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The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195332605
ISBN-10: 0195332601
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Zerubavel, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University and author of The Seven-Day Circle and other books maneuvers across politics, popular culture and academic literature to uncover sundry forms of silence and connect these within the greater social universe. He demonstrates that silence is a common subject within music and film, and references abound from Paul Simon to John Lennon, Billy Rose's Dumbo to The Secret Live of Dentists. Shifting his focus to politics, Zerubavel analyzes Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, the Catholic Church's child abuse scandal and Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina. However, while not lacking in captivating anecdotes or titillatingly obscure references, the book fails to offer any previously unknown conclusions about silence. Instead, the reader is left with familiar statements: silence can be deadly; silence in individuals breeds silence in the entire group; people tend to be silent about silence. As is obvious from the 60 pages of references (for 85 pages of text), Zerubavel is well-read and marvelously conversant on the subject. Readers looking for groundbreaking scholarship will be disappointed, though the book excels as a socio-historical account of silence's machinations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Among academic intellectuals, Eviatar Zerubavel--please make that a household name in your household--gleams as a star.... He gathers intriguing ideas for books the way ace foreign correspondents acquire great stories: by reflecting on the obvious, then probing as well as reporting."--Carlin Romano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Eviatar Zerubavel has always had a remarkable facility for examining everyday human life through a different and richer lens than the rest of us. He notes in this compelling essay that when people block something out of their line of vision or rearrange their memories in such a way as to forget something, they are involved in a personal act. But his main point is that those acts of blocking and forgetting and remaining silent are really collective behavior, a form of collusion, a product of the social world. This is a rare mind at work."--Kai Erikson, author of A New Species of Trouble: Explorations in Disaster, Trauma, and Community

"With characteristic zest and insight, Eviatar Zerubavel talks about all those things we are generally reluctant to talk about. The Elephant in the Room represents the sociological imagination in full flower."--Alan Wolfe, author of Return to Greatness: How America Lost Its Sense of Purpose and What It Needs to Do to Recover It

"The Elephant in the Room is another eye-opening book from Eviatar Zerubavel. Here he gives us a guide to all the many ways in which we fail to see all the elephants in our own living rooms. Brilliant, lucid, and certainly timely."--Arlie Hochschild, author of The Time Bind and The Commercialization of Intimate Life

"Eviatar Zerubavel possesses one of the most interesting minds in American sociology. In The Elephant in the Room, he connects insights into how the mind works with a ruthless realism about the functioning of society. The results are not pretty, but they are important, and make for compulsive reading. Zerubavel shows how the sociological imagination can cast a penetrating light on the most important questions of the day."--Jeffrey C. Alexander, author of The Civil Sphere

"This is an interesting, thought-provoking, and delightful book. Reading it is easy and rewarding. The writing style is straightforward, with hardly any jargon, and Zerubavel makes rich and wise use of countless illustratons, connections, and associations....I have absolutely no hesitation to recommend highly and warmly this intelligent book--reading it is both an intellectual adventure and a genuine pleasure."--American Journal of Sociology

"In a brilliantly ironic tour de force, Eviatar Zerubavel has finally talked about a topic that nobody has talked about so well: those topics that people refuse to talk about despite common knowledge. Once again, Zerubavel displays his extraordinary talent for seeing scintillation where others see only clouds."--Viviana Zelizer, author of The Purchase of Intimacy

"Eviatar Zerubavel's masterful work, The Elephant in the Room, offers a profound education for everyone who has ever held their tongue on matters large and small. His insightful--and riveting--analysis of silence and denial echoes in the mind long after we close the book."-- Neil Gilbert, author of Transformation of the Welfare State: The Silent Surrender of Public Responsibility

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195332601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195332605
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 0.3 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #227,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Colby Ricardo on August 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I originally heard the author being interviwed on NPR and was intrigued by the topic. Mr. Erubavel aptly laid out the "elephants" that he would discuss. His topics were right on the mark and every reader can identify with one of his examples either through personal or through a family member or friend's experience.

