Deep in the Appalachian Mountains lies the last truly quiet town in America. Green Bank, West Virginia, is a place at once futuristic and old-fashioned: It’s home to the Green Bank Observatory, where astronomers search the depths of the universe using the latest technology, while schoolchildren go without WiFi or iPads. With a ban on all devices emanating radio frequencies that might interfere with the observatory’s telescopes, Quiet Zone residents live a life free from constant digital connectivity. But a community that on the surface seems idyllic is a place of contradictions, where the provincial meets the seemingly supernatural and quiet can serve as a cover for something darker.
Stephen Kurczy embedded in Green Bank, making the residents of this small Appalachian village his neighbors. In The Quiet Zone, he introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters. There is a tech buster patrolling the area for illegal radio waves; “electrosensitives” who claim that WiFi is deadly; a sheriff’s department with a string of unsolved murder cases dating back decades; a camp of neo-Nazis plotting their resurgence from a nearby mountain hollow. Amongst them all are the ordinary citizens seeking a simpler way of living. Kurczy asks: Is a less connected life desirable? Is it even possible?
Imagine living in a place where wi-fi is not just unavailable, it’s banned, along with cellphone signals. Some people would consider this a nightmare while others would consider it an idyllic time warp. The truth is somewhat more complicated.
The near radio silence is a requirement for those living in Green Bank, WV, close to the Green Bank Observatory, with the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. To protect the sensitive equipment from interference, the federal government in 1958 established the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area in WV.
For the young people, there are none of the negative consequences of social media. Families spend more time outdoors appreciating nature, and fostering real-life connections. Those who live here must depend on the kindness of neighbors when an emergency arises. They use land lines, phone booths, and ham radios, to communicate. The residents do have computers but only with sluggish broadband.
The area has attracted people looking for a digital detox, unplugging to escape from modern life, and for those seeking refuge for a controversial condition called electromagnetic hypersensitivity (think Chuck in Better Call Saul).
Investigative journalist, Stephen Kurczy, embedded himself in the area, to give us a first-hand account of what it’s like to live there. Unfortunately, the area has also attracted Neo-Nazis and other extremist groups. I was hoping there would be more information about the Observatory and what it was like to truly live in the area from the regular residents. Instead, the book’s focus zeroed in on the fringe groups, and I began to lose interest.
I appreciated learning about the “quiet zone”, which I didn’t know existed. It’s fascinating, and sent me to the internet to learn more (ha!). The irony of using my iPhone to text my reading buddy, googling, using Bluetooth to listen to the book with my AirPods, then typing and posting this review using my laptop is not lost on me. Maybe I need to take a vacation in Green Bank, WV.
* I received a digital copy of the book via Netgalley. All opinions are my own. * Published August 3rd 2021 by Dey Street Books * This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce. Do check out her review!
The author has a double motive in researching this book. The quiet zone is an area of Virginia where no radio waves are allowed that might interfere with collecting ones that aliens are broadcasting, or, for another institution within the area, His other motive is that despite this being a 21st C book, he won't use a smart phone. No no no. He's not anti-electronics, he likes his music, loves his laptop, but relies on other people's phones when he needs one. No one in the quiet zone can use one, so he's right in his element.
I'm finding the book quite engagingly written, but the subject is boring me. I don't really have any interest in who lives within the zone (not many people) or why - they always have, they have an unrecognised but very painful allergy to radio waves, they work for the institutions or are involved in the underground bunkers where the US president and everyone else important enough can go and hide out should international conflict make it necessary!
One of the issues I have with my eyes recovering is that I can only sleep 5.5 hours at night. My last medications are 4 different drops to be instilled into my eye at 5 minute intervals, then I get to sleep for the rest of the 6 hour gap I am allowed. Every time I read this book I go to sleep, even in the day between the hourly medications. It's either the wrong time to read it or I'm the wrong audience. I'll find out.
3.5 "Once a given aspect of nature, quiet is facing extinction."
