The Skimmer

Book Review: Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence by George Michelsen Foy Scribner

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Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence

By George Michelsen Foy Scribner; 196 pages

"How can you write a book about an utter lack of something?" asks George Michelsen Foy at the outset of his scientific survey/memoir/anthropological treatise on the history of silence. It's impossible, he realizes, to explore quiet without giving a good listen to sound itself. Foy, a novelist and journalist, was standing on a louder-than-usual subway platform when his ears were opened to Manhattan's unceasing din. The background noise of car horns and fridge motors and helicopter rotors all merged into one dull roar--the city's "monster-breath." Soon he became obsessed with silence and embarked on a quest to find the world's quietest spots: a French abbey run by Cistercian monks who are silent for most of their days and nights, a Buddhist meditation center and a Minnesota lab with a room so unnervingly free of noise that most people can't stand it for very long. Zero Decibels is so effective at calling attention to the loudness of the modern world (I actually began to rehear everyday sounds that I had succeeded in tuning out) that readers might have trouble concentrating.

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