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

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  442 Ratings  ·  86 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 context to our increasingly desperate sense that noi
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by Doubleday (first published 2010)
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May 01, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jun 22, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Mar 31, 2016 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
May 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 11, 2011 rated it liked it
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 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Paul Signorelli
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
First of all: listening to a book about pursuing silence as an audiobook in my noisy car contradicts the purpose of a book about silence. Apart from that, I don't think the author reached his explicit purpose of finding a "meaning in a world of noise". There were interesting excursions to different areas of noise/sound/silence, and a somewhat surprising chapter about the deaf world, which wasn't made relevant - I find it hard to imagine that a seeing person would write about darkness and lack of ...more
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Do I need 300 pages to A) understand that loud sounds causes health problems? B) that we need to reduce noise and increase silence in this world? Probably 100 pages would have been enough to capture all info. As with the Sleep book of Arianna, looks like that there is a trend of taking every single Verb from the dictionary and making a book. Clever boys! but keep it to 100 pages max.
Brian Willis
Jan 17, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Feb 19, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jul 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, audiobook
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
Aug 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2010
Tread carefully. Reading this book will make it impossible not to hear the noise in the everyday world.
Kevin Eagan
Dec 02, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed, nonfiction
I've read this book a dozen times. Ok, not this specific book but this book belongs to a genre I sort of call "Harpers & the Atlantic Spawn a Massive Love Child". It's not catchy but I'm still working on it.

Here's what it is: pick a topic that's broad but accessible. Quiet, slow food, disposable stuff, attention span, I dunno, whatever. Find a writer, probably a long-form journalist who's quirked by that topic. You know, the guy wearing huge hearing protectors in the office or the guy who w
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Skimmed only.

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 context to our increasingly desperate sense that noise pollution is, in a very real way, an environmental catastrophe. Listening to doctors, neuroscientists, acoustical engineers, monks, activists, educators, marketers, and aggrieved citizens, George Prochnik examines why we began to be so lo
Feb 23, 2018 rated it liked it
I identified with the author. An older guy living in NY who's a bit of a curmudgeon with a reputation for being intolerant of noise. Hard for a NYC resident.

He takes you on his journey through monasteries, churches, Abercrombie stores and "boom car" rallies in trash-ass Florida. You also follow along his intellectual journeys talking to audio and hearing experts and as he muses down alleyways of thought about the nature of silence and noise.

I didn't come away with a ton of cocktail party nuggets
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
A Mary Roach-like investigation into the dwindling refuges of quiet. This isn't about quiet in the sense of introversion (Susan Cain) or meditation (although I picked up on hints that the author does meditate). It takes the reader from Quaker meetings to boom box competitions to a Japanese tea garden (albeit one in Oregon) to a school for the deaf and beyond and introduces the reader to quiet activists and movements. All to advocate for the societal benefits of having escapes from the daily caco ...more
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: solitude
The recent documentary, In Pursuit of Silence, affected me very deeply, to the point where I started hunting down books by featured authors. I enjoyed this book very much, particularly the chapter concerning the monastic life. Although I wasn't much interested in the chapters on noise per se, they were a necessary ingredient as most books on silence/stillness don't address the origins of sound and the very noise the authors turn away from. I'm fortunate to live in a quiet rural setting, and even ...more
Lisa Rector
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Silence is for bumping into yourself. That's why monks pursue it. And that's also why people can't get into a car without turning the radio on...They seek to avoid that confrontation."
The author explores the many sides of noise and silence. He offers a well thought out investigation concerning the reasons, for or against either preference, and sums up the importance of appreciating both kinds of environment.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Meh. If it’s in any way related to the ear it’s included. Not at all what I expected given the subtitle.
Jan 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Extremely profound book about silence and noise. Little bit too detailed look on the subject. Editing would have done good. Intresting subject matter.
Melissa Earley
Jan 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 05, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Alex Capper
Jan 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Blog on Books
May 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 31, 2010 rated it it was ok
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 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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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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