The author is not the only one whoho doesn't own a cellphone. I don't either, or rather I do, but it sits in a drawer, pay as you go, just in case I go alone on a long trip. Which with Covid, hasn't happened and it's doubtful that in the near future, this will change. It's my choice, I prefer not to be constantly bombarded by calls and text messages. When I first started reading this, I thought what a fantastic place, a place that vastly appealed. As I read though, I realized this was a case of the grass is greener. Maybe at one time it was a place where technology was not allowed, that has changed. Now most people do have, despite the green mountain telescope, cell phones, microwaves and wireless.
This town once drew those who wanted to cherish the land, the peace, as well as those who have allergies to electro magnetization. It also was once a place that had a significant white supremacy presence, though no longer. The background of the town, its people and the authors experiences here, made for interesting reading, and they were very welcoming. Good people, some trying to hold on to a life that is not constantly interrupted by technology.
""America is suffering from a "national attention deficit" as a result of our devices, according to the University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds."
Imagine a world without cell phones , WiFi, internet connections, and all the assorted distractions that often take one from the joys of just being quiet. It's an interesting concept for those of us who had once lived in just an era of radio and TV. (which wasn't allowed on school days) Even those everyday needed necessities are banned in a town in western Appalachia, called Green Bank in West Virginia.
Many of us would be appalled at being without their electronic buddies, but there is a certain allure to being totally quiet and alone with one's own thoughts. Stephen Kurczy has written an account of the town, its people, and the Green Bank Observatory that sits so close that all radio frequencies are banned. It's an interesting story partly because of the way in which these people live and the mysteries that surround the Conservatory. The question is one that plagues the author and perhaps the reader. It this conservatory one whose sole purpose is to contact alien life or perhaps there is a chance that this observatory's purpose might have another reason for its existence, that of spying on all Americans? It's a scary thought but one we now know is a true one.
Stephen lives among the people, he gets to know them, and what might for some feel like an idyllic existence might have some flaws indeed.
Unfortunately, the book did have some flaws as it seemed to overly concentrate on the crazies that were drawn to this place of peace and quiet. I wanted more about the telescope and while the book seemed to include some tantalizing ideas, I felt it missed the mark here. I am also not a fan when an author refers to groups as to their political bent. It intrudes on the book's authenticity I believe
There is quite a bit of detail, and of course many questions, the author does raise. Is living in a quiet zone exactly what we need to do, or does it too, offer flaws and foibles that we might not welcome?
Thank you to Steven Kurczy, Dey Street Books, and NetGalley for a copy of this book.
Stephen Kurczy has to be one of very few Americans with no cellphone in his possession. And he hasn't had one for the past ten years. Are you shaking yet?? Going into withdrawal? Or does that sound like an attractive idea? Shades of Henry David Thoreau?
If so, you might like Green Bank, West Virginia, where the nation's oldest radio astronomy observatory is located. To detect signs of life from outer space coming to earth in radio waves, the observatory was built back in 1956 and there they have tried to maintain a 'quiet zone,' restricting the use of things that emit electronic noise by people in the surrounding area.
Nowadays it's becoming a great deal harder to control that usage with residents, schools and businesses clamoring to have access to cellphones and WiFi. And the local economy is largely supported by tourism with popular places like Snowshoe Mountain Resort about nine miles from the observatory. Their guests expect the usual amenities.
Kurczy, a journalist, has gone to this area many times and gotten to know the residents well, spending quite a bit of time interviewing them, doing research and digging into local history in order to write this book. He says he came to Green Bank presuming that the less connected life would be richer, and it is. But he also discovered some surprising things there too. Humans are humans, wherever you go.
We each have to decide how much we are going to allow electronics to take over our lives and even more importantly, our children's. Will we someday rue the day when we got our first cellphone? Kurczy makes a good case against its use. He quotes a 2017 study in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research about the negative side effects of the use of smartphones in schools: "The devices cause a 'brain drain,' diminishing 'learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.'" Something to consider as you send your kids back to school.
