Between iPods, music-blasting restaurants, ear-splitting 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 loud as a society, and what it is that gets lost when we can no longer find quiet. He shows us the benefits of decluttering our sonic world.
Silence is golden, but noise is more stimulating in this smart if occasionally overearnest rumination on our modern soundscape. Prochnik (Putnam Camp) is at his best investigating the culture of noise—the traffic, TV, and iPods—that ravages our hearing and peace of mind. He tunes in with a sprightly mix of science—babies, it seems, have evolved to squall at pitches the human ear finds maximally annoying—and reportage, visiting a designer who concocts soundtracks that make Abercrombie & Fitch patrons spend (“loud, strong, fast beats pump energy—and social conformity” into soldiers and teen shoppers alike) and the subculture of competitive loud car-stereo tournaments. (“I didn't hear sound,” the author observes of one window-shattering system. “I just experienced my bones and heart bursting apart through my skin.”) Prochnik's explorations of silence—visiting a Trappist monastery, searching for oases of quiet in Manhattan—are more muted, veering between health advice (meditation improves the brain) and muzzy spirituality. (“The more we hear nothing, the more nothing we hear,” intones a sniper.) Silence is good for falling asleep, but Prochnik's attentive take on noise keeps us wide awake. (Apr.)