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Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants Paperback – August 1, 1999


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Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants + Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family + The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 1 and up
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (August 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140285962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140285963
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #618,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Naturalist and bioacoustics researcher Katy Payne stood near an elephant cage at a zoo and felt a strange "throb and flutter" in the air. When she later realized that the feeling was very like that caused by the lowest notes of a pipe organ, she embarked on a journey of scientific and personal discovery that took her to Africa to study how the huge mammals communicate. For years, she lived close to the elephants she loved, getting to know individuals and describing their long-distance infrasound "conversations." After her fifth such expedition, one third of the elephant population she was studying was killed in a planned cull by the Zimbabwean government. Whether or not you accept Payne's hypothesis that elephants are extraordinarily intelligent and capable of communicating with each other and with other species (including humans), you will find her descriptions of the animals compelling and compassionate. Her grief at the loss of her elephant friends is palpable, and she uses it to utmost effect in decrying not only the ivory trade, but the way in which humans have decided to live on the planet. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"I was hearing faint sounds that might have been overtones of stronger sounds that the elephants, but not I, could hear." In a chronicle that effectively blends memoir with the drama of scientific discovery, Payne (Elephants Calling), an acoustic biologist at Cornell, describes her role in the discovery of infrasonic communication between elephants. As she does so, she recounts her 13 years' study of African elephants?observing their social and family structures and behaviors, including the digging of wells. A scientist's respect for the elephants, "my gray friends," and for the native scouts informs her work. Payne writes, "You appreciate the value of silence when you watch elephants at night.... Every animal in the herd listens when the herd is listening. To use silence so well: if I could choose for people one attribute of elephants, I'd choose this." Payne can be passionate, especially regarding the issues of poaching and the harvesting of ivory, and she is convinced that any decision about ivory harvesting must take into account both the experience of elephants themselves as well as the historic relations between indigenous peoples and wild animals. Payne believes that "[i]n such a world animals reveal things to each other, and even occasionally to people like me: their attention to us is commensurate with ours to them." This book will make a wonderful addition to the library of any animal lover or of anyone fascinated by intra- and interspecies communication. Maps and drawing by Laura Payne.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read Ms. Payne's book in two days. It gripped me with its tales of Africa, and scientific discoveries, and magnificent, intelligent, sentient beasts. She describes clearly the people and animals of Africa, and treats all with equal respect. The description of the night she spent staring down a lion a few feet away was worth the price of the book alone. This is a wonderful book that taught me a lot about African wildlife and people--and the courage and soulfulness of a biologist who spent time among them.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A fascinating story about the discovery of infrasonic communication between elephants, her experiences with elephants, and the implications of culling on these magnificient creatures. Payne maintains a foundation of integrity in her book which opens your heart to these beautiful animals. It is full of facts, anecdotes, stories and passion. I highly recommend buying this book as it is an incredible story and it is for the elephants!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 5, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a stunning and important book. When I finished I was overjoyed -- that Katy Payne had found language for the reality of elephant culture and the spiritual depth and integrity of the native peoples in Africa -- and I was ravaged by the truths she exposes of the ways that the colonial mind and presence have undermined the natural world and the lives of the indigenous peoples; ultimately animal and native peoples are marginalized and pitted against each other for survival. This book carries a profound understanding of the complex nature of elephants and dares to present the terrible vision of their circumstances from which we cannot and must not turn away. Because Katy Payne is such an honest and lyrical writer, because she is exacting as a scientist and a compassionate person, we can, if we allow ourselves, truly be transformed by taking in the implications of her observations and understanding. It is no exaggeration to say this is a great book which will forever change the ways we see the world.
Deena Metzger, co-editor Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, Fawcett Columbine, The Ballentine Group.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 19, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Anything about elephants is worth reading. To really understand elephants and the complexities of the impact of human society on them, I recommend Douglas Chadwick's The Fate of the Elephant first. To read about a female scientist's experience of elephants, I recommend Joyce Poole's "Coming of Age with Elephants." Even the story of Modoc the elephant is more engaging.
There's something remarkably un-magical about the writing here. I don't understand it. Ms. Payne's public presentation of her experiences with elephants is so interesting, incredibly engrossing. An academic/lecture setting offers the benefit of her pre-recorded elephant calls played at different speeds. She shows several photos of the elephants, her research setting, and her friends. She explains technical diagrams of sound speed and pitch and their distribution across geographical settings. (The absence of photos or other illustrations is quite noticeable in this book.) Experiencing Ms. Payne "live" infuses the book with more import, but I can't in good faith claim that the book stands that way on its own.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By ScanMan on June 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Katy Payne is a wonderful writer with a tremendous talent for integrating life with her research. This book is about elephants, about Katy, about the men and women and societies that she meets in a wonderful pilgrimage. You experience her joys, her sorrows, her love for elephants, her research breakthroughs and the distress of the wildlife situation, especially within Zimbabwe. Katy also has a beautiful talent for gracefully understanding how other societies function and for developing a culturally sensitive learning posture. This is a great book. For those reviewers who want "more pictures," there are thousands in this book that Katy brings to your mind when you READ it. I learned a tremendous amount about elephant behavior/communication, wildlife biology and the lifestyle of a wildlife biologist in this book. Wonderful, wonderful work! Thank you Katy!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
FANTASTIC book. Can't believe it's on sale when I bought it for full-price! Definitely the thing for anyone who likes non-fiction. It's totally poignant and fascinating - not an easy combination.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By eSavvy on July 9, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Did you know that elephants communicate with sounds that are below the range of human hearing? Similar to whales, they can speak over long distance with each other using infrasound. I can't help but wonder if their infrasonic vocalizations are what contribute to the palpable energetic vibrations I felt, sitting amongst the clusters of elephants in Northern Kenya.

Katy Payne is one of the elephant researchers in Amboseli Park, Kenya, that helped to discover the infrasonic rumbles of elephant communication (along with Joyce Poole and Cynthia Moss) during the late 1980's and early 1990's. She is also an eloquent writer with a passion for the elephants she studied for many years.

In Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants, she shares some facinating stories of what it's like to be in the bush with wild elephants...and one gripping story of an encounter with a lion. Her personal accounts hint of her strong intuitive gifts, where she touches on her precognitive dreams. She stops short of using direct language on some of these topics, which left me longing to hear more of what the real Katy Payne is all about. But I applaud her for bringing up spiritual topics at all. It's unusual for a scientific researcher to make personal revelations. I found it refreshing that she did.
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