I received an arc of this work of nonfiction from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion. Many thanks for the opportunity. We traveled to the Green Bank area in 2009 and were fascinated by the observatory and found the area breathtakingly beautiful. I can understand the attraction to live there.
I found this very interesting for the longest time and then I began to get bored with the stories which had not much at all to do with the quiet zone. At chapters 11, 12, and 15, I was horrified at the disgusting animal cruelty and abuse descriptions that come on without warning. Frankly I am appalled and see no reason why this crap needs to be included. I am now quitting this book at the 64% mark.
This is an unusual non-fic about a remote place in West Virginia, where there are limits for radio-wave pollution in order to let the largest movable radio-telescope operate without interference. I read it as a part of monthly reading for July-August 2022 at Non Fiction Book Club group.
The author starts the book with himself, for he is an out-of-the-norm person, who tried not to have a cell phone and other instruments that keeps us online 24/7. So, he went to investigate Pocahontas County, where there bi8w a 75-miles quiet zone around Greenbank radio telescope. The place was described in a semi-sensationalist way by a lot of journalists that visit it for a day as “a town where technology is almost completely banned,” and “that means there’s no cell service, there’s no WiFi, there’s no radio. It’s just really quiet.” Actually, despite limits, currently most inhabitants violate them – from Wi-Fi to microwave ovens, even if there are still some limitations like lack of cell towers. This could have been the end of the story, a myth debunked, but actually, it is a beginning.
For the quiet Zone attracts weirdos, from neo-Nazis, whose largest US party was located there (quiet means problems with tapping phone calls or remote listening devices) to people with self-diagnosed “electromagnetic hypersensitivity,” who state that their bodies are negatively affected by a multitude of waves, from WiFi to light and who seek for a place without emitters of such waves. Also there is an NSA listening post, which during the Cold War used the one-thousand-foot-wide dish to capture Soviet signals as they bounced off the moon. The sensitive Russian signals drifted into space, ricocheted off the moon, and landed, “like a ball in the pocket of a pool table, in the Arecibo dish on the other side of the planet.” And there are interesting locals, their attitudes toward the “big world”, true crime stories, e.g. The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia, which I’ve read earlier and a lot of other stuff like conspiracy theories.
I rarely read non-historical books about different locations, and this book pleasantly surprised me.
Interesting but a bit scattered, The Quiet Zone tells the fascinating tale of Green Bank, West Virginia and the surrounding areas—a region legally shrouded in radio wave "silence" (though, as we discover as the book progresses, it's not quite as quiet as it seems).
Though I appreciated the thorough, deep dive the author provided, the narrative became more and more meandering as the book progressed. While the extensive exploration of the various groups in the county—from electrosensitives to neo-Nazis to people just trying to stay connected as they go about their everyday lives, especially once the pandemic hit—provided some interesting context, Kurczy often got so mired in irrelevant side tangents and details that the thread of the book got lost. Rather than the stories building upon the story of "The Quiet Zone" and providing explanations for what it is really like living there, they often felt like the author was trying to tell the complete story of the entire county, instead of focusing only on relevant background information.
It took me awhile to complete this book because I was very interested right from the start, but slowly lost steam as it became apparent that much of the book wouldn't be focusing on the Green Bank Observatory and the implications of living near it.
Thank you to the publisher and Net Galley for the free eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I really appreciated the writing as the author details his visits to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, which is in the midst of a 10-mile "Quiet Zone" to ensure that no radio waves interfere with the telescopes's reception of radio waves from space. When the observatory was built in the 1950's, it was easy to create the quiet zone. Because of the quiet zone, the observatory was able to make many notable discovery in radio astronomy.
But the quiet zone was slowly eroded by the influx of cell phone service, microwave ovens, WiFi, etc. as modernity encroached. People moved to the area because of the quiet zone and other reasons, and the author details two such groups: The National Alliance, a national and notable white supremacist group, whose founder, William Pierce, established a compound in the area, and "electrosensitives," people who believe EMFs have made them sick.