When I finished reading the book, I wanted to hear more about "how to" discuss these secrets especially when people seeking answers or resolution before a loved one dies. I see this a lot working around hospice patients and their families. Often long after the death of a friend ora family member; there is still unfinished business amongst the survivors and that "elephant" perhaps has grown even larger in size.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Beth on September 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book offers stunning details of silence in everyday life. With the details are examples that create the understanding of why silence is chosen and how many become complicit in the silence. It creates a wonder of what would it be like to remove the veil that hinders progress. Bringing to question whether humans can aspire to greater goals without the use of evil. The book is inspirational. Encouraging each of us to be willing to hear and see the changes that are needed in society. Then to let our voices be heard for the greater good.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By LBC on March 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book a great deal; however, it is very short and an easy read to boot. I'll address the shortness. I feel any additional length would have 'beat a dead horse.' The author makes his point; there are things we all know which never get discussed, and he does sight examples, but too many examples would, I believe, give the appearance that the readers are dumb. So the author doesn't continue and in my opinion doesn't need to. I thought of countless examples both personal and social. I believe the author's point that these things should be studied from a sociological point of view is well taken and would make for interesting research
This book motivates the reader to delve into their lives and social surroundings to continue with the book's premise.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Paul Manata on August 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I agree with other reviewers that possibly the biggest caveat to give about this book is that only 87 pages of the total 162 are the actual text, the other 75 pages are endnotes, a bibliography, and the index. So the almost $15 price tag may seem steep. However, I'm not sure why some reviewers (here and at other places) are making that big of a deal out of this. I mean, we frequently come across edited works where we say of just one essay in the book, "So and so's essay alone was worth the price of the book." Indeed, the majority of these lauded essays are less than 87 pages! So, if you're really into the psychology and sociology (and even the epistemology) of denial, perhaps the content will be worth the price of the book. In fact, isn't that what we really want in a good book? Good content? Surely people wouldn't rave over a book that was 1,000 pages long of meaningless fluff. So I think some make too much of this fact. Still, it's only fair to point out that you're getting less than 100 pages of content with this book. But, it's also fair to point out that good content is necessarily qualitative and not quantitative.

Besides this minor agreement, I have more substantive disagreements with some of the reviews (here and elsewhere) I've read. It is simply false that Zerubavel (Board of Governors Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University) just uses illustrations from literature and movies to make his points. He appeals just as much, or more, illustrations from history, every day social interactions (in the family, workplace, and marketplace), and a wide range of other substantive contexts. The reasons he uses such wide-ranging illustrations is "in order to emphasize the distinctly generic properties of conspiracies of silence" (14).
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By B. Taylor on February 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
It's no good complaining that this single work doesn't do "everything" that each reader wishes it did. This book provides an excellent introduction to a very complex topic. Interested readers will discover many other sources to expand their knowledge. I did not, as another reader did, find any of the examples that the author discusses to be "odd" (indeed, he warns the reader in the first pages of the book that he will be drawing from an eclectic, wide-ranging contextual framework).

Eye-opening and written in an interesting style, this book does something that so few books do. First, you'll have more than one "Aha!" moment while reading the book. Second, this book will whet your appetite to explore the subject in greater depth.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. Jaksetic on December 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
The author looks at the social phenomenon of silence and denial, which is an important subject. This short book (87 pages of text, 37 pages of notes, and 23 pages of bibliography) is written in a style that is generally easy to read. But, it has a mixed, uneven quality in its substance.

Some of the examples the author uses to illustrate his points are very appropriate and illustrative. But other examples the author uses seem odd and unconvincing about the points they are supposed to be illustrating.

Significantly, the author does not adequately differentiate between various kinds of silence and denial. The author does not offer a discernable differentiation between: (a) polite, tactful silence and discretion to avoid embarrassment in social situations, (b) the silence and denial often associated with alcohol and substance abuse, sexual misconduct, incest, or other forms of personal misconduct, (c) explicit or tacit conspiracies of silence to conceal or avoid acknowledging problems at work, and (d) explicit or tacit conspiracies of the silence in dictatorships, police states, and totalitarian regimes. Although there can be similarities between these various kinds of silence and denial, there also are significant differences between them. Unfortunately, the author does not provide a discussion or analysis that clearly compares and contrasts the similarities and differences involved.

The author has written about an important social phenomenon. But, this book does not offer a very clear or particularly helpful discussion and analysis of that social phenomenon. At best, this book provides a preliminary, brief look at the subject, but leaves the interested reader wanting a more thorough analysis and better explanation.
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