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One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet Paperback – March 2, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Though many Americans may think their country abounds in places free from human interference, acoustic ecologist and professional sound recordist Hempton readily proves otherwise. Armed with sound monitoring equipment and a well-defined goal-to find a spot that has "no audible human noise intrusions of any kind for a minimum of 15 minutes"-Hempton drives his VW bus from Seattle to Washington, D.C., visiting national parks and other anticipated sources of silence. Along the way, he contemplates the intricacies of his vehicle, the decline in songbird populations and the effects of noise stress in hospitals, while filling readers in on the basics of audio science. From rural Montana, and what may be the nation's quietest town, to his final hike through the C&O canal, beneath Ronald Reagan National air traffic, Hempton's travelogue is filled with absorbing descriptions of the nation's natural treasures, inviting readers to consider the effects of rare silence against chronic noise, and the difference a single law, to "prohibit all aircraft from flying over our most pristine national parks," could make: "If a loud noise... can affect many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a 100 percent noise-free condition, will likewise affect many square miles around it.". --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Today silence has become an endangered species.” Yes, as though we don’t have enough to worry about, Hempton, an Emmy Award–winning sound recordist and acoustic ecologist, calls our attention to noise pollution, another unintended consequence of humankind’s globe-altering technologies. Why should we preserve silence? Because the words peace and quiet go together for profound reasons. And because machine noise is driving other species, from songbirds to marine life, into extinction by creating deadly stress and interfering with communication. After traveling the world and finding that nearly no place is free of human-generated noise, Hempton decided to take a stand in one of the last quiet spots, the Hoh Rain Forest deep in Olympic National Park, declaring “one square inch” of silence in the hope that from this nucleus quiet would spread. To spread the word about his project, Hempton set out, sound-level meter in hand, to “take the sonic pulse of America.” With the assistance of writer Grossmann, Hempton interweaves his intriguing and instructive on-the-road adventures with fascinating and rarely addressed facts about sound, health, and the environment. Many books help us see the world differently; this one induces us to hear the world clearly, and the message is loud and compelling. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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First, I get what he's talking about. Noise pollution is a problem in the modern world, frequently a maddening one. We're surrounded not only by a constant barrage of beeps and chirps and buzzes from electronic devices, but by people who are so entirely self-centered and stupid that they think we need to listen to their music or their phone conversations. However, I find it difficult even to conceive of looking for or even wanting a space in which there is no sound at all, nothing human, nothing machine-created, nothing natural. Just... nothing. We're part of this world, sounds are part of our experience of the world. I recognize that this one square inch of silence is a symbol, but I think it's a much too esoteric, and over-the-top symbol to be of any use or interest to most of us.
I know he's earnest in his desire to preserve natural silences. However... by his own admission his car is a noisy piece of junk, a fact that makes me scratch my head. Wouldn't he be better keeping his own house in order rather than haranguing the world for its increasing noise?
I see what he means when he shows us how little silence is left in the world. However, I know enough silence in my own home to satisfy me. Spaces of time when I can feel the silence around me like a blanket. I suspect it's not silence by Hempton's standards, but it's enough for me.
Hempton is not a bad writer, however his constant harping on measurements and decibels and statistics really is tedious, and frankly it's more than enough to turn off all but the most dedicated readers. I can't really recommend this book to anyone who isn't passionately interested in the subject.
Which is why it's surprising that his book should be so deaf to his own voice. Way too much of the book is taken up with SPL (sound pressure level) meter readings of every place he's ever visited -- 96 dBA here, 70 dBA there, 22 dBA somewhere else, page after page after page. The man apparently carries his SPL meter everywhere, even to a ballgame or a family gathering when he should be paying attention to something else. I mean really, who cares? (In an appendix he graphs approximately 80 of these readings into a very selective "EKG of America," but he graphs the dBs linearly, not exponentially as they should be.) He comes off as a single-issue zealot who alienates park rangers, airline officials and even his own daughter.
He confuses "silence" with "quiet" too. His One Square Inch of Silence project is designed to protect national parks from man-made noise, but he admits that the parks are full of very loud natural noises, some "too loud to talk over." Apparently only man-made noise is bad... because only man is "not natural"? Hempton lobbies the airlines to re-route around national parks, then has the gall to wonder, "Are they thinking about me up there?" Of course they are Gordon, of course they are. Again, single-issue crank.
Is he a Luddite, against all human technology? No, since he uses park roads and visitor centers to reach his favorite campgrounds, drives a polluting (& noisy) '64 VW van and records with a $36K rig. Is he a preservationist? No, he's not above repositioning the rocks on a stream if he thinks it makes the stream sound better. Is he a naturalist? Nope again. He subsists (at least partially) on fast food and name brand foodstuffs (which as another reviewer noted he names compulsively, as if hoping for an endorsement contract). He is, in the end, a bundle of unselfconsciously ironic contradictions -- but one with a legitimate and laudable goal.
The real irony of course is this: if everyone took his advice and contributed to the silence instead of contributing to the background hum... nobody would buy his CDs.