I appreciated how the author combined his own experience with history, and how he was able to get locals, including observatory staff and National Alliance members alike, to open up to him.
I was originally drawn to the book because it is about the area surrounding the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. There is a ten mile radius around the radio telescope where Wi-Fi and cell phones aren’t allowed. This radio silence zone is to protect the area from being overwhelmed with radio waves, the very thing the astronomers are studying. Thinking the book would be mostly about radio astronomy and the radio telescope, I requested it from my local library. It does start out with the telescope and the need for radio silence. It also includes some of the discoveries the telescope made and a bit of its history. It also tells a little about the near-by NSA telescope in Sugar Grove which monitors communication frequencies. They used the Green Bank dish as a cover for many years. Then the book went on to tell more about the community that surrounds it and what the feelings and thoughts of the citizens were about living without internet access or radios for their policemen. The book also tells about some of the people who have gravitated to this area for both the radio silence and the small population. A couple chapters talk about people who are stricken with Electromagnetic Hyper Sensitivity. (EHS) The author is a bit on the wall about whether this is a real or a psychological problem. Over the years the rules about radio silence have slowly eroded. In 2019 they recorded 175 Wi-Fi hotspots in a community with approximately 150 households. It has become an accepted evil, almost everyone has a smart phone. Space X and Amazon have also threatened the observatory with their 1000’s of satellites. You can police (?) the ground but not the skies. Stephen, the author, writes a lot about the need for people to have time without their cell phones and computers. He cites the many awards the kids and young adults of the community have gotten with limited access to the internet. He has written an interesting book which kept me glued to it even if it wasn’t mainly about astronomy. I think it is worth reading and thinking about! Finally, you might remember this from the posters in the 60’s and 70’s. ( You do remember the 60’s & 70’s don’t you?) “Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.” From Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
The two stars are for the eloquence that the author writes with. But other than that I cannot recommend this book. It starts with a description of a unique area in West Virginia where electronic interference is not allowed because of a large planetary listening display and NSA spy operation. It ends with a rant about the dangers of white supremicists and the Trump administration. The book is disconnected, seems to have no point other than to point out the authors conflict with today’s technology and generally tries to make a serious cultural problem that his own millennial counterparts have brought on themselves. I’ve been embraceed technology but I’m not a slave to it. See a therapist.
Kind of repetitive, but very enjoyable. The author goes much deeper than most of the internet articles that have been written about this place. You will walk away understanding three things.
1) The author does not have a cell phone. 2) There is wifi in the Quiet Zone. 3) Nazis won't automatically kill you just because you're in a cave.
Very readable, good subject, keeps your attention, doesn't go too deep, and the final sentiments about adopting a pragmatic view towards the encroachment of technology on the subject's experience of living is a good one.
Why don't we just build a giant telescope on the moon? Problem solved.
The concept of voluntarily choosing to remain disconnected from modern technology and communication mechanisms always intrigues me. I love my phone and social media though I like to believe I am not obsessed with either. The author of this book has not had a cell phone for more than a decade! To him, the idea of there being a quiet zone where all electronic devices are banned was like coming across a slice of heaven on earth. Which is why he wanted to know more about the town of Green Bank in Pocahontas county(Appalachia).
Home to the largest radio telescope in the world that is focused on detecting signs of life in outer space, the area around the Green Bank radio observatory has to be free of interference from other signals, which is why cell phones, tablets, even wifi is a no no for a radius of 5 km around it. Or at least that's how it is supposed to be. On multiple visits to the town, the author realized that while it was true that the proliferation of electronic devices was lesser than in the outside world this place was not exactly tech free because of the need of the various people living there.
While students and businesses need fast internet, emergency services need good cell phone reception and the ski resort that brings in tourists needs to offer wifi to its patrons. All of this has meant that the town and it's residents do have and use devices and technology in their daily lives.
