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Song Without Words: Discovering My Deafness Halfway through Life
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Song Without Words: Discovering My Deafness Halfway through Life

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  99 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Much has been written about the profoundly deaf, but the lives of the nearly 30 million partially deaf people in the United States today remain hidden. Song without Words tells the astonishing story of a man who, at the age of thirty-four, discovered that he had been deaf since childhood, yet somehow managed to navigate his way through Andover, Yale, and Columbia Law Schoo ...more
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published February 26th 2013 by Da Capo Press (first published February 1st 2013)
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Gerald Shea is one of the elite. His family is well to do and traveling around the world is nothing to them. He went Andover, Yale and Columbia Law school and was able to get a job at a prestigious law firm, eventually going into International Law. But as a lawyer he struggled in courtrooms and in big meetings and noisy places. He had done so much of his life but it hadn't become so apparent until he went to work. Finally he lands a job with Exxon Mobile which requires a hearing test because an ...more
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
An utterly fascinating account of a man who accomplished remarkable things—the rigors of Yale and Columbia Law School, and the pressures of a career in legal/financial negotiation—without realizing that he was hard of hearing. Since he lost most of his hearing around age six, he had already acquired language skills. But until middle age (when he was finally diagnosed), he simply thought that everyone had trouble understanding what others were saying; they just decoded it more quickly and ably th ...more
Very interesting and a times beautifully written, but also somewhat exhausting to make it through not only the strings of "lyricals" but also the extended passages of corporate law which did not really add much to the story. The interspersed history of the teaching of the deaf was fascinating but I am not sure I draw all the same conclusions about what is best as the author does. ...more
Apr 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
The guy may be deaf but he is not dumb.
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Actual rating 3.5 stars

Mr. Shea has lived a remarkable life given all the challenges presented by his partial deafness. He’s clearly reflected a lot on his situation and the history of deaf education, and the historical and scientific additions to his personal story were really informative. The way he talks about - or at least passes on the ideas of others - about the importance of language/how communication shapes our lives was very thoughtful and poetic.

However, I got a bit disinterested with
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
The description of what it is like to be partially deaf is accurate. There is so much more to it than volume. We who are partially deaf (aka hard of hearing) live between the Deaf and hearing worlds. This book provides a profound description of what it is like to live in that language-limbo.
Dodie Williams
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
He has put into words what my life is like with a hearing loss. I feel comfort that I am not alone.
It is estimated that in the U.S. there are 38 M people with hearing loss. That number is bound to increase. Those who are totally deaf, the deaf community, have been eloquently written about by Oliver Sacks (Hearing Voices) and others. This book, however, is about the hard of hearing, or rather about once such individual who discovered his hearing loss in his adulthood.
Gerald Shea was a successful New York lawyer who, despite having a severe hearing deficit, managed to get through Yale and then
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
An advance copy of this book was given to me to review. What a pleasure it was to read!

I had the privilege of growing up with extra-sensitive hearing, but have lost a good portion of that sense, due to exposure to an out-of-control alarm system at a previous job. I have also worked with hearing impaired persons and was taught a bit of sign language, so this book captured my interest right away. Aside from a few technical explanations of deafness, sound transmissions, etc., that were a bit challe
Nancy Kennedy
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
At age six, Gerald Shea suffered bouts of both scarlet fever and chicken pox, which permanently damaged his hearing. Although he still had some hearing, his were not the functioning ears that others enjoyed. But he doesn't know it. When a teacher tells him, "Come get a black pencil," he hears, "Come get a plaa bencer."

Mr. Shea spends thirty years of his life interpreting the speech of others, puzzled that other people do not seem to have the overwhelming task of interpretation that he has. He d
Nov 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Well worth reading if you know someone who is partially deaf, and probably even if you don't, since there are many people who are partially deaf and may not even realize it, and we may not realize it either. Well researched and also an excellent human story, which is enlightening to hearing people. Gerald Shea was born hearing but had cochlear damage as a child from scarlet fever, although he didn't know it and neither did his family. He managed to become a successfully practicing corporate lawy ...more
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
A truly fascinating story. Gerald Shea lost much of his hearing in early childhood as a result of scarlet fever combined with chicken pox, but he made it into his 30s before his problem was ever diagnosed. He knew that he had to struggle to make sense of spoken words (his hearing loss essentially removed most of the consonants, and he had to labour over reconstructing what people said based on his garbled perceptions). However, he assumed everyone else was doing the same thing, and made it throu ...more
May 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: book clubs
Gerald Shea has overcome a seemingly impossible handicap through sheer will power and a bit of unconscious denial. The account fascinates, but is in sore need of an editor. The first two chapters are biographical; the following three chapters are biological and one has to persevere through the inner canal of the ear to come out to the story again. Some of the ladies in my book clubs didn't make it, which is a shame because there is more to learn. Shea is remarkable, although a bit austere and hi ...more
Wendell Hennan
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
wearing two hearing aids myself and being significantly deaf for the past 12 years, this book was so comforting. So many parallels, guessing at words and trying to piece them into the context of the conversation, pretending to have heard what was said, striving to hear through multiple conversations, worrying what other meeting participants will think of your hearing paraphernalia and adjusting to hearing aids which help but are far from perfect and full hearing. Hard to believe that his hearing ...more
May 25, 2014 rated it liked it
I was diagnosed with a 40 db hearing loss when I was 20. Now I have 120 db loss and hearing aids barely help. Where I thought it wasn't the best written book I've read it certainly hit home with trying to decipher what people were and are saying. I felt a lot of empathy for the author. I wish I had his capacity in breaking down people's words though. ...more
Joanna Eng
Apr 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
A unique life story. I'd recommend it to people who have experience with or are curious about hearing loss, as well as people who have ever felt different from others in some essential way; plus corporate communications types!

I actually read this partially for work purposes. See my review at
Pat Baratta
Sep 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Gerald Shea's story is remarkable. How one can go through life not knowing one is deaf is amazing. He went to Yale, Columbia Law School and practiced law around the world, dealing with clients speaking many different languages. A truly remarkable man!! ...more
Dec 13, 2013 marked it as to-read
I tried...I just can't get into it. I'm not an avid non-fiction reader so it had to really draw me in. First book club book I haven't finished, but my girls will let me come to the meeting anyway! DNF ...more
May 09, 2013 rated it liked it
I found this story fascinating, but I'm not sure it really justified stretching to novel length. ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. How does one go through life dealing with partial deafness yet not knowing it? Gerald Shea is an amazing person and a more-than-adequate author of a fascinating memoir.
Patricia L.
Mar 09, 2014 rated it liked it
I am interested in the topic but somehow the book was fought to read through.
Mar 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
beautiful message, beautifully written.
Brook Lundie
May 27, 2013 rated it liked it
It was interesting to me as I had hearing problems growing up. Not sure how others would feel.
Excellent, intriguing and well written book.
Peter Michael
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written book which explains the many work-arounds used by partially deaf people to grasp sounds, especially speech.
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Jan 04, 2020
Aduloju Elizabeth
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Aug 13, 2013
AlegnaB †
rated it it was ok
Jul 30, 2013
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