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The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise Hardcover – May 4, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Examining noise as a social barometer of sorts, this book covers a wide spectrum, from revolution to religion. The author neatly handles a symphony of facts and ideas, offering frequent summations like "The history of noise abatement is to a large degree about dividing space into noisy and quiet areas" and "The combination of flatness and proximity to water complicates as well as exacerbates certain problems of noise" that demonstrate his passion for the subject. A sophisticated thread woven through the many genres and locales reveals not only subtle sonic connections but also the author's Achilles' heel. Addressing the importance of human cooperation over selfishness and isolation, Keizer offers that people "need to love... their backyards with the same particularity as they love their own children - not to the total exclusion of other children, which would ultimately hurt their own children, but with the passion and partiality that are of the nature of love." This is but one of a cacophony of platitudes that the book falls victim to so that by the end, an unquestionably important perspective is smothered under a lot of preaching.
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From Booklist

Like Edward Tenner’s Why Things Bite Back: The Revenge of Unintended Consequences (1996), this engaging book explores the unforeseen (and sometimes unwanted) side effects of our inventive natures. We usually use the word noise as a pejorative, a term denoting unwanted sound: somebody’s loud music, a blaring car alarm, the din from a nearby airport. But, as Keizer points out, noise is often—perhaps even usually—a product of human achievement, invention, or ambition. In broad terms, you can’t have civilization without noise. You can’t have construction without it, or some forms of entertainment, or mass transit. The author explores noise from a number of angles, touching on what he calls the logic of the loud (“my noise is my right,” says the noisemaker) and the curious fact that the phrase “making noise” is now an anachronism (because most noise is automatic these days, produced by machines). An enlightening look at an issue most of us ignore. --David Pitt

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586485520
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586485528
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,557,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kelly Cooper VINE VOICE on May 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent, thoughtful meditation on something virtually everyone can agree upon: painful and intrusive noise sucks. The politically aggressive bullying that typifies noise dominance is finally given a good lashing on these pages; which alone is gratifying enough to recommend the book. Stylistically, Garret Keizer sticks with his forte: the clever milieu of highbrow periodical wit. Perhaps the most resonant quality of the book is its ability to make the reader feel less alone in the world. Most of us tend to stoically (by our own estimation) tolerate a great deal of noise in our daily lives, convinced that the risks of confrontation outweigh the uncertain rewards of complaint. We also recognize, even if only by a tacit sense of fair play, that the rights of the noisemaker and the accidental ear overlap in uncomfortable ways. It's a rewarding experience to read through this exhaustive rumination on the subject. Even if it isn't necessarily going to make the world a quieter place, it's a good start.

There are several pages of notes the end of the book, adding substantially to its bulk. An electronic version or the paperback edition would probably be the more economical - and ecologically prudent - choice.
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Format: Hardcover
This review is based on an advance reading copy.

Garret Keizer has written an important book. I don't mean it's particularly well-written - I think it could have been about thirty pages shorter. No, what I mean is, he's given some voice to those who, by the very nature of their cause, can't and won't be loud about it without appearing hypocritical.

Noise is a "weak" issue, Keizer says, because it affects mainly the weak. True, we can't all afford to build soundproofed rooms like one wealthy writer did, as described in the book. But I say it's a weak issue because people aren't clamoring to complain to officials and making it known that this is an issue they will vote on. People have to make a little noise to reduce it.

Keizer does a good job in describing the history of "noise" (as opposed to sound), and even touches a bit on how one person's noise is another person's pleasant sound when describing the "battle" between Sturgis bikers and Native Americans and with a few community members in Massachusetts versus the larger community's desire to hold a festival complete with music. I was glad to see that.

I appreciated the timeline of noise history, glossary, and list of organizations that do try to get noise reduced. He also gives a "personal noise code" which I felt was a little much. Suggestions for how to reduce noise are appreciated, but couching it in the guise of personal affirmations rubbed me the wrong way.

A thorough bibliography is included, and although the advanced reading copy didn't include one, the publisher assures us there will be an index.
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Format: Hardcover
The subject is very important to me and one not often discussed intelligently; discussion too often degenerates into defensive posturing. The subject should be very important to everyone, in my opinion. I heard this author interviewed on the University of Illinois' public radio station with host David Inge, an excellent interview, and was struck by the level of articulate, even eloquent, discussion on this topic. I own the book and am buying another copy. One other reviewer described it as a "thoughtful meditation" and I think that is a good description. It is also informed and informative, wise, philosophical, scientific, interesting, and useful. Highly recommend.
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Format: Hardcover
In the sense that UNWANTED SOUND is a fairly quiet book, Mr. Keizer practices what he preaches. My wife and I have lived in cities and next to loud neighbors and have often found other peoples' noise irritating. We now live in five acres of quiet woods, where the loudest noise is mostly bird songs and squirrels' chittering territorial warnings.

Mr. Keizer has an agreeable sense of irony and diversity as well as he explores how "noise" depends on the ear of the beholder. From time to time, I am out cutting wood with a chain saw. Wearing a safety helmet with ear protectors, I feel as if I "fit right in" to my environment; then complain about teens a mile away roaring their little motorcycles, with no noise louder than my chain saw.

As with a piece of well-composed music, the ending of the book popped into view suddenly, resolving with the slightest touch of well-constructed dissonance. As with a pleasant encore that does not compete with the main concert while the audience puts on their coats and gets ready to leave, the 30 or so pages of "Sitting Quietly at the Back: A Set of Resources" finishes the book well.
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Format: Hardcover
Ever have a conversation with some guy who seems to know a lot of loosely related facts but is unable to coherently express them or synthesize his thoughts into any sort of larger context? That's what reading this book is like. It's as if he took a lot of different ideas and just glued them together end to end. What's worse is the amazingly pompous writing style and Keizer's tendency to try to pass off trite conclusions as insightful - "The silent flash over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, foretelling 'clean bombs' and quiet annihilation, exposes the lie that the world can be made more beautiful simply by reducing its noise."

This book is not worth the read.
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