That being said, this is a very interesting look at several aspects of a town marked to be a quiet zone. There are a group of people who believe they have EHS or electromagnetic hypersensitivity who have made this place their home and are in a constant tussle with officials and locals who are pushing for more modernization. It has to be said that some of them seem to be paranoid given how they attribute just about everything to emf and demand that even lights not be used when they are around! It's difficult to take such an extreme stance seriously.Given the remoteness of the area, it has in the past attracted several hippie movements and even seen the resurgence of a neo Nazi organization which the town thankfully rose against. The idea that a place not steeped in technology would be a paradise however is challenged by the history of the place and the fact that human beings are the same everywhere with there being pros and cons to everything.
While for those of us living in cities, the idea of a digital detox seems like heaven at times, to permanently be denied that which everyone has is a totally different matter. There are checks on the use of electronics and even patrollers for signals but it's a constant struggle of nature and the needs of the radio observatory versus the economy and the needs of the people who live there.
Ultimately the question of how much is too much technology can only be determined and controlled by every individual. If we are pragmatic about it we can reap the benefits and still lead a life that isn't dictated by smart devices.
"What if there was a place where people weren't constantly scrolling? Where forest hikes weren't tainted by a ringtone? Where getting lost meant really getting lost? These questions led me through rugged Appalachian backcountry and into the heart of ... The Quiet Zone." -- Stephen Kurczy.
I had watched a news feature about The National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) and was fascinated by the idea that there was a town that was just 'turned off'. By choice? Well, in Green Bank, West Virginia, radio transmissions are restricted by law "to facilitate scientific research and the gathering of military intelligence." Kurczy spent a lot of time in Green Bank over the course of a couple of years. Rather than just accepting what could be seen on the surface (which the news feature I had watched did), Kurczy took the time to meet and interact with many residents of the Quiet Zone. Those born there, the electrosensitive - those who are escaping radio frequencies for health reasons - and those just looking for a quiet place to live. But is it really quiet? Kurczy's investigation takes an in depth look at Green Bank. What he finds is fascinating, including unsolved deaths, hippies, a nearby Neo-Nazi compound, many opinions … and noise.
There's lots of food for thought in The Quiet Zone. I couldn't help but stop and ponder what it would be like to just turn off my devices. To live more 'in the moment'. To be more conscious of the time spent on aimless scrolling. Kurczy himself does not have a cell phone. His reasons are compelling and thought provoking.
I enjoyed Kurczy's writing style. This was his debut book and I would happily pick up his next.
Here's the ironic bit - I chose to listen the The Quiet Zone - and did so on my iPhone. The reader was Roger Wayne. He has worked as a broadcast journalist in the past and that experience adds much to his reading. His voice is clear, easy to understand, has a nice gravelly undertone and is quite pleasant to listen to. He brings Kuczy's work alive with his pacing, intonation, emphasizing. His reading matched the subject and I felt like I was listening to an investigative show. His presentation easily held my attention.
The Quiet Zone had an interesting concept but struggled to hold my attention. I had no idea this area existed before so it was fascinating to read about all the various groups it has attracted. However, the pacing felt odd and the stories started to get a bit repetitive, leaving me a little bored at times. The second half of the book was much better though! Overall, I learned a few things but it wasn't my favorite and took me a lot longer than usual to read.
Interesting to learn about a place that attracts such a varied cross section of people. Hippies, scientists, neo nazis, electro sensitives…. Definitely wouldn’t want to live there but fascinating to learn about.
I have mixed thoughts on this one. I would not have picked this one out myself, but read it as part of a book club read. Some of the information was interesting. However, I felt like the subject matter jumped around so much. One moment you would be reading about how bad technology and phones are (that even God doesn't like them); then the next you would be reading about racism and Neo-Nazis, and then the next moment about electrosensitives.
I felt like the "point" of the book jumped around and even the ending kinda left me confused about what the author was trying to "tell us". It was like "oh, radio quiet doesn't actually exist but should because technology is bad, and oh racism is bad and oh yeah, COVID 19 happened and Trump too".
