of my university course, to use as one of the points of reference for my dissertation entitled "At what point does m
Nov 28, 2016 Lilly rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book starts off great with the promise of trying to understand the importance of silence then veers off into the author taking really expensive trips to talk to people who love noise. Alright then, guess no finding silence for us.
Oct 31, 2010 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Melissa Earley
Jan 27, 2012 Melissa Earley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 01, 2016 Sean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful treatise on silence as a form of meditation, contemplation, and asceticism in a world awash in sound, In Pursuit of Silence challenges the reader to go on a sound-diet. Remove the clutter of noise, embrace the introspection possible through silence when doing deep work, and heal oneself and one's relationships through silence -- a thought-provoking read.
Sep 12, 2013 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-nonfic
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
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
Aug 07, 2013 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 14, 2013 Ken rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Caitee Nigro
Aug 11, 2016 Caitee Nigro rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 09, 2010 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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
Tim Wood
Oct 21, 2012 Tim Wood marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 12, 2012 Becky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
I feel so lucky to live in a city with plenty of places one can go to find peace and quiet for an hour or two, where there are parks and sparsely populated coffee shops and wide open spaces. I love my neighborhood, where we're far enough away from the nearby roads that only a little bit of traffic noise can be heard at rush hour and the rest of the time the space is filled with birdsong and the chirping of frogs.

This book got me thinking about these things, and all the implications of a modern l
Apr 04, 2012 Nisha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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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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“I'm scared of becoming a noise crank, but I always just loved quiet. I love to have conversations without straining to hear...” 4 likes
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