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White Noise (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century) Paperback – June 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Something is amiss in a small college town in Middle America. Something subliminal, something omnipresent, something hard to put your finger on. For example, teachers and students at the grade school are falling mysteriously ill:
Investigators said it could be the ventilating system, the paint or varnish, the foam insulation, the electrical insulation, the cafeteria food, the rays emitted by microcomputers, the asbestos fireproofing, the adhesive on shipping containers, the fumes from the chlorinated pool, or perhaps something deeper, finer-grained, more closely woven into the fabric of things.
J.A.K. Gladney, world-renowned as the living center, the absolute font, of Hitler Studies in North America in the mid-1980s, describes the malaise affecting his town in a superbly ironic and detached manner. But even he fails to mask his disquiet. There is menace in the air, and ultimately it is made manifest: a poisonous cloud--an "airborne toxic event"--unleashed by an industrial accident floats over the town, requiring evacuation. In the aftermath, as the residents adjust to new and blazingly brilliant sunsets, Gladney and his family must confront their own poses, night terrors, self-deceptions, and secrets.

DeLillo is at his dark, hilarious best in this 1985 National Book Award winner, a novel that preceded but anticipated the explosion of the Internet, tabloid television, and the dialed-in, wired-up, endlessly accelerated tenor of the culture we live in. He doesn't just describe life in a hypermediated society, he re-creates it. His characters repeat phrases, information, and rumor gleaned from television, radio, and other media sources like people speaking in code. And DeLillo has seeded the book with short gemlike episodes that demand to be read aloud, and that haunt the imagination years after their first reading: a visit to the Most Photographed Barn in America. A plane that nearly falls out of the sky. An hour in a classroom, canonizing Elvis. These vignettes are vivid and unique, yet, like the phrases from television shows that interject themselves, out of context, into Gladney's consciousness, they are strangely unconnected to one another--reflections of the lives DeLillo is showing us we lead. --Jan Bultmann

From Publishers Weekly

Chairman of the department of Hitler studies at a Midwestern college, Jack Gladney is accidently exposed to a cloud of noxious chemicals, part of a world of the future that is doomed because of misused technology, artifical products and foods, and overpopulation. PW appreciated DeLillo's "bleak, ironic" vision, calling it "not so much a tragic view of history as a macabre one." January
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140283307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140283303
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (459 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #592,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Don DeLillo is the author of fourteen novels, including Falling Man, Libra and White Noise, and three plays. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Jerusalem Prize. In 2006, Underworld was named one of the three best novels of the last twenty-five years by The New York Times Book Review, and in 2000 it won the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished work of fiction of the past five years.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

172 of 197 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
White Noise was the first DeLillo I ever tried to read, a few years ago, and I was disappointed; I thought it was thin and heartless and clever-clever. Then I got older, visited America for the first time and read it again, and suddenly it seemed true, oh so true. The book is full of dark pleasures: the family's hilariously misinformed conversations about everything under the sun; the now-classic episode of The Most Photographed Barn in America (it's not especially beautiful or old, it's just been photographed over and over again); the description of a cloud of poisonous gas as an Airborne Toxic Event; the narrator's manically argumentative son Heinrich; his daughter's mysterious utterance in her sleep of the magical words "Toyota Celica". And much, much more. The crisp beauty of DeLillo's writing can seem cold on first reading, but this is a function of the eerie ambiguity of the book's tone; it's neither satirical nor celebratory, it's just looking hard at these lives and the world around them. White Noise is, for my money, DeLillo's funniest book and his most death-haunted; that he balances the ever-present fear of death with a (for him) new compassion for his characters is maybe the most amazing thing about it. It gets better every time it's read, which is the mark of a classic.
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136 of 156 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
I'm not sure what to think of Don DeLillo. White Noise, like Mao II, like Underworld, like End Zone, is a book bursting with ideas and observations about people, the world and modern life. And some of these observations will make you see things in a new way, or at least crystallize your thoughts so perfectly that you nod your head and say, "Yes, that's exactly what I think. Now why didn't I say it like that?" Well, because you're not Don DeLillo. So give the man credit, because that's something few people can do. At the same time White Noise shows up one of DeLillo's bigger flaws: he doesn't really create characters you care about, even a little bit. Indeed, in White Noise I'm sure he didn't want to. They're not real characters at all, only a group of signifiers and commenators who all speak with the same voice and even use the same expressions, whether they are ex-sportswriters, housewives, sulking teens, or nine-year-old girls. By page 300 this gets tiresome. Intellectual insights are more memorable when they are hung on interesting and engaging characters. So while I enjoyed White Noise and am impressed with the mind behind it, I found it ultimately unsatisfying.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Seay on June 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
In "White Noise" DeLillo proves himself to be the Balzac of the contemporary era, particularly that of america suburbia. Very basically it portrays the negative effects of technology on our society. Overwhelmed by information, we become anesthesized to our environment....we must filter out some the data that bombards our system, and indeed we filter out most of it. Our systems so burdened by the information that we treat all things with indifference....except for our own death, which remains the one thing we would like to filter out of our consciousness but dont seem able to do so.
Now, this all recalls the dry writings of Heidegger or Baudrillard, but instead DeLillo will have you laughing til you cry with certain passages. We have a Professor who is head of the "Hitler Studies" department (one thing about information overload is that people specialize in minutiae). His colleague, Murray, who philosophizes over food labels, wants to start an "Elvis Studies" department.
The concept of the "hyperreal" is evoked. For example, there is a tourist site near the college. It has no other appeal than the fact that it is the "most photographed barn" in America. Throughout the book we see the characters, just like many of us, concentrate on image rather than substance.
I have noticed that there is a review below by a man that claims that neither he nor his "brilliant" wife the engineer found anything of interest in "White Noise". I, too, am an engineer and know, by the way, that most engineers find themselves (often victims of self-deception) "brilliant". I speculate that the reason they could not understand this book is that they are too submerged in the "white noise" world of consumerism and information. In addition to that many engineers are afraid to address the issue of the dark side of technology.
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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Daniel M. Conley on June 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
Harold Bloom has said that the common theme of great American novels -- from Moby Dick to Gravity's Rainbow -- is apocalypse. Don DeLillo's genius is turning the American literary tradition on its head with tales of anti-apocalypse. Whether it's the Cold War that never runs hot in "Underworld", the Kennedy conspiracy that masks the true national decay in "Libra" or the "airborn toxic event" in "White Noise", DeLillo is a master of building fear, taking it away, then showing how the disaster distracted us from the things we should fear most.
"White Noise" is a book about death -- more specifically, our fear of death -- and how we have created a consumer infotainment paradise to distract us from our inevitable demise. But that description hardly does the book justice. There's more brilliance on any page of "White Noise" than I could hope to write in a lifetime.
DeLillo has a knack for finding deep meaning in common things -- like a supermarket. Characters are described as much by their postures and gestures as they are by words. Most of the important meanings of the book are left for readers to think on their own.
If you need a plot and lots of A-B-C action, please don't read White Noise. It's a book for people open to seeing the world in a different light. "White Noise" proves that there is nothing more reassuring than a disaster, and nothing more terrifying than the banal.
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