This is a clear, honest record of conversations in a county the size of Rhode Island in West Virginia. It is well researched and a book about various folks living in a Radio-free Quiet Zone (or is it?)due to the Green Bank Observatory - SCIENCE. You read this and make your own decisions about "too much noise" in the world or maybe not. I enjoyed Stephen's writing style and appreciate the research that he put into this book. Well done!
Absolutely no problem giving this book an ENTHUSIASTIC 5 star review. This is the first time I’ve read a book about Appalachia (where I live) by an outsider that recognizes the problems an area faces without exploiting those issues for clicks or views. I wish that people could see inside this book and pick it up because it’s so much different than the media hit pieces about a place where Wi-Fi and cellular service is illegal and forbidden (they usually get it all wrong.) So so well done by Stephen Kurczy!
I am homebound with no driver's license, and so my digital life is extensive. I spend much of my time on Instagram, Netflix, Youtube, and listening to podcasts and audiobooks. It is impossible for me to imagine my world today without cell phones, wifi and internet. I think I might love to visit the quiet zone of West Virginia for a week or two, but I could not live there.
The Quiet Zone is written by journalist Stephen Kurczy, and tells the story of a 13,000 square mile area where radio silence is written into the law. The area houses the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope which only works if there is no radio interference. To protect the equipment and enforce the quiet, in 1958 the federal government established the National Radio Quiet Zone, and the state enacted similar laws.
The author interviewed many who live in the town, some of the scientists who work with the equipment, politicians, lawmakers and more. He put together an intriguing story about what life is like in this part of the USA, and how much it differs from life in other areas. This is a place where people depend on land lines, phone booths and old-school home radios. They have computers but the broadband is sluggish and they do not have the power to stream.
An interesting part of the story is that of the people who are attracted to the area, believing it provides a digital detox, and a refuge from something they call electromagnet hypersensitivity. The latter is controversial and modern, western medicine doesn't recognize it. However, their stories were fascinating.
I do think the book is lacking in one area. Very little is said about the Observatory. I would have liked to know more about its function and importance.
After reading this book, I find it very ironic that I am using my super-speedy WiFi on my Macbook Pro, Googling little facts to remind myself of content, and using my bluetooth earbuds to listen to notes I recorded for myself, all while answering texts from my son... This is my life, and it is nothing like theirs in the Quiet Zone.
Non-Fiction>Set in Modern WV, USA 2.5 Stars Kurczy explores the area around the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. There is a whole county of residents without cell service or wi-fi...well, kind of. There are multi-generational inhabitants that give the place a Mayberry atmosphere; there are also scientists and researchers who live near their work; there are newcomers who are drawn to the area in their search for living free of the the extra electromagnetism that modern life 'in the city' necessitates; there are (or were) fringe political groups of Neo-Nazis that used their mountain land to hold meetings and conventions. Kurczy discusses the different types of people that are drawn to or drawn to stay in this place.
I suppose the summary below could be construed as a sort of 'spoiler'--if you feel that non-fic describing a place can have such a thing. This is really a look at the people in the area...he goes on about the lack of wi-fi for a while then explains that most people actually have it. Then he goes on about the 'Electro-Sensitives' and explains how sick they get in the 'real world' with all the waves passing through them from cell phones--only to explain how it's likely in their heads. Then he goes on about the Nazis and White Nationalists--only to explain that they left. It was interesting to read about the place and maybe I'll drive through some time on my travels, but I really feel like he spent so much time explaining an aspect of the area only to turn around and undermine or minimize the points he just made. By the end I felt there wasn't much point to his book other than a history of the area and a travelogue. It's an interesting history and there is an interesting mix of people drawn to the area, but it's not really much of a Quiet Zone. He bills this adventure as him and his wife being 'city' people entering this place to see how it's different--but that's not really true. He doesn't own a cell phone. He's already less connected to 'internet life' than most of the residents in the purported 'Quite Zone.'
