If you savor silence as much as we do, this exquisitely written and enlightening book will speak to your heart, mind, and soul. George Prochnik is a regular writer for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Playboy, and Cabinet magazine, among other publications. On the opening page, he admits to loving quiet, to relishing conversations without straining to hear, and looking up from a book he is reading without being assaulted by the sound of television news broadcasts. One of the most bothersome things about noise pollution in these times is that it is sound that imposes a narrative on you. Much more appealing is the silence of a Quaker meeting, the stillness of a walk in space by an astronaut, or the idea of silence as "a break, a rest, a road to reflection, renewal, and personal growth." Prochnik's focus is on the benefits of silence as a precious resource and the different factors which have stimulated us to become such a loud society.
In a visit to the New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, he speaks with monks who have made a lifelong commitment to devout silence. They talk about it as a fertile field for embracing the mystery of God and as a pathway to self-knowledge. National moments of silence are not as ambitious but certainly have value especially for connecting us to others. These salutary experiences are contrasted with the assaults of noise in female screams and baby cries, retailers and football coaches who turn up the sound level to sell or to win, boom cars and boom boxes. A generation of youth who have always had iPods face possible hearing loss in the future thanks to the constant inundation of sound. Prochnik, who lives in Brooklyn, comes to Manhattan, and finds an oasis of silence in pocket parks and a church.
This fascinating exploration of the clash between noise pollution and silence also contains material on soundproofing, the devastating effect of traffic noise on the cardiovascular system, maps that measure noise levels, and the work of anti-noise activists who believe in the right to silence. Prochik is heartened by the beginnings of a quiet-space movement in the United Kingdom and is hopeful that the many experiments being done in America will lessen the dire effects of the noise nightmare.
We are grateful for Prochnik's pursuit of silence. He has made it even more appealing to us now. We see it as manna that can help our brains grow, as a spur to attention, as our natural home, and as a space that encourages contemplation of the Divine mystery.