I don't generally read a ton of nonfiction (especially nonfiction geared towards adults) but the premise of this book really grabbed me. I love space things & the combination of gigantic radio telescope and legally imposed culture seemed like it would be a winner for me, but it was not to be. I think my biggest issues with this book boil down to the fact that the author (though extremely skilled with turn of phrase) is a journalist, and seems incapable of writing a long form piece that doesn't directly relate back to his own personal attitudes. I was looking for (and thought I found) an ethnographic deep dive into the quiet zone and it's various groups, and to Kurczys credit The Quiet Zone seems to be attempting such an endeavor, but every single time we seemed to be getting into the nitty gritty he would pivot to some personal belief about quiet/technology/connectedness connect it to something vaguely sinister then jump to a new topic for the next chapter. To further disgruntle me while reading this book feels very upper middle class white man. That's to say that the way Kurczy expresses his general desire to be 'lost' or 'off the map' makes it feel like he's never been in a situation where he did not feel in some way in control. Maybe this is just a reporters feel no fear in terrifying situation thing (he certainly regales the reader with several absolutely bonkers decisions he made while researching this book that raised both eyebrows and my blood pressure) but sometimes his opinions on connectivity felt like the boys in college that would tell you there was no reason to not walk back to your dorm alone at night, they'd never had a problem.
In all this is an interesting read if you want Kurczy's personal take on connectivity through the lens of one county, but not so much a clear look at the quiet zone.
First, a disclaimer: I received this e-book in advance of publishing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own opinions. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with this book.
I REALLY liked this book. It is narrative nonfiction and is exceptionally well-written. It does go on a lot of tangents, but those tangents are organized, and the structure makes sense. There is a LOT going on in this book. Spy organization, invisible illnesses, conspiracy theories, white supremacists, hippies, a cult, a famous doctor who is actually a con artist (Patch Adams) … it’s all in here. But they are all connected under the Radio Free zone. I think that one of my favorite aspects of this book is the in depth look from the author at this area. I, like most people, have heard of this area and have even thought about how nice it was pre-cell phone and Wi-Fi and constant connectedness. This author spent a significant amount of time here though. He didn’t just write an article to sell a magazine or newspaper or get a headline. He interjected his own thoughts and experiences into it and really took a hard look at all that is in this area. This is not my normal style of book, but I enjoyed it so much that I want to find more nonfiction of this ilk.
CAWPILE Score: NA Star Rating: NA Pages: 336 Read on E-Book
A national radio astronomy observatory was built in West Virginia about seven decades ago. Because it uses radio and microwaves to explore the universe, wifi, cell phones and microwave transmission are not permitted in its vicinity. The author visits the small rural community that lives under this ban to explore the impact of limited connectivity on these people. This ends up being a tour of one place in rural America. We meet violent Nazis, people who suffer from hyper sensitivity to electric signals, back-to-the-land hippies and those who can trace their family to the same plot of land for 4 or 5 generations. None come across very well. In the end, internet and cell phones are as present in this community as they are in any part of rural America.
Kurczy has not had a cellphone for more than a decade and is really interested in how technology is affecting human interconnectedness. He uses the internet and social media as part of his job as a journalist/writer and socially, and has a laptop, so he's not against technology entirely - he just thinks cellphones are not very good for us.
When he learned about the National Radio Quiet Zone surrounding the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, he wanted to see what life in the "quietest place in America" was like. It turns out, not so quiet! "Quiet" in this context means little to no radio interference - cellphones, WiFi, microwaves etc all emit radio frequencies that can interfere with the radio telescopes at Green Bank. There are very few other areas in the world like the NRQZ; one in an Australian desert is quiet because there are only 2 people living nearby; one in China was made quiet(er) by the government displacing something like 9000 people. But Green Bank was the first and is unique in that it's so close to major centers like Washington, DC. The mountain topography is what helps them block out the radio waves. But, nothing can stop progress, and WiFi, cellphones etc are readily apparent in the surrounding areas.
Like many things in life, what we picture in our head is not what reality is. Kurczy discovered many different elements to life in Green Bank - many of them not "sunshine and roses". Prejudices run deep, life can be violent and law enforcement is spread thin. There was also a surprising story of charity fraud. Basically, all the sins you would find in a major urban area can be found in sparsely populated Pocahontas County, WV.
Governmental largesse has played a large part in Green Bank's survival over the years; when Jay Rockefeller and Robert Byrd were alive and in powerful positions in Washington, D.C., they were key in getting funding for the facility. Now, Green Bank has a different kind of benefactor and it was quite interesting finding out about it.
One thing I really enjoyed reading about was the symbiotic relationship that the Observatory has with the local communities. Scientists and engineers have helped residents with dialing down the "noise" but still having internet; many school children have gone to the Observatory and been influenced by the science that they saw and explored. Scientists and engineers from the facility are actively involved in the local school and clubs. Many people would jump to the conclusion that the residents of this rural area are backwards hillbillies; they would be surprised to learn that the local school's STEM team placed first in a 2017 Verizon Innovative Learning competition, and the forestry club has won 8 national championships and 26 state championships since 1990. One resident who grew up without running water or internet, became a PhD, moved back to Green Bank and made national news for helping to discover "cryovolcanoes" on Ceres.
Although the author started visiting Green Bank in 2017, he didn't get the book published until 2021, so he was able to talk some about the effects of the pandemic on areas like Green Bank, as well as reference some political events that tie back to groups in the area. So the book feels very relevant.
All in all, this book offers a very interesting look at life in Appalachia, and I feel the author did a pretty good job of capturing the nuances of that life and the people living there. They aren't all prejudiced rednecks, they're not all academic elites and everyone has some positive facet to their personality. I would recommend this book.
I picked this book up from the library not knowing very much about it. It was a new release and looked interesting, so I dove right on in...
The Quiet Zone itself exists very close to where a friend of mine lives. She's been to it a number of times, and when the pandemic is through we're planning on visiting the Road Kill Cook-Off together. The book began to be a study of the Quiet Zone itself, the Green Banks Observatory and its impact upon the town. It ended up being a kind of... gossipy look into the people living in the town itself before going pretty far off the rails.
The author interviews a white supremacist organization on its last legs and electrosensitives, people frustrated with the restrictions put upon WIFI in the town itself, and those who have grown up there and aren't terribly interested in it. Very quickly he begins to lose interest in the people working at the observatory, and he begins to dig into some old murders that took place in the town. He even interviews Patch Adams, who started to build a hospital there before he just... never... finished...
The book is interesting in a gawking kind of way, and I can't say that it really comes off as being poverty porn at any point. I also just didn't fully understand the why of him getting into the town's business. It seemed more like snooping than him wanting to settle into the town, and it seemed disrespectful with him talking about being concerned about getting killed by one member of the town he was talking to, or his fear of the White Supremacists that he had spent so much time getting to know. It just seemed false. Especially with his boasting about not owning a cell phone peppered throughout.
I will say that I finished the book and didn't hate it. I enjoyed learning about the town. It was just the... tone that I took issue with. Better organized, and with another leafing through the draft and a bit less casual a tone, I think it could've been a good book. It just rubbed me a bit the wrong way in its current state.
Three Reasons You Should Read This: 1. There is a ton a lot going on in this book - there is something for everyone! 2. Have you ever heard of a Radio Quiet zone? Me, either. 3. This will make you think about your own media consumption and technology usage.
One Thing You Should Know Before You Pick it Up: Because there is so much interesting information in this book, it did seem a little all-over-the-place and hard to follow at times. I often lost track of who was who as he jumped around with his interviews and it felt disjointed at points. BUT the on the whole, this was packed with pretty interesting information and stories and I would recommend reading if this title sounds